WEST FARGO — Josh Henricks was a sophomore in 2019 when West Fargo Sheyenne appeared in its first state title game. He was a junior when the Mustangs earned another trip to the championship.
Both games ended in heartbreak. Sheyenne was shut out by Bismarck Century in both appearances, 10-0 in 2019 and 34-0 in 2020.
If the Mustangs got a third shot at a state title, Henricks and the rest of this year’s seniors weren’t going to watch on the field while another team hoisted the first-place plaque.
“We’ve worked so hard the last couple years,” Henricks said. “We were a losing team for a little bit, but we came from that and we worked from that and got better from that.”
The Mustangs channeled the memories from those back-to-back Dakota Bowl losses and used it to down West Fargo 27-7 in the Class 11AA state championship on Saturday at the Fargodome. Henricks ran for three touchdowns to guide the Mustangs to their first state football title in program history.
The Mustangs broke out in a celebration that had been building over three years as they cemented a perfect 12-0 season.
“I have no words to describe this,” said Henricks, a senior fullback. “We worked really hard. We wanted this so bad and we came and got it.”
Henricks was virtually unstoppable Saturday. The 6-foot, 220-pound fullback ran for 238 yards and three scores on 39 carries.
Sheyenne has been a team on a mission all season, and Saturday’s title game was no different. The Mustangs rolled up 355 yards of total offense, while holding the Packers to 144, almost 200 yards less than West Fargo’s per-game average of 336.
“The best team won, there’s no doubt about it,” West Fargo head coach Jay Gibson said. “Pound for pound, well, first of all, we don't have as many pounds as they do. They're really big. And they're well coached and they just don’t do anything wrong.”
The first 12 minutes of the rivalry matchup went back and forth. The Mustangs overcame a rare start to the game that saw the high-powered offense turn the ball over on downs and punt it away on their first two possessions.
Sheyenne got into the red zone for the first time in the second quarter after Tate Gustafson picked off a long Peyton Jantzi pass intended for Carson Hegerle. The interception gave the Sheyenne offense momentum, as the Mustangs finished out the half with a pair of unanswered touchdowns.
“My responsibility was to be overtop of Carson,” Gustafson said. “And he ran that pass route, which we’ve seen on film, and I just undercut him. It kind of shifted momentum to our team and we moved the ball better. We got that touchdown, and they just kept coming.”
The Mustangs' next four possessions would all end with points, as the Packers fell victim to Sheyenne's lethal run game. Henricks bulled into the end zone from 6 yards out to start the scoring early in the second quarter. Sheyenne marched 72 yards in the 10-play drive.
Two minutes later, after Sheyenne’s defense forced a turnover on downs, the Mustangs drove down the field and into the end zone. Henricks capped off a nine-play, 61-yard drive with a 4-yard scamper that gave Sheyenne a 14-0 lead that would stick until the second half. Sheyenne’s three-year starting quarterback Grant Warkenthien broke loose for a 54-yard gain on the second play of the scoring drive.
West Fargo struggled to get much of anything going on offense against a stout Sheyenne defense. The Packers three first-half possessions ended with a punt, interception and turnover on downs.
“Our defense plays really well and they have a lot of confidence going into games like this,” Henricks said. “They played great.”
West Fargo started the second half with the ball, and excellent field position at the Sheyenne 37. Hegerle opened with a 50-yard kickoff return that set up a Packers touchdown. West Fargo senior quarterback Peyton Jantzi found a wide open Hegerle in the right corner of the end zone for a 4-yard touchdown catch.
Jantzi connected on 10 of 19 passes for 111 yards and a touchdown with two interceptions. Hegerle had seven catches for 69 yards and a score.
Now a one-possession game, Sheyenne didn’t flinch. The Mustangs responded four minutes and nine plays later on a 3-yard run by Henricks.
Noah Olson picked off a second Jantzi pass intended for Hegerle in the following drive that set up Sheyenne’s final score. Warkenthien punched in a 2-yard touchdown run to make it a three-possession game for good.
Though it wasn’t the outcome the Packers wanted, Gibson was proud of his team — for their performance on Saturday and the entire season. West Fargo started the season at 1-2 and finished it in the Fargodome, with a title game appearance.
“This year was really special,” Gibson said. “We were 1-2, and a lot of teams will tank it or give up and maybe win a couple games and not really care. But my goodness, they started blocking and Parker (Nelson) started running the ball and we scored points.”
WFS 0 14 7 6—27
WF 0 0 7 0—7
WFS — Henricks 6 run (Birnbaum kick)
WFS — Henricks 3 run (Birnbaum kick)
WF — Hegerle 6 pass from Jantzi (Hegerle kick)
WFS — Henricks 3 run (Birnbaum kick)
WFS — Warkenthien 2 run (Birnbaum kick failed)