The good news is the Rugby High School football team is in the playoffs.
The bad news?
The Panthers will need to knock off the state’s top-ranked team to continue into the quarterfinal round.
Rugby (4-4) travels to take on Hazen (8-0) at 1:30 p.m. on Oct. 26. The Bison are the defending state champions and have spent most of the season atop the state media poll.
“They’re the state champs and they’ve got most of their guys, so we’re playing a pretty formidable opponent,” head coach Scott Grochow said. “The ultimate goal is the play in the state championship and win the state championship. You could easily say you have (to play the best) sometime. We just have to go out and get after it. Yeah we’ve had some injuries, but that’s life. You have to just step up and get ready to play. They’re good. I don’t think they’re unbeatable, but they’re good.”
Turnovers are often a key decider in playoff games, but Grochow said penalties have stung his team repeatedly this season.
“We can’t turn the ball over, and there are times we haven’t done that so bad, but we have to stay away from the penalties,” he said.
Hazen has done much of its damage on the ground in forging its unbeaten mark.
“They run the ball very well,” Grochow said. “They’re primarily a running team and they’ve got several good backs and some pretty decent speed. We need to find, on the defensive side of the ball, how to neutralize that and try to limit them and make them be a grind-it-out type of team.”
On offense, consistency will be key. The Panthers have had numerous drives stall out this season and will need to look to big playmakers to put points on the board against Hazen.
“We just have to have some consistency on offense and move the ball,” Grochow said.
“I think any time you get in the playoffs, you are trying to find ways to get your playmakers to make plays, on both sides of the ball.”
One of those big playmakers, running back/safety Tanner Bernhardt, is questionable for Saturday’s game.
Bernhardt is one of a handful of key Panthers who have suffered injuries this season. None of the rest of the injured Rugby players are expected to return for the playoffs.
“We’ll be basically about the same spot as we were going into the DL-B game,” Grochow said. “We’ve got a couple dings, but we won’t have anyone back that we didn’t have at the DL-B game.”
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