Panthers power past Aggies
As he has done all season, Brad Heidlebaugh took over the football game when the opposition had a glint of hope.
Rugby’s senior quarterback continued to make a case for the most dominant player in Class A with a three-touchdown performance to lead the fourth-ranked Panthers to a 35-14 win over Velva on Oct. 3.
Rugby (6-0 overall, 5-0 Region 3) built a 21-0 lead early in the third quarter, but the Aggies (2-4, 2-3) made the contest uncomfortable with back-to-back scores to cut the deficit to 21-14.
The 6-foot-4, 195-pound Heidlebaugh responded with a 33-yard rushing touchdown on the next possession and sealed the win with a 23-yard scamper in the fourth quarter.
“I think a little bit of that is because we can establish our running game with Victor (Gronvold) and Eric (Hooker),” RHS coach Scott Grochow said. “We run a lot of read stuff and (Heidlebaugh) does a nice job with that, and because of his physical size and natural ability, he can do that.”
Heidlebaugh also found the end zone on a 26-yard run for the game’s first points, two minutes into the game. He finished with a game-high 121 yards on nine carries, but received steady help from Hooker (77 yards on 14 carries) and Gronvold (48 yards on six carries).
Hooker scored on a 6-yard carry late in the second quarter and Tanner Bernhardt gave Rugby a three-score lead on a 3-yard run less than two minutes into the second half.
“Our running game is just on point,” Heidlebaugh said. “We’re using our speed and if we get to the outside, we’ll get six yards every time.”
Velva exploded with energy after Bernhardt’s touchdown, beginning with senior Isaac Effertz’s 84-yard kickoff return for the Aggies’ first points.
Effertz recovered the ensuing onside kick and caught a 20-yard touchdown pass from junior Shad Vedaa eight plays later. The second Effertz touchdown almost didn’t materialize as Gronvold picked off a pass during the drive. A roughing-the-passer penalty nullified the interception and was one of eight Rugby penalties totaling 80 yards.
Effertz’s TD was also nearly picked off by Heidlebaugh at the safety position.
“We just had an opportunity there and we had to take some shots,” Velva coach Larry Sandy said. “The kid went for a pick and it was a bang-bang play.”
The Panthers defense posted another stout performance despite a handful of silly infractions. Rugby’s pressure helped on a Velva incompletion on fourth-and-goal in the second quarter. A week earlier, the Panthers made a huge red-zone stand to keep Lewis & Clark-Our Redeemer’s from gaining first-half momentum.
“I don’t know if you ever get comfortable when they’re close to the goal line,” Grochow said. “We get that stop and drive it down the field and that’s really going to hurt them.”
A tipped pass nearly resulted in a Bennie Mygland interception as the Aggies drove into Rugby territory in the third quarter. Three plays later, Mygland recovered a fumble.
“We just have to stay fundamentally strong and do what we’re supposed to and the penalties will take care of themselves,” senior defensive lineman Devon Berg said.
Berg, a 6-foot-2, 205-pound tackle, anchored a Rugby line that limited the Aggies’ running game to less than 100 yards – not counting a 20-yard fake punt conversion.
“We’re fairly comfortable with the (red zone),” Berg said. “If we have our heads in the game they shouldn’t even be getting that close to the the goal line, but if they do we’re fairly confident.”
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