FARGO - Fargo Shanley's football team has a little bit of unfinished business before the Deacons move to North Dakota Class 3A next season.
They want a Class 2A state title, and they'd prefer it to come against Bismarck St. Mary's.
The Deacons fell to St. Mary's in the state championship game last season for the third time in the past four seasons. It was the fourth state title in the last five seasons for the Saints. It was the only loss of the season for Shanley.
"You don't want to look that far, but in the back of their minds the kids want to leave Double-A with a state championship," Shanley head coach Troy Mattern said. "You'll have to go through a team like St. Mary's, but we can't focus on St. Mary's right now because we're playing a really good Jamestown team on the road in Week 1."
After eight straight losses to St. Mary's, Shanley beat the Saints in the regular season last season. It was a different story in the state championship game, as St. Mary's won 31-12.
"There was a lot of disappointment, especially with our seniors," Mattern said. "The younger kids saw that in our seniors and they turned it into motivation."
Last season was Mattern's first with Shanley. He had coached at Fargo South since 2010, leading the Bruins to a 52-21 record and two state championships. Mattern runs a completely different offense than what was seen at Shanley in the previous decades. He runs the spread as opposed to the ground-and-pound style Shanley fans had grown accustomed to.
"We've seen a completely different group, this being the second year in our system," Mattern said. "They understand the playbook to a whole nother level. Last year we had some hesitation because everything was new, but we're excited about the second go-around."
Kaden Kueneman started at quarterback last season for the Deacons, but an injury put Cade Busek under center. Both are back, and Mattern feels he has two of the best quarterbacks in Class 2A.
"It starts with them," Mattern said. "We lost Kaden Kueneman and Cade Busek stepped in and ended up an all-state quarterback. It's been a very healthy competition in fall camp. We also return a lot of receivers."
The main receiver is Haley Bucholz, who is verbally committed to play football at the University of North Dakota. Bucholz had 25 catches for 371 yards and two touchdowns, rushed for 253 yards and three touchdowns on 22 carries and had 40 1/2 tackles and three interceptions on defense.
"He's just an all-around athlete with great speed," Mattern said.
Alongside Bucholz will be junior Talon Hoffer at wide receiver. Seniors Cole Friederichs and Austin Manuel return to the backfield to run behind four returning starters on the offensive line. As a whole, the Deacons return seven starters on both sides of the ball.
"We're really excited about our starters, but we're looking for depth," Mattern said. "We need sophomores or juniors to step into a role. This has been one of the best fall camps I've had as a head coach because we have a lot of kids fighting for positions. This will help when we move up a class next season."
The Deacons are excited about that move as well.
"We already run the program like a 3A team," Mattern said. "We're not going to have as many kids as other programs, but we have the right kids. Based on the numbers, we feel we can compete.
"Our kids are used to playing these teams in basketball and track, so it's just going to be a better opportunity to play rivals."
Aug. 24: at Jamestown, 7 p.m.
Aug. 31: vs. Grafton, 7 p.m.
Sept. 7: vs. Watford City, 6 p.m.
Sept. 14: at Central Cass, 7 p.m.
Sept. 21: at Turtle Mountain Community, 7 p.m.
Sept. 28: vs. Bismarck St. Mary's, 7 p.m.
Oct. 5: at Valley City, 7 p.m.
Oct. 12: vs. Wahpeton, 7 p.m.
Oct. 20: at Devils Lake, 1:30 p.m.