Panthers beat Hornets in thriller
When the Rugby High School football team needed the big plays most in the home opener against Harvey-Wells County, it was Miller Time.
The Panthers rallied from a six-point, fourth-quarter deficit and scored the winning touchdown on a Hail Mary pass from senior Brad Heidlebaugh to classmate Zach Miller with 38 seconds remaining.
RHS improved to 3-0 overall and 2-0 in Region 3 with the 30-24 victory in front of a packed home crowd at Johnsen Field on Sept. 12.
“It means a lot,” Miller said. “That was a tough team. They’re always tough, they’re always scrappy. There’s always that tension and want to win against Harvey.”
The teams traded touchdowns, both scoring one in each of the first three quarters. But the Hornets (0-3, 0-2) found the end zone first in the fourth quarter on a 14-yard run by junior Isaiah Merrill. The score came just six second into the fourth, leaving RHS plenty of time to rally.
With 8:31 remaining, junior receiver Ryan Michels caught a 52-yard touchdown to knot the score at 24-24. Neither team scored on a conversion in the game. The Panthers preferred to kick extra points, but Heidlebaugh was nursing an injured foot.
Both teams were forced to punt on their next possessions. With less than two minutes on the clock, Harvey punted again and RHS senior Tanner Bernhardt made a short return to the Panthers’ 48-yard line. Junior tailback Victor Gronvold took a screen 9 yards into Hornet territory, and a timeout was called following an offside penalty with 46 seconds left.
“Brad said, ‘Coach, let’s run that (go route),’ and I said, ‘Let’s go for it. We have the height advantage,’ ” RHS?coach Scott Grochow said.
At 6-foot-4, Miller towered over the H-WC defense. Heidlebaugh rolled out of the pocket to his right and heaved the ball toward the goal-line. Miller extended his arms over double coverage and held on as he landed in the end zone.
“I think Brad made a great pass,” Miller said. “He threw it right where I could get it and I went up for it.”
Miller also scored in the first quarter to give RHS a 6-0 lead on a 14-yard reception. Even after his game-clinching touchdown, the rangy competitor wasn’t done making his mark.
The Hornets started their final drive of the game at their own 40-yard line with 30 seconds left. Miller, an end on defense, ripped around the H-WC line on first down and pasted RHS backup quarterback Quincy Marchand to the ground for a 9-yard loss.
“I just saw the quarterback rolling out,” Miller said. “I knew it was going to be a pass, so I knew I had to get him down and not let them get anything.”
The typically understated Miller popped up and pumped his chest as the Panther faithful went bonkers. On the next play he was right back in the quarterback’s face with help on the opposite side from senior Reid Mundahl. In a remarkable dispaly of athletism, grit and focus, Mundahl popped the ball from the quarterback, caught it with his lone hand and returned the ball to the Hornets’ 5-yard line.
“I just felt the ball come loose and I had it,” Mundahl said. “We were yelling at all of our players to keep our heads up and keep fighting (when we trailed).”
H-WC starting quarterback Parker Bachmeier was injured early in the game.
Grochow and first-year H-WC coach Bret Dockter, both Anamoose natives, shared a hug following the rollercoaster game.
“Coach Grochow is a standup guy,” Dockter said. “He said keep our head up.”
Both coaches described the evening as emotional.
“They came back and knotted it and we did a lot of good things,” Grochow said. “We got a win out of it and they’re a good football team.”
The Panthers played at Bottineau on Sept. 19 and host Lewis & Clark-Our Redeemer’s for homecoming Friday.
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