Here comes the beef.
Century’s vaunted offensive line, averaging 275 pounds across, will be inside the Fargodome tonight, trying to lead the Patriots to their second straight Class AAA championship.
The marquee matchup, featuring the No. 1 and 2 teams in the poll all season, is a rematch. One year ago, the Patriots blanked the Mustangs 10-0. Century is expecting an equally difficult test tonight.
“Obviously, West Fargo Sheyenne is a well-coached, physical team. They’ve had a great run these last three years and we know we’re in for a big challenge,” said 6-foot-6, 275-pound senior Andrew Leingang. “For us, we’re sticking with the approach that got us here. Focus on one play at a time. Don’t overthink things. That formula has served us well.”
Leingang is the headliner on the Century offensive line. However, the Kansas State-bound two-way star is quick to deflect any individual accolades back to the team.
“I’ve had the opportunity to be coached by great coaches and play with great players. It’s been a tremendous experience that I’m very thankful for,” Leingang said. “We’ve accomplished a lot of great things as a team. Anytime you're doing something you love to do with your friends, there's nothing better."
If Century is to win its fourth state title in the last six years, names which do not typically appear in the boxscore likely will play a key part.
Head coach Ron Wingenbach rotates six players along the line. Seniors Hunter Harvey (left tackle), Leingang (right guard), Brody Toten (center), Tristan Wilson (right tackle) and junior Lucas Schweigert (left guard) typically start. Senior Camden Schwarzkopf sees plenty of time. Toten is the runt of the litter at 6-foot, 225 pounds. Harvey is 6-5, 250, Schweigert 6-0, 270, Leingang 6-6, 275, Wilson 6-1, 300 and Schwarzkopf 6-0, 330.
“We’ve been blessed to have a pretty good run of big kids who happen to be very good football players,” Wingenbach said. “It’s not just that they’re big, they all move well. When you have that, you try to take advantage of it.”
Line play’s not as simple as lining up and firing off the ball. There’s zone and man blocking schemes. Power plays, dive plays and option plays. Schweigert, whose No. 77 jersey often can be seen in the opponent’s backfield when Century is on defense, said it goes back to when the sun shines hottest.
“We’re really close as friends outside of football. In the summer we spend a lot of time together working out, lifting weights, just trying to get ready for the season,” Schweigert said. “The chemistry we have is important, I think. By the time the season starts, we’re ready to go physically and just being in sync with each other.”
Century’s people-movers up front, combined with a top-notch tailback and strong running quarterback, have been a powerful combination, especially lately. Since a modest start to the season offensively, Century’s scoring output the last six games reads: 71, 45, 49, 21, 49, and 45.
Cade Garcia has rushed for over 1,000 yards and 14 touchdowns, but it’s been quarterback Noah Schaffner’s emergence in the run game which has made Century really tough to stop. Schaffner has 10 rushing touchdowns, plus five through the air in Century’s two playoff victories.
“Obviously everyone knows how great of a player Cade is, but it’s been so fun to watch Noah get more comfortable throughout the season and become such a force,” Leingang said. “With both Cade and Noah, they’re such great teammates, you just love blocking for guys like that.”
Leingang and Schweigert are both multi-sport athletes. Leingang is unsure if he’ll play basketball this season, but had through his junior year. He’s also among the top throwers in the state when track and field rolls around.
Schweigert, meanwhile, is the rarest of combinations -- a football lineman, who plays hockey. He’s also a thrower for the Patriots' track team. Football is his favorite. College teams from around the area are in hot pursuit. He does like throwing his weight around on the ice, though.
“Yeah, there aren’t too many guys my size playing hockey,” he said. “I like the physical part of it.”
The Patriots know they’re in for a rock fight tonight. Sheyenne averages nearly 400 yards of offense per game, 300 of which come on the ground. NDSU commit Barika Kpeenu has 919 yards rushing and 14 TDs.
“They got some talented guys on offense. The big thing for us is we have to try and shut down their run game,” Schweigert said. “We know they’re a real tough team. We’re going to have to play our best.”
Playing in a nearly empty Fargodome, instead of several thousand fans will be different, but no extra motivation is needed.
“Last year it was a great atmosphere and it’s unfortunate we won’t have that with all the fans this time, but we’re very thankful to have gotten to have a season with everything going on with Covid, so we don’t have anything to complain about,” Leingang said. “We have the opportunity to play in a state championship game against a great team. We’re really excited about that.”
Reach Tribune sports editor Dave Selvig at (701) 250-8246 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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