The similarities between the West Region No. 3 seed Minot High School boys soccer team and East Region No. 2 West Fargo are many.
The first-round opponents at today's state tournament in Fargo have near identical records, routed overmatched opponents as expected and relied on experienced strikers to gain leads.
The differences begin with how each team started and finished close games.
Minot High School senior defender Bryce Veazey controls the ball in a game earlier this season at Optimist Soccer Complex.
The advantage may go to the Magicians (12-4-2), who tend to score quickly. The Packers (13-3-2) fell behind as quickly in their losses. The 7 p.m. game is at Fargo Shanley's Sid Cichy Stadium.
"They're a lot like us," MHS coach Cody Saunders said. "Their attack is kind of what they focus on. Right now our defense is really doing well so it's going to be a challenge for them. (We've) only let in one goal in the last five games."
The biggest challenge for the Magicians will be adjusting to a team they haven't played - and one that plays in the traditionally stronger East Region. MHS also has to focus on playing a complete game, which hasn't come easy against quality opponents.
Bismarck High overcame a 4-2 deficit to beat MHS 5-4 during the regular season.
West Fargo's losses came to the only two teams seeded higher. West No. 1 Bismarck Century (12-2-1) beat the Packers 2-1 in the season opener. WF dropped two 2-1 decisions to tournament favorite and East No. 1 Fargo Shanley (14-1-1). In both games, the Deacons scored a pair of goals in the first 20 minutes.
"The (matches) started at 7 and we started at 7:12," WF coach Doug Millar said. "(Shanley) scored all four of those goals in the first twenty minutes. I thought we outplayed them in the remaining 60 minutes. You've got to come ready."
The Packers will look to keep MHS senior P.K. Annan - the school's all-time leading scorer (61 goals) - in check. Annan has 17 goals assists this season and his brother, sophomore Ekow Annan, is second with 19. Junior goalkeeper Garrett Weishaar has allowed 12 goals in 14 starts.
WF is led by forward Lucas Miller (18 goals, 14 assists), one of 13 seniors on the team.
"It's been a while since I can recall anyone from West Fargo having that kind of scoring season," Millar said. "He's a very unselfish player - one can who put it in the net, but also set up teammates."
The Packers won the title in 2010 and still have senior Brady Rotert, a defensive midfielder from that championship team. Rotert has four goals and seven assists this season.
"He's the guy who digs the ball out and wins it when we need to," Millar said.
MHS junior goalkeeper Garrett Weishaar has played well lately, but will face stronger competition than he's seen in the previous two matches - an 8-0 win over Mandan in the state qualifier and a 2-1 win over Bismarck St. Mary's in the region's third-place game. The lone goal given up in the previous five games was on a penalty kick for the Saints.
"What I think gives him the confidence is he knows he has good defenders in front of him to kick the ball out," P.K. Annan said. "He's a solid keeper. He's not afraid."
WF senior goalkeeper Nathan Sample has given up just 10 goals in 17 starts.
"We play the most like them, that's why I think it's gonna be a really fun game," Saunders said. "I'm hoping it's close. I have a feeling it's gonna open up really early."
The winner will face the winner of East No. 4 Grand Forks Central and West No. 1 Century at 7 p.m. on Friday. The losers will meet at 3 p.m.