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Panthers in the mix

By Staff | Aug 22, 2014

Tim Chapman/PCT Rugby High School junior Spencer Koehmstedt (left) sweeps through during a block-shedding exercise with Brexton Odden.

Injuries plagued the Panthers season last year, and as a result, Rugby didn’t make it out of the first round of the playoffs.

“We gotta stay healthy and learn every day,” head coach Scott Grochow said. “There’s a lot of teams that bring back a lot of players.”

This team has many leaders. All anyone has to do is point to any of the seniors and you get a someone you can depend on. Many coaches in the region mentioned rising seniors Brad Heidlebaugh and Zach Miller as the Panthers most dangerous threats.

“This just feels like it’s the big year,” Heidlebaugh said. “We have lot of players back, and nobody really stands above the rest in the region this year. If we stay focused at practice, we can surprise a lot of people.”

Rising senior receiver Tanner Bernhardt says he also feels like this is going to be a good year.

I think we’ll do really well,” he said. “We lost a lot of our line so we probably won’t play them as much. But we got speed. Lots of speed. I think we have a decent shot of winning the region.”

But this team still has a lot of work to do to take the crown.

“We lost people on both sides. We got some work to do, and we’ll see what happens,” Grochow said.

“While our offense is strongest, our defense will be good too,” assistant coach Kevin Leier said. “Our linebackers will be decent, but we have some serious work to do on our lines.”

And by “some work,” he’s talking about getting many new players the experience and skills they need to lead the team.

“I hope all of us coaches will be surprised,” Leier added.

Putting together a decent line will be the key factor in how well this team does. That and staying healthy. This isn’t a team with a lot of depth. It doesn’t have the experience in the second string players to afford a serious injury. For this team, injuries will be the difference between making the playoffs or a fast end to a season.

But in a region with many tough teams, predicting who’ll make the playoffs is still tough.

“Berthold’s got some good good kids coming back. They’ll make it tough,” Grochow predicted. “One other team’s Velva because of their experience.”

Leier had a different take on how things might turn out.

“I think we’ll be up there, but I don’t know,” Leier said. “It just depends on who puts together 11 guys and plays well.”

Rugby plays its first game in Larimore on August 29.

Braves looking to rebound

In past years, Bottineau has struggled to get its football program running. This year, coach Rob Bedlion wants to change that. But the team has some shoes to fill first.

“We graduated six seniors,” Bedlion said. “I’d say the biggest shoes to fill are the quarterback’s. But we have two captains that will need to lead by example.”

The captains are seniors Ethan Kerslake-a tailback and outside linebacker-and Alex Bristol-a starting lineman on both sides of the ball.

“We expect a lot from them,” Bedlion said. “But we have some players coming up that will help.”

One of these players is a former junior varsity quarterback with something to prove. Brody Moum was a wide receiver last year, but has needed to change positions quickly with the departure of last year’s quarterback.

“Brody is fighting for that QB slot, and we expect a lot from him,” Bedlion said.

But making the playoffs in one of Class A’s most competitive regions will remain difficult for years to come.

Bedlion’s Braves play their first game Sept. 5 against Velva.

Defending champs

replacing qb

With only a single state title out of its many years of football, the Des-Lacs Burlington Lakers are trying to build a tradition. Winning a region title is a good place to start.

Last year, the 8-0 Lakers took home the Region 3 trophy, and made it to the semifinals of the playoffs. But even with the championship in view, it was still just too far away.

This year, longtime coach James Johnson is determined to bring the trophy home. But even with this determination, he still has some concerns about his team.

“We got question marks on both sides,” Johnson said. “We gotta replace a QB, and we lost some D-lineman. But I’d say we’re pretty balanced. The hope is the kids worked hard and will surprise ya.”

Returning key players are seniors Eric Knutson, an important running back and linebacker; James Byre-a senior with high expectations; and the brother of all-state quarterback, Austin Schestler, sophomore Dylan Schestler has the biggest spot to fill.

For most coaches, it’s still hard to tell how their teams stack up against the rest of the region.

“Every year Velva’s up there,” Johnson said.” Berthold’s good too. I’d also include Rugby and Harvey on the list, but Harvey’s got some new coaching staff, and some adjustments’ll have to be made. I just hope we’ll be competitive and in the mix of things.”

The Lakers play their first game on Aug. 29 against North Prairie co-op (Rolla/Rolette/Wolford).

Hornets ready for renewal

Harvey-Wells County has a football history steeped in rivalries and tradition. In the past 20 years, Harvey has won three state championships, appeared in five state championship games, and taken home six region titles and a not-so-happy 2013 season.

But new head coach Brett Dockter wants to fix last year’s lackluster season and fast. He says he’s figured out what the problems were and has ideas to fix them.

“One of the main things that killed us was turnovers,” Dockter said of his team. “You can’t give away the ball to other competitive teams during important games.”

