FARGO — It was an all too familiar sight for Fargo Shanley’s football team on Friday at the Fargodome. The Deacons stood on the field watching as another team celebrated a North Dakota Class AA state championship.
For the third time in the last four seasons, the Deacons lost in the state championship game, falling to Bismarck St. Mary’s 31-12.
“Obviously, you never want to go out this way, but that’s the way it goes,” said Shanley senior Jake Kava, who played in the last three losses in the state championship. “I haven’t quite taken it in yet. This is my last high school football game playing for Shanley. It was such an honor playing for Shanley’s program. These coaches that came over this year, Shanley is in the right hands. We won’t keep losing.”
The sight was all too familiar to the rest of the state as well, as the Saints won their fourth state title in the last five seasons.
"We’ve kind of got that second-place bug right now,” first-year Shanley coach Troy Mattern said. “Our kids will respond. Unfortunately, our seniors won’t be part of it, but our kids will get back to work and we’ll be gearing up for next year.”
After eight straight losses to St. Mary’s, Shanley beat the Saints on Sept. 29. That fueled the Saints.
“We wanted to play them again in the state championship,” Saints quarterback Cole Gendreau said. “We expected that. We knew we’d get them. We wanted to get revenge.”
The defenses allowed next to nothing in the first quarter, as the teams combined for two first downs and 41 yards of total offense.
With less than five minutes remaining in the first half St. Mary's had two first downs. The Saints had eight on their final two drives of the first half.
On back-to-back plays the Saints had passes of 34 and 24 yards from Gendreau to Luke Kambeitz and John Nordberg, respectively. Those passes set up a 5-yard touchdown run for Gendreau to open the scoring with 2 minutes, 56 seconds left in the half.
“We realized we weren’t as good as we thought we were,” Gendreau said in regards to losing to Shanley in the regular season. “That first game we didn’t do a lot of the little things right. We had a lot of turnovers. We had some this game, but the difference between this team and the team that lost is we overcome those turnovers, faced adversity and came out with the win.”
The Saints forced a Shanley punt on the ensuing possession and went to work at midfield with two minutes left in the half. Eight plays put the Saints at the Shanley 1-yard line with nine seconds remaining. Shanley (10-1) stuffed Gendreau, but the Saints called a timeout with three seconds left, and Jonah Krebs ran it in as time expired for a 14-0 lead.
“That was huge, but we had the ball coming out of the half, and we felt comfortable with the adjustments we made at half,” Mattern said. “We didn’t get it done. We got beat by a very good football team tonight, and I couldn’t be more proud of our kids.”
St. Mary's (9-2) fumbled on its first two possessions of the second half. Shanley made the second fumble hurt, going 39 yards on four plays, capping the drive with a Cade Busek 24-yard touchdown pass to a diving Cam Saville to cut the lead to 14-6 with 5:47 left in the third.
The Saints responded with a clincher. They marched 84 yards on 13 plays for a touchdown. On third-and-18, Gendreau found Luke Kambeitz for a 29-yard touchdown to put the Saints up 21-6 with 1:01 left in the third.
Krebs added a 29-yard touchdown run with 10:42 remaining, Shanley fumbled the ball back to St. Mary's on the next play from scrimmage, and St. Mary's added a 31-yard field from Joel Huber to make it 31-6.
“We have a really young team. We start three sophomores on the offensive line and two on the defensive line,” Kava said. “My younger brother is a sophomore and he knows the deal. We’re not losing another state championship.”