In 2018, Bismarck outscored opponents by an average of 32.8 points per game and finished 12-0 with a state championship. In 2017,, West Fargo outscored opponents by an average of 30.4 points per game and finished 12-0 with a state championship.
We’ve witnessed two of the most dominant seasons of Class AAA football each of the last two years, but I believe we’ll have more parity in 2019. The Demons graduated a huge class of seniors, but Mark Gibson is hoping their success will rub off on the newcomers.
“We’re just hoping those kids and what they’ve done is something that is going to carry over to some of these younger kids that we have coming up,” said Gibson.
I still think Bismarck High will be a threat in the WDA, but I believe Century will be the team to beat with the group of returners they have. The Patriots nearly stunned the Demons at the Dakota Bowl, but ultimately fell short 21-16. The EDC is shaping up to be really competitive, with Davies and Sheyenne looking like the early favorites.
Much like the rest of the divisions in North Dakota high school football, Class AAA will have a different look. Jamestown and Shanley have re-joined the top class to make it a 16-team division. The Blue Jays and Deacons are coming off outstanding seasons in Class AA. Shanley won the state championship with a perfect season, while Jamestown bowed out in the semifinal round with a 21-14 loss to the Deacons.
Bismarck Century has played in the Dakota Bowl three of the last four years, and the Patriots have the roster to contend for a third state title in five seasons.
“We bring back a lot of guys that played in that respective game," veteran head coach Ron Wingenbach said. "So, I’d hope that their goals are pretty high.”
The Patriots return seven starters on offense and four on defense. The group of returners is headlined by all state quarterback Cade Feeney, who also makes an impact from his defensive back position. The one thing that jumped out at me when I visited Century’s opening day of practice was how massive their linemen are. They have three guys up front that will be around 300 pounds, and they look like they know how to use their size. The Patriots will get a stiff challenge right off the bat with a trip to Davies, and they’ll close out their season with a state championship rematch against the rival Demons.
Cade Feeney is one of the best athletes in the state and is a defensive coordinator’s nightmare because of his improvisation skills. Feeney passed for 1,099 yards and 14 TDs, and rushed for 737 yards and 14 more scores on his way to earning all state honors as a junior. He also made 65 tackles on defense. There is some concern for the Century quarterback, though. After helping the Patriots baseball team to a second consecutive state championship, he cut his summer baseball season short because of a sprain in his UCL. Feeney, who committed to play baseball at NDSU in early August, told me he wanted to give his arm a chance to heal up before football season because he knew how much potential this group had for his senior year.
Feeney will be taking snaps from first team all state lineman Konnor Stordalen (6’0”, 290 lbs) who is excited to be the man in the middle of a strong offensive line.
“The chemistry is great. We’re like brothers up front there. We stick through it together, and we’re down in the middle of it all the time,” said Stordalen.
Junior Andrew Leingang, Junior Camden Schwarzkopf and sophomore Lucas Schweigert are some of the other linemen that will be pushing guys around for the Pats. Senior running back Grant Anderson rushed for 872 yards last season on his way to earning 2nd team all state honors. Senior linebackers Griffin Jensen and Damon Dixon will help lead the defense after combining for 97 tackles in 2018.
Expectations haven’t been this high surrounding the Mandan football program in nearly a decade. The Braves are coming off their first playoff appearance since 2011, and have 10 starters returning on both sides of the football. Head coach Todd Sheldon understands that this year has a different feel.
“We’ve been saying we need to raise the bar for eight years now. That’s kind of been our mantra,” he said.
The Braves boasted the fifth highest scoring offense in the state last season (27.5 ppg), and with the returning experience, you’d expect that number to climb this fall. Senior Dane Carlson returns at quarterback after being sidelined late last year with a broken bone in his leg. His leadership along with the talent around him should have the Braves contending for the WDA title this fall.
Senior wide receiver Elijah Klein is the player that will garner the most attention on the Braves roster and for good reason. He’s 6’7”, 215 pounds, and coming off the best receiving season in school history. The UND commit hauled in 43 catches for 1,142 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2018. Klein will see his dose of double teams this season, but he’s proven the ability to still put up big numbers no matter how the defense plays him. Carlson will be looking his way early and often.
Carlson finished his junior campaign passing for 1,634 yards and 16 touchdowns. When I watched him at the Rise Above the Region tournament in Sioux Falls over the summer, he looked stronger and seemed to be making quicker decisions. I expect him to have a big senior season.
Austin Frey, a second team all state pick in 2018, will be the team’s lead running back after rushing for 548 yards as a junior. Frey is a smaller back at 5’8”, 155 pounds, but don’t let his size fool you. He’s a tough young man.
Aaron Riopelle and Blake Arenz are also solid receiving weapons. Junior lineman Jaxon Duttenhefer (6’2”, 270 lbs) is a strong 2-way lineman that made second team all-state last year after making 43 tackles and 4.5 sacks last year. Kobe Poitra (6’5”, 270 lbs) is another senior with great size that should have an impact at tight end and on the defensive line.
