Friday Night Feature: Bismarck Century @ WF Sheyenne
When I heard that the two time defending champs were rolling into town on Friday night to kick off the their season against the West Fargo Sheyenne Mustangs, I was immediately intrigued. What I didn't expect was that the home team would be able to put up as much fight as it did against Bismarck Century. If I were to parallel it something otherwise unrelated I think a piece of orchestral music in four parts may fit. Nearing the end of the fourth section would come a tremendous crescendo and then it would be over. But enough hyperbole, on with the story.
The Mustangs started with the ball & it took no longer then the reception of the kickoff for the excitement to start as it was taken for 48 yards. The offense wasn't able to manage much progress after the big return but thanks in large part to an unsportsmanlike conduct they were able to squeeze a field goal out of their first possession.
On the very next play of the game West Fargo had two chances to recover a fumble on the kickoff but squandered each of them. The Patriots drive wasn't much better but they got more assistance from the Mustangs and eventually capped the drive with a short touchdown run by #30 Nathan Craft. With that score & the ensuing three and out by Sheyenne, Bismarck had an opportunity to put a veritable strangle hold on the contest.
West Fargo, to it's credit, wasn't content to just lie down to that pressure from the reigning champs. Near the end of the first quarter #21 Luke Oster nearly wrangled an interception for the home team. Though unsuccessful, it helped push the champs to punt. All that came of the change in possession was another three & out. Bismarck didn't have the ball for long before another momentum changing play happened. As #16 Cade Rauser was making an effort to score the second touchdown of the night there was a fumble which Sheyenne managed to fall on this time. It didn't immediately pay dividends for them but after a pair of empty possessions WF finally managed to get some traction with the ball in their hands. Many of the yards on the drive came from #7 Hunter Hoffner. He'd made some nice plays on defense earlier in the game but then made the most impact for his team that he could and tallied over 40 total yards in the possession. That brought them close to the red zone and once inside it quarterback Parker Sander hit #2 Zach Westphal for the teams first touchdown with seconds to go in the half.
After the intermission Bismarck managed to make some plays but still ended up punting the ball back to their hosts. This time around #5 Nathan Goldade was the key contributor but what he started was finished by another, namely #34 Jason Gaulrapp to put the Mustangs up 16 - 7 early in the third quarter.
Champions don't just fold though and Bismarck took little time in crafting their response. Their own #2 Oliver Nelson was the one to hit pay dirt this time around to make it a 16 - 14 game. From there until the end it was a game of attrition, just trying to bleed the clock but Bismarck managed to play it so that they had the last possession.
Starting at the 20 yard line with just under four minutes remaining Bismarck did enough and got enough breaks to be within field goal range with 31 ticks of the clock remaining. If you're doing the math at home, the three point kick would have given them the edge and in all likelihood the victory. But pressure can be difficult to manage and these are still young men out there trying to compete so when the ball was snapped and the kick was made it was anyones guess how it would go. So I'll just tell you, it hooked left of the left upright and left the home team to celebrate victory. It was a moment that should serve as a reminder of why we love sports. Not the agony of the miss but the pure reaction of the victors. That it is still a game and should be for enjoyment.
I can only hope that each of the games that fill out the roster of the GotW will be as good as Friday's but they set a high benchmark!