LARIMORE – The Rugby High School football’s teams 42-28 season-opening win over Larimore was an exercise in balance.
After a scoreless first quarter, both teams found success, but the Panthers found it in nearly every facet of the Class A, non-conference game.
Rugby scored four times on the ground, once through the air and forced five turnovers – three interceptions (including a pick six) and two fumble recoveries.
RHS senior Brad Heidlebaugh, an all-state quarterback in 2013, ran for three touchdowns and passed for another, with game-highs of 153 rushing yards (10 carries) and 181 passing (16-26-0).
“We want it to be balanced,” RHS coach Scott Grochow said. “We need to work on running the football better. We came out in the second half and the only time we were stopped, we stopped ourselves.”
The running game may not have been effective in a conventional sense, but Heidlebaugh’s strength and improvisation resulted in rushing touchdowns of 70, 36 and 1 yard. Larimore led 8-0, but RHS senior lineman Reid Mundahl recovered a Polar Bears’ fumble. That Larimore drive started with the Panthers’ lone turnover, a Victor Gronvold fumble.
The 36-yard trot came with 6 minutes, 4 seconds remaining in the second quarter to cut Larimore’s early lead to 8-6. A 44-yard reception for senior tight end Zach Miller preceded the big run.
A botched snap led to another turnover as RHS senior Bennie Mygland pounced on the ball at Larimore’s 38-yard line. Heidlebaugh broke a 25-yard run to set up a one-yard score for himself with 3:31 left in the half. Miller caught the 2-point conversion for a 14-8 lead.
“It’s hard to play any team early, but a good team like Rugby with Heidlebaugh, ” Larimore coach Paul Peterson said. “Heidlebaugh is a good player and they have a couple good wide receivers. Playing in space, we had a couple guys struggle with that and they’re fast.”
A Larimore kick return to the RHS 42 set up a short drive and Jeremy Weigandt scored on a 5-yard dive with 1:00 remaining and the game was knotted at 14-14 at half.
The Panthers opened the second half with a 15-play, 65-yard drive capped by a 6-yard TD reception for Miller. The drive, which last 5:45, included two fourth-down conversion and two third-down conversions. Miller’s 11-yard catch came on a fourth-and-4 and Heidlebaugh picked up two yards on a fourth-and-2.
The lead jumped to two scores at 28-14 when Tanner Bernhardt returned an interception 18 yards for a touchdown. Mundahl applied the pressure and knocked quarterback Jacob Tupa down. It was the second of three interceptions in the third quarter.
“They ran an out right to me on my side. I saw it in the air and I got to it,” Bernhardt said. “It’s a battle of who gives up first. We had to keep on our toes and keep hitting ’em.”
The Polar Bears outgained the Panthers on the ground with 236 yards, but couldn’t hold onto the ball. RHS senior Eric Hooker had a pair of interceptions. The second Hooker pick came with 10:59 left in the game. From a safety position, Hooker made a long sprint to his right and snagged the ball with time to get a couple comfortable steps in bounds.
“It was in my zone and I knew I had to make a play, so I just read it,” Hooker said.
Two plays later, Heidlebaugh broke through the line and outlasted a throng of Polar Bears for a 70-yard score.
“It was supposed to be a dive play (for Hooker), but they blocked the wrong way and I pulled it from him,” Heidlebaugh said. “I bounced off a tackle to get away and it was a sprinting contest.”
Hooker scrambled before finding Bernhardt in the end zone for the two-point conversion after the snap for the extra point got away. Gronvold atoned for his earlier mishap with a 55-yard run to set up 3-yard rushing TD for Hooker. Earlier in the fourth quarter, Seth Smith rushed for a 1-yard TD after a six-minute 4th quarter drive. Weigandt scored on an 83-yard kick return after Hooker’s TD.
Gronvold finished with 55 yards and Hooker added 21 on nine carries. Miller led all receivers with 93 yards on five catches, Gronvold added 41 on 5 and Bernhardt had 36 on 4. Larimore quarterbacks combined to go 6 for 10 for 69 yards.
The Panthers play Sept. 6 against Williams County at Ray High School at 6 p.m. The Firestorm beat Stanley-Powers Lake 12-6 on Aug. 26.