Number three was a tough decision for me between Davies and Sheyenne, but I went with the Eagles after a coinflip. Outside of some struggles against the Bismarck schools last year, Davies had an outstanding season. Their only conference loss was a 14-12 defeat to EDC champ Sheyenne, and they reached the state semifinal round. The Eagles will have to replace quarterback Jesse Forknell, who’s starting his freshman season at MSU Mankato, but I think junior Reid Hartness will be able to handle the offense and keep things rolling behind an experienced offensive line.
The schedule is what makes things a little tricky for the Eagles. They’re opening against Century and Mandan, which are the teams that I picked one and two in these power rankings. Will we see the Eagles make a statement right away, or will they have some tough learning lessons to bounce back from? We’ll find out soon enough.
I’ve talked to several high school and college coaches, and the majority believe Ty Satter is the top prospect of the 2020 class. The Davies senior wide receiver and defensive back made play after play last season for the Eagles. He led the EDC with 847 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns and added 255 rushing yards and five scores. NDSU likes him even more for his defensive play and plans to play him at safety. Satter recorded four interceptions last year from his defensive back position.
Reid Hartness is a 6’3”, 205-pound quarterback that will get the nod at quarterback. He has good size and athleticism but will have to be a quick learner if he wants to lead the Eagles on a deep playoff run. Seniors Jack Carlson, Justice Noel and Art Harris are a few more names you’ll hear plenty from in 2019.
I might as well have Sheyenne labeled as 3B instead of number 4, but I’ll stick with the old-fashioned way of doing things. I might’ve had the Mustangs pegged as high as number two in the state before the news that all-state running back Nathan Goldade had torn his ACL in the offseason. Now, I don’t know how to prognosticate their season with the news that Goldade held off on surgery and plans to give it a go this year.
Whether Goldade plays this season remains a huge question mark, but the Mustangs have developed into a program that deserves respect each and every year. Sheyenne bounced back from an overtime loss to Century last year by winning nine straight games until another loss to the Patriots ended their season in the state semifinal round. The Mustangs defense led the EDC by surrendering just 12 points per contest.
Obviously, Goldade’s status will be something to monitor the next few weeks. He was the top rusher in Class AAA last season with more than 1,100 yards and 18 touchdowns. Coby Angeles and Barika Kpeenu would be the top contenders to earn carries for the Mustangs if Goldade isn’t able to play.
The quarterback spot is another question mark, with a trio of players fighting to take over the job following the graduation of Parker Sander. Junior Logan Wood and sophomores Grant Warkentein and Kellen Entz have been battling out for that spot, and head coach Jeremy Newton told me he’s comfortable having that battle last through the first couple non-conference games.
Whoever starts at quarterback will have a future division one football player to throw to in NDSU commit Tyler Terhark. The 6’2”, 190-pound senior caught 40 passes for 769 yards and 10 touchdowns and intercepted seven passes on defense last season. Terhark will be the leader of this group along with senior RB/LB Zach Rodgers who paced the EDC with 63.5 tackles last fall. All region defensive end Tommy Bright is also a difference maker for that Mustang defense.
5. Bismarck High
Last year, naming Bismarck High as the favorite to win the state championship was as easy as picking a channel to watch at 10:30 PM on a Friday in the fall. (There’s my shameless plug for Varsity Sports Live, airing 10:30-11:30 PM every Friday night from August 30 to November 15.) But seriously, the Demons were stacked and ended up rolling to a state championship victory over Century.
This year, however, is different, because I don’t know what to expect from a team that’s returning only one starter on offense and four on defense. Even with all that uncertainty, I’m not going to bet against a program that has had seven or more wins every season since 2000. The Demons might not be dominant this year, but you can bet that they’ll be dangerous come October.
Thomas Colby will be the most familiar name for Demon fans. Colby was a first team all state linebacker last season and a big reason why Bismarck was able to hold opponents to an average of 11.3 points per game.
Senior running back Jared Hager rushed for 506 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2018 and will provide plenty of burst for the offense. Kade Rohlfs has the tall order of replacing three-year starter and ND Gatorade Player of the Year Will Madler at quarterback. Rohlfs (6’1”, 170 lbs) led the junior varsity team last season but will be introduced to a new challenge running the varsity offense against tougher competition.
I’m confident that we’ll see plenty of new stars emerge for this program throughout the season, because the players know the expectation that comes with putting on a Bismarck High jersey.
The Bubble Teams
Fargo South, Shanley, Legacy
10 Players to Watch in Class AAA
- Cade Feeney, Century
- Konnor Stordalen, Century
- Ty Satter, Davies
- Elijah Klein, Mandan
- Peyton Fisher, North
- Peyton Lotysz, Red River
- Joe Kava, Shanley
- Nathan Goldade, Sheyenne
- Tyler Terhark, Sheyenne
- Danny Lahai, South