SIOUX CITY | The top-seeded Sioux City Stampede will host the fourth-seeded Fargo Invaders in a Northern Elite Football League semifinal game which will begin at 7 o’clock at Memorial Field.
Fargo (7-2) advanced with a 29-7 first-round win Saturday night over the fifth-seeded Northland Bulls. Hayden Zenner rushed for 137 yards and two touchdowns for the Invaders while quarterback Nick Jackson passed for 115 yards and a touchdown.
Sioux City (7-1) posted a 23-15 win over Fargo on May 19 at Memorial Field. During that contest, Coach Jason Garnand’s squad rallied from a 9-3 halftime deficit to post a 14-0 third-quarter advantage as quarterback Dorian Ballentine threw a 30-yard touchdown pass to Jake McDonald while T.J. James rushed for a one-yard score.
Ballentine passed for 164 yards and a touchdown against Fargo while James rushed for 58 yards. Corey Wortman and TyRae Kemp each had 10 tackles in the win for the Stampede, which is aiming for the NEFL championship the season after winning the Midwest Football Alliance title.
Ballentine finished the regular season ranked fourth in the NEFL in both passing yardage (1,330) and touchdown passes (13).
James ranks third in the league in rushing (501 yards) while Larry Taylor is fourth (347). Wide receiver Jake McDonald is third in both yards (427) and receiving touchdowns (7) while receiving teammates Bryce Harshman (397) and Bret Van Muyden (352) rank fourth and fifth, respectively.
Defensively, Sioux City cornerback Warren Joiner leads the NEFL with seven interceptions and is tied for the league lead with two defensive touchdowns.
Fargo entered Saturday night’s first-round game facing adversity on two counts.
First of all, quarterback Ja’Vonte Johnson, an NEFL most valuable player candidate, was injured. Johnson, the league’s leader in both passing (1,677 yards) and touchdown passes (21), had passed for 276 yards and two touchdowns in the win over the Stampede, but also threw seven interceptions.
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Second, the Invaders were originally scheduled to face the Fox Valley Force in the playoff game.
Thursday morning, the fourth-seeded Force, a team that had posted a 5-3 record, announced they were ceasing operations and would not be able to make the trip to Fargo.
“With numbers being low, there is no way to make the game happen and we feel awful,” said the Force in a statement released by the NEFL. “To the Fargo Invaders, we apologize this causes you yet another forfeit at home and makes semi pro look bad in your community. We just have too many injuries and not enough guys able to get off work all weekend to make the trip.”
An emergency conference call was made Thursday night as NEFL teams voted to re-seed the playoffs, giving the Northland Bulls the No. 5 seed and the River City Rough Riders the sixth seed.
It has been a year filled with turmoil in the league as the Chippewa Valley Predators and the Minnesota Sting both closed shop. Those two teams’ schedules were replaced by the Minnesota Vipers and the Granite City Renegades, respectively.
Halfway through the season, Granite City had to fold after losing players. By the last week of the season, the Hudson Thunderhawks dissolved while the Vipers forfeited their last game of the year in Fargo.
Northland (5-4), which fell 33-6 at Sioux City on July 21, took a 7-3 second-quarter lead at Brett Schreiner fired his 14th touchdown pass of the season, a 1-yarder to Nathan Kent. However, Fargo scored on each of its final two possessions of the second quarter, taking a 9-7 lead on Zenner’s three-yard touchdown run.
Jamus Neal had seven tackles, three sacks and an interception for Fargo, whose defense limited Northland to 203 yards total offense.
The second-seeded Minneapolis Warriors (6-2) will host the third-seeded St. Paul Pioneers (7-2) at 7 p.m. Saturday. St. Paul, the defending NEFL champion, rolled past River City 55-14 in Saturday’s other semifinal game.