WEST FARGO — Eight months after they met on the basketball court in the state semifinals, West Fargo and West Fargo Sheyenne will play the most meaningful matchup in their shared history on Friday at the Fargodome.
The crosstown rivals, separated by less than four miles, will play for the North Dakota Class 11AA state football championship at 6:40 p.m. Friday at Gate City Bank Field.
“There’s a lot of hype going into this game; two teams from the same city and everyone from the city is gonna be there,” West Fargo senior running back Parker Nelson said. “This is the biggest game of my life and all the people on my team’s lives.”
West Fargo will be a city divided for a few hours on Friday night when the top-seeded Mustangs (11-0) and third-seeded Packers (9-2) battle for the state title. The last time two Eastern Dakota Conference teams met in the championship was in 2005.
“It’s definitely fun having it be a rivalry matchup,” Sheyenne senior fullback Josh Henricks said. “Those guys are a great team. We’ve got a chip on our shoulder going into this game. We really want to win this one.”
The Mustangs want to make the most of their third chance at a state championship after losing two straight Dakota Bowls to Century. Sheyenne has compiled a 46-8 record and three conference titles over five seasons. The only thing missing is a state title.
“We want everyone to stay focused — no goofing off, no messing around,” Henricks said. “This is a big game for all of us and especially our seniors.”
That business-like mentality has served the Mustangs well. While the basketball rivalry has been competitive, Sheyenne has owned the football rivalry with West Fargo since 2018, winning the last five contests — including a playoff meeting — by a combined score of 116-13. The Mustangs rolled to a 21-point victory over the Packers in Week 2 of the regular season.
“We need to obviously stop their run,” Nelson said. “We need to stop Josh Henricks. I think if we do that, and keep Grant (Warkenthien) contained, we’ll be good.”
Friday’s title game will pit two of the EDC’s top three rushers against each other in Nelson and Henricks. The 5-foot-10, 180-pound Nelson has racked up 1,606 rushing yards and 24 touchdowns this season, the most in the conference. Henricks, a 6-foot, 220-pound workhorse, has pounded out 1,213 yards on the ground with 20 touchdowns. Both teams have strong ground games.
Sheyenne held the Packers to 118 yards of total offense in its 28-7 win over West Fargo early this season. West Fargo’s two losses this season were back-to-back setbacks to Sheyenne and Bismarck Century. The Packers have won eight in a row since losing in Weeks 2 and 3.
“We kind of just pounded the rock,” Henricks said on the regular season win over West Fargo. “They’ve got a couple guys that play both ways, and that helped us a little bit. We were just running the ball, getting them tired, and that worked really well for us in that game.”
Henricks broke his ankle in the third game of the season last year. He came back for last year’s state title game, though he wasn’t at 100%.
Few teams have been able to contain Sheyenne’s high-octane offense in recent years. The Packers will have to force their way into the backfield to disrupt the Mustangs’ running game. Sheyenne also boasts a stingy defense that has allowed 83 points through 11 games this season.
“We need to get our D-line in there and disrupt it so there’s no space for (Henricks) to run,” Nelson said. “We get our linebackers to close those holes and the defensive backs to cheat up, and I think that’s how we win.”
Bolstered by Nelson, the conference’s leading rusher, West Fargo’s ground game has improved throughout the season.
“I think at the beginning of the season why our run game wasn’t as effective is because we had one back,” Nelson said. “But now that I have my fullback Josh Balstad back there lead blocking for me, it’s opened up things. Our run game has improved so much since the beginning of the season.”
On how the game will play out, Henricks said he wasn’t sure. Though rivals, there’s a great amount of mutual respect between the programs.
“West Fargo, all credit to them. They’ve been playing really well all year and they’ve definitely kicked it up here at the end of the season in these last couple games,” Henricks said.
The Packers, who last reached the Dakota Bowl in 2017, are seeking their seventh state title in program history. They have a lot of momentum heading into Friday after shutting out Century in the semifinals. West Fargo is 6-for-6 all-time in state championship appearances.
“We're gonna play with our hearts and we're gonna give it all we got,” Nelson said.