Hope, N.D.

When new Finley-Sharon-Hope-Page high school football coach Larry Fontaine gave his team a goal of winning seven games, his players thought he was crazy.

The Spartans hadn’t had a winning season since 2013 and were coming off a 2-6 season last year and a 1-7 season in 2017. But seven weeks into this season, they sit at 7-0 and are ranked No. 3 in the latest North Dakota 9-man football poll.

“We’re 7-0, it’s pretty crazy,” FSHP running back Jack Ihry said. “I never thought we would get this far. These boys are working hard. Our goal was to go 7-2, we’re at 7-0 now and we hope not to lose the last two. We’ve got to work hard, come out and practice and focus and keep going.”

FSHP takes pride in hammering the opposition until they just don’t want to get hit anymore.

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FSHP has run its way to a perfect record so far with a physical offensive attack led by 6-foot-1, 210-pound University of North Dakota commit Jack Ihry. He gets blocking from the likes of 6-3, 220-pound tight end/fullback Phillip Platt and an offensive line led by 6-0, 200-pound center Carter Rings.

“We wear people out,” Fontaine said. “We’re big up front and we wear them out. The third and fourth quarter, we just kind of dominate. They get tired of tackling the big beast. And Phillip’s got a motor and we just go out there and bang heads and they get tired of getting hit.”

Ihry — who will play linebacker for UND — has already amassed 1,403 yards and 21 touchdowns rushing in seven games this season. He rushed 29 times for 330 yards and four touchdowns in a 38-20 victory over Wyndmere-Lidgerwood last week.

“He’s just a beast,” Fontaine said. “I wouldn’t want to tackle him. He gets a full head of steam and he’s shifty, and he’s hard to bring down.”

Fontaine has brought a new attitude to a team that he says was sick of losing. With two more wins in their final two regular season games, the Spartans would be just one win shy of matching their 10 combined wins over the last four seasons.

“(Fontaine changed) the culture,” Ihry said. “He’s come and shown up for us every morning with a positive attitude and he wants us to be here for each other and not just for ourselves.”

“We came together as a family,” Platt said. “We’re there for each other whereas before we were on each other a lot with negative comments and it just didn’t work. Fontaine really taught us to become a family and play as one whole instead of nine individuals out there.”

The players have come together in a way they say has never been the case in the past. They have Madden video game tournaments, watch football together, and arranged a trip to Grand Forks to watch UND play Cal Davis last Saturday. Their togetherness off the field is translating onto the field where they’ve dominated on both sides of the ball, outscoring opponents 40-19 on average.

“We’re coming together as a family up front,” Platt said. “It helps if you’re all blocking in one direction instead of not knowing what you’re doing.”

Platt started the season playing tight end after playing guard last year. And he has had to make another move to fullback the last two weeks after starting fullback Blake Jacobsen suffered a torn ACL and MCL in FSHP’s win over Richland on Sept. 20. Jacobsen is a major loss for the Spartans. He had 200 rushing yards in the Richland game before his injury.

“With low numbers, (suffering injuries) is pretty immense,” Ihry said. “Having him was a big part of our running game and even a little bit of passing. We had him go out and losing him is tough to recover. But these last two games, we’re getting back to what we need to be doing.”

Fontaine has been happy with Platt’s play at fullback. And Platt said lead blocking has come naturally to him after years of playing on the line — but he also gave credit to Ihry for making his job easier.

“You’ve just got to give him a little block,” Platt said. “You just need to give him a little space and he’s gone. That makes my job a lot easier and everybody else’s job a lot easier.”

As easy as the fullback says blocking for Ihry is, seemingly the easiest thing for him to do on the football field is rush the passer. Platt has 12 sacks this year and has garnered interest to play defensive end from several colleges, including Minnesota State Moorhead.

“They double team him every time,” Fontaine said. “He has a motor that doesn’t quit. He just has a drive to win. He likes pain, he likes to inflict pain. He’s a big boy and he loves to hit people.”

FSHP closes the season with games against Maple Valley-Enderlin (4-3) and Griggs County Central (3-4).