Sadly, for this team, it graduated half of its starters last year. Now Dockter and his new coaching staff are going to have to start over with their new players.

“We lost a QB and an all-state middle linebacker,” Dockter said. “But we do have three kids competing for (the quarterback), so we should find someone good.”

When asked how he thinks his team will do, Dockter simply stated that they would be competitive.

“We have a pretty solid region, and that’s always tough. But our offense is pretty good. Our strongest side is defense. We have some new coaching staff, but since I was the defensive coordinator they’ll know what I expect. I’ve basically been promoted.”

One new coach for the Hornets is someone Dockter considers as a stroke of luck. R.C. Kilgore, an all-conference inside linebacker for South Dakota State, will be coaching for the Hornets this year as a defensive coordinator.

“We’re really lucky to have him.” Docktor said. “We think he’ll be a game changer for us.”

The Hornets play their first game on Aug. 29 on their home turf against Carrington.

Bombers look to stay fresh

Coming off of a strong 2013, the Lewis & Clark-Our Redeemer’s Bombers look to go even further. And they have the skill to back up that promise.

“We may have lost a few good players, but the great kids came back,” coach George Duenas said.

Based on the players returning, Duenas believes his offense to be the strongest side of the ball. With fewer players graduating on this side of the line, the coach thinks his players’ experience on the field will make all the difference come September.

Cousins Austin and Alex Lee make a dynamic duo in the air of QB and wing, respectively, and Marshall White, runningback, brings it to the end zone in the ground game.

But even a team like the Bombers can tire out. And that is what Duenas believes to be the single fatal flaw of his team. No team can play the game of the season every week. In a region as stacked as our own, the teams that make the playoffs can’t be predicted easily. But the Bombers are confident they can make the trip to the Fargodome.

“Based on what I saw last year,” Duenas said, “our region is freakin’ tough! But I think the top teams in our region will be us and Rugby, with DL-B not far behind.”

Finally winning a playoff game for the first time in years, the team plans to capitalize on their success last year.

“We’ve been improving over the last few years, but we finally got over the first hump,” he said. “Now the trophy’s only a step away.”

The Bombers play their first game on the road against Southern McLean on Aug. 29.

Mustangs inexperienced

on lines

After a recent transition to 11-man ball, the Surrey Mustangs are struggling to make a name for themselves after a season with a single win against Garrison-Max.

Graduation wasn’t kind to Surrey, either. Losing four starting lineman on offense will make this year all the more difficult.

But new coach Nathan Parks isn’t without hope for a better season. Senior wide receiver Noah Knipp received an all-region honorable mention last year. But with the loss of quarterback Brendan Larsen to graduation, it will be challenging to bring this player up to his potential.

The Mustangs open at Garrison on Aug. 29.

Aggies need tradition

to trump youth

After building something of a dynasty, Larry Sandy’s varsity squad was hit hard with huge starter losses.

The Velva Aggies graduated 10 seniors out of only 24 players. And only eight of the 14 returning have significant experience on the field.

“We expect those eight to provide a solid nucleus that we can build around,” Sandy said.

He’s expecting quite a few freshman to come out this year, up to 15 new players.

His main concern for the team is depth. He says his team needs to stay healthy and the underclassmen need to get better faster than usual in order to “bring their A-game.”

“I think we’ll be very balanced as a team and the region will be too,” he said. “Every week we’ll have to play our best, and if we do that, we can be competitive, which I think we’ll be.”

He attributes some of the success he’s had over the past two decades in Velva to having numerous athletes. The rest of the credit goes to the success itself, Sandy said.

Winning nine state titles in the past two decades can have an impact on any team.

“A lot of our success is in tradition,” he said. “The athletes just feel it’s their turn to win and they know what it takes to do that. We’ve had a great run of good athletes.”

This year, one thing is for certain for Sandy: He won’t have to play against his brother, Brad, in Harvey.

“It’ll be interesting and different,” he said. “There have been years where we haven’t been in the same region so we know what it’s like not to meet. It’s always been interesting, especially when you have to end up coaching against your own nephews. But after our early conversations, we decided we would put our teams first and let the pieces fall where they may.”

Velva hosts Bishop Ryan on Aug. 28.

FIRESTORM UNLIKELY

TO BRING HEAT

It will take a lot to have a worse season than last year for the?Williams County Firestorm. Opening a season against a Stanley-Powers Lake team which only had one win last year will make a great launching pad into the season. Senior linebacker Kyle Iwen received an all-region honorable mention last year. With five other senior playmakers, the Firestorm are in great position.

But the Firestorm is missing a quarterback. Linebacker Bailey Branesky will fill in on offense until a replacement can be made. But the senior wide receiver trio of Justin Meckle, Nickolas Oster and Tanner Reinholdt will take care of the receiving end of things until a replacement will be made.

The Williams County Firestorm opens its season against Stanley-Powers Lake on Aug. 29.

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