WEST FARGO — West Fargo Sheyenne head football coach Jeremy Newton doesn’t care when or how his team finds the end zone on Friday; he just wants them to score.
The Mustangs have been shut out in the last two meetings with Bismarck Century, the team they are set to face Friday night in arguably the most anticipated North Dakota Class 11AA game of the regular season. All three of the previous meetings between the region powerhouses have been in the postseason, with the last two on the biggest stage in North Dakota high school football.
Sheyenne, the two-time state runner-up, and Century, the two-time defending state champion, will square off at 7 p.m. Friday at Essentia Health Mustang Stadium. The top-ranked Patriots and No. 2-ranked Mustangs both enter the matchup undefeated, with 7-0 records.
The Week 8 matchup has been on the radar of Mustangs fans all year, after watching Sheyenne lose two straight Dakota Bowls to the Patriots — the only program to shut out the high-flying Mustangs offense since 2016.
"I'm excited to play them again," senior quarterback Grant Warkenthien said. "You could say that maybe I should’ve built up a little hatred towards them, but it’s always fun playing those guys because they bring good competition. I’m kind of glad it’s not in the Dome; that’ll lower the nerves a little bit."
Century downed Sheyenne 34-0 in last year’s Dakota Bowl and 10-0 in the 2019 state title game. Both championships were won in the defunct Class 3A, as a new classification structure went into effect this year.
“We’ve moved the ball on them well in the last few times we’ve played them, but we haven’t gotten the ball in the end zone,” Newton said. “So that’s what we’re gonna be focusing on. We don’t care when and how, we just want to make sure we finish our drives.”
The Patriots are riding a 29-game winning streak. Their last loss was to Bismarck High School on Nov. 9, 2018, in the Class 3A state title game. The Mustangs know what they’re up against in the dominant Century team that hasn’t given up any points in the first quarter all season.
The Patriots have allowed just 53 points this year while averaging 35.6 points per game. They’re racking up 321.5 yards of total offense per game on average, broken down to 209.4 yards and the ground and 112.1 through the air.
Behind a dominant offensive line, Century’s junior running back Peyton Arndt has rushed for 548 yards and 10 touchdowns on 95 carries. Senior quarterback Brady Dahl has run for 382 yards and 10 scores on 74 carries. Dahl has thrown for 785 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions for the Patriots, who have an average margin of victory of 28 points.
On the other side of the ball, Century has limited opponents to an average of 173 yards in total offense. Senior linebacker Jacob Bosley leads the defense with 39 tackles this season. Two-way lineman Lucas Schweigert, also a senior, has 35 stops and two sacks.
“Against a great football team like that you just have to minimize your mistakes,” Newton said. “And if we can do that, then that puts us in the best situation that we can be in.”
Century forced eight turnovers and held the Mustangs to 85 rushing yards, more than 200 yards less than their season average, in last year’s state championship game. The Mustangs put together some good drives against the Patriots a season ago, but were unable to capitalize.
“In the last few years, we’ve been in the red zone a couple times,” Warkenthien said. “It’s just capitalizing and putting the ball in the end zone; that’s our big thing. They have a good defense and they’re really well-coached, so it’s not going to be easy. But it’s definitely a challenge that I’m excited for.”
Powered by a dangerous run game that’s averaging 322.6 yards per game, Sheyenne has one of the state’s most explosive offenses. The Mustangs are averaging 34 points and 380 total yards per contest. Warkenthien has nine total touchdowns for Sheyenne, five rushing and four passing.
Sheyenne’s defense has given up just 56 points in seven games and posted three shutouts. Senior linebacker Matt Treib has registered a team-high 41.5 tackles, 27 of which have been solo stops, and nine tackles for losses this season.
Treib said to come away with the win Friday, the Mustangs will have to make better tackles. "Then we have to play good coverage and stop them at the line," he said.
Warkenthien said it’ll be nice playing Century in a regular-season game that’s less pressure-filled, though there are still some playoff implications at stake. The winner of the Sheyenne-Century matchup will likely get the top seed for the Class 11AA playoffs. The postseason begins Oct. 29, and concludes Nov. 12 with the Dakota Bowl.
“We’re kind of in a rhythm this season playing games,” said three-year starting QB Warkenthien. “We’re just going to go out there and treat them like any other opponent. Minimize the moment and play our game, and hopefully it works out.”