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Published October 29 2010

North Dakota high school Class 3A football tournament: Class parity party

Bismarck and Fargo South are the only schools to reach the North Dakota Class 3A high school football championship game the past three seasons.

And entering each of those years, the Bruins or the Demons were prohibitive favorites to win it all. It was pretty cut and dry. Everyone else was on the outside.

That’s not the case this season. Parity has finally hit Class 3A.

“I think all eight (playoff teams) are in the mix,” said Bismarck coach Mark Gibson, whose team is the two-time defending champion. “It’s just a matter of who is going to get hot at the right time. I don’t know of any game that is going to be a blowout. I think it’s going to be a dogfight.”

The postseason begins tonight with Minot playing at Fargo South and Grand Forks Red River traveling to Bismarck Century.

It continues Saturday when West Fargo hosts Mandan and Bismarck hosts Fargo North.

The loss of graduated players, injuries and an increased level of play throughout the state have brought everyone closer together, according to Century coach Ron Wingenbach.

“In the West, we could play this whole season again and have a whole re-shuffling of the teams 1-5,” he said. “I think athleticism-wise, maybe there is more of a balance as far as the speed factor is concerned.”

One undeniable major factor: Bismarck lost several of the skill-position players that helped it win back-to-back titles.

Another: Fargo South’s split with Fargo Davies thinned the Bruins depth.

And almost every other program took a step forward. Take a look at a sampling of regular-season games for some of the post-season participants:

- West Fargo defeated Century and Bismarck. The Demons won five in a row after dropping a 20-14 decision to the Patriots.

- Mandan lost 28-20 to South and 41-40 to Minot.

- North beat Red River 18-15 and lost to West Fargo 20-18.

The first round of the playoffs could be as close as ever. There could be a few upsets this time around.

“There was no team coming into this year that had the credentials where everyone said they knew that team was going to win it,” said West Fargo coach Jay Gibson. “Of the eight teams in the playoffs, all have played well at times. I think everyone’s got a shot.”

Mark Gibson said injuries could play a role in this year’s championship. Gibson calls his team “a wounded animal.”

And South will be without standout receiver Andrew Okland, starting offensive tackle Devon Wahl, linebacker Mike Eide and cornerback Andy Booth.

Brock Larson, who has been a difference-maker at running back and receiver this year, is a game-time decision with a shoulder injury.

Century is healthy as they enter the chase for the school’s first state title.

“We knew there would be good balance throughout the state,” South coach Troy Mattern said. “Looking at the non-conference scores, we saw that anybody can win at any time. I think all eight teams that made the playoffs have been well-deserving.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Heath Hotzler at (701) 241-5562.

Hotzler’s blogs can be found at www.areavoices.com