Over the hump: With state title finally beneath its belt, Sheyenne football team vies for another strong year
The Mustangs will look to replace seven all-Eastern Dakota Conference and six all-state players from a season ago, but return senior edge rusher and Minnesota commit Karter Menz
WEST FARGO — 2019 and 2020 ended in heartbreak for the West Fargo Sheyenne High School football team, falling to Bismarck Century in consecutive seasons in the 11AA state championship game.
The third time was a charm for the Mustangs, making it back to the Dakota Bowl again in 2021 and triumphing over crosstown rival West Fargo for their first ever state title.
The win capped a 12-0 season for Sheyenne and brought its record to 31-3 over the last three seasons. Entering the 2022 campaign, the Mustangs believe they have the talent to win a fifth consecutive Eastern Dakota Conference championship and punch their ticket to the Dakota Bowl again.
“That felt really good to get that (state championship) because my freshman and sophomore years, I was on the sideline for those ones,” said senior defensive end Karter Menz, who committed to Minnesota in June . "We lost two in a row to Century and that was a lot of motivation for me to finally win one for this school.”
Despite an array of seniors from last season’s Dakota Bowl run now graduated, Menz said the returning roster has the potential to be just as strong and the team knows that they’re the target everyone is chasing this season.
“We can definitely do it again,” Menz said. “We did lose a lot, but we have a lot of great guys coming in to fill their spots, so I think we’re in a good place. It’s kind of business as usual, but it’s more like we know people are going to be gunning for us. It’s kind of about defending (the title) now.”
Head coach Jeremy Newton, now in his ninth season coaching Sheyenne since its inaugural varsity season in 2014, said it’s time for the roster to wind down its excitement from last season’s state title and shift focus to the year ahead.
“We really haven’t proven anything this year, so that’s kind of what we’re on,” Newton said. “We’re really looking forward to just doing what we can this year.”
The Mustangs must find a way to replace seven all-EDC seniors, six of which received all-state honors.
“We lost a lot of really good players,” Newton said. “So we’ll see where we can replace them, but it’s going to be difficult for sure.”
Perhaps the biggest shoes to fill for Sheyenne are those of running back Josh Henricks, who rushed for 1,451 yards and 23 touchdowns last season. Quarterback Grant Warkenthien also rushed for 657 yards and 10 touchdowns while throwing for 646 yards and four TDs.
The Mustangs were second in the EDC last season in total offense, accumulating 4,330 yards and only trailing Shanley which had 4,395 yards of offense.
Defensively, the Mustangs will need to replace linebacker Matt Treib, defensive back Tate Gustafson and defensive lineman Tharin Parson. The trio combined for 142 1/2 total tackles, 10 1/2 sacks and five pass breakups a season ago.
“We have Kaden Rahr back, Mason Hart, Race Wilson played a lot last year, that’s about it on offense,” Newton said. “Defensively, we’ve got Karter Menz and Noah Olson, Konner Entz and Nick Renner.”
Rahr and Wilson were both prominent in the Mustangs’ backfield and through the air in 2021. Rahr — now a senior — rushed for 664 yards and five touchdowns while tallying eight receptions for 117 yards and a TD. Wilson — a junior — rushed for 397 yards and three touchdowns while catching nine passes for 108 yards.
Hart, now a senior, returns as a force to be reckoned with on the offensive line this season and will look to step into a larger leadership role in the quest for another state title.
“I’m feeling great,” Hart said. “We’ve got a lot to learn, a lot of new guys, but I think everything is looking great so it feels good to be back. Obviously, we know what it takes to (win a state title). We did it last year. This year, we’re leaders and kind of coaching everyone — it’s kind of fun to get up to that level.”
Menz returns to the defensive side of the ball and comes off of a 2021 campaign in which he recorded 57 total tackles, 11 1/2 sacks and four pass breakups. Olson returns as a junior defensive lineman while Entz is a senior defensive back and Renner is a senior linebacker.
Renner was third in total tackles for the Mustangs last season with 44 1/2 and also recorded two interceptions, one which was brought back for a touchdown. Entz recorded 13 total tackles while Olson recorded 18 total tackles along with four pass breakups and two interceptions.
Sheyenne will open with a home contest against Bismarck Legacy on Aug. 26. The Mustangs topped the Sabers 36-7 in Bismarck last year. The Mustangs also have home tilts this season with Shanley, West Fargo and Mandan while going on the road to face Fargo Davies, Bismarck Century, Grand Forks Red River, Minot and Bismarck.
Like Menz said, Newton is aware every team is shooting for Sheyenne this season, but that’s not what the 2021 11AA Coach of the Year is focused on.
“We’re not looking at that,” Newton said. “We’re just looking to control what we want to do and then everything else will come from there.
“We want to take it a game at a time and play every game as hard as we can and that’s all we can do.”
Most of all, Newton is simply excited to get back up to speed.
“Just getting started,” Newton said about what excites him the most about the coming year. “Getting back at ‘er again, seeing the kids, everyone’s talking football again and that’s my favorite time of year.”
West Fargo Sheyenne opens its season on Friday, Aug. 26 against Bismarck Legacy with kickoff set for 7 p.m. at Sheyenne High School.