Perfect Panthers power by Lakers
The perfect regular season for the Rugby High School football season was in doubt for two quarters of Class A Region 3 action Wednesday at Johnsen Field.
Des Lacs-Burlington held RHS in check for a 6-6 tie at halftime, but the Panthers scored 22 unanswered points after the break to cap an 8-0 slate and secure home-field advantage through the first two rounds of the playoffs.
The Panthers (7-0 region) relied on their staples of senior quarterback Brad Heidlebaugh’s legs and a bend-but-don’t-break defense to overcome the scrappy Lakers (5-3, 4-3).
“We didn’t know,” said RHS coach Scott Grochow, when asked if he thought his team could enter the playoffs unscathed. “We knew we had a chance to be good. I honestly can’t say, yes, I thought we would.”
RHS struck first on a 27-yard run by Heidlebaugh, who finished with a game-high 103 rushing yards – on a night when University of North Dakota coach Bubba Schweigert was in attendance.
The TD capped the Panthers’ first possession and Heidlebaugh had 91 yards in the quarter.
DL-B responded with a methodical 12-play drive that lasted six minutes, 33 seconds in the second quarter. The Lakers punched it in on 4th-and-goal from the 2-yard line with an off-tackle run to the right by senior Brett Schaefer. On the previous consecutive plays from the 1-yard line, DL-B was stuffed as RHS senior linebacker Bennie Mygland made initial contact.
“We wanted to take it one play at a time,” DL-B coach James Johnson said, “and put drives together, accumulate first downs and we did that on that drive.”
The Panthers opened the second half with renewed focus and marched 83 yards for the go-ahead score on a 5-yard sweep by senior wideout Tanner Bernhardt. Senior tailback Eric Hooker was the catalyst with 25- and 21-yard runs on trap plays up the middle. He finished with 92 yards on 12 carries.
“With linemen giving you a hole that big, you can drive a truck through it,” Hooker said. “It made my job a hell of a lot easier.”
Grochow said the team wanted to focus on plowing straight ahead as DL-B looked to limit the Panthers’ speed on the edges.
“We said forget about everything else, let’s run it straight ahead,” Grochow said.
Hooker followed the huge offensive setup with the defensive play of the game on the Lakers’ ensuing drive. DL-B had just moved into RHS territory when Hooker intercepted a long pass by senior quarterback Layton Erickson. Hooker returned the pick 34 yards to the Lakers’ 39-yard line, and was rewarded with a 21-yard touchdown reception five plays later.
Heidlebaugh capped the scoring seconds into the fourth quarter with an 11-yard run. At one point in the game, the DL-B coaching staff yelled, “Tackle him!” following a 24-yard run, which saw Heidlebaugh shed three tacklers in one instance.
“I knew we would be good,” Heidlebaugh said. “I was hoping for a championship, but 8-0 is pretty good. A new season starts (at practice) next Monday.”
Panthers 46, Surrey 0
The battle between the region’s best and worst went as expected. RHS built a 40-0 lead over Surrey (0-8, 0-7) in the first quarter en route to a 46-0 rout Oct. 10.
The Panthers opened the scoring less than 50 seconds into the game on a 34-yard interception return for senior Eric Hooker.
Hooker ran for touchdowns of 19 and 3 yards in the quarter and junior Victor Gronvold took one in from 11. Senior quarterback Brad Heidlebaugh threw a pair of touchdowns on just six attempts. He completed five passes, finding four different receivers.
Grochow wanted to test his starters before pulling them early against the overmatched Mustangs.
“We wanted to come out and throw a lot just because we haven’t a lot in the last few games,” Grochow said.
The passing game found success in all ranges. Senior Zach Miller scored on a 2-yard slant and broke a short crossing route open for a 58-yard TD. Junior Ryan Michels caught a pass for 45 yards over the top.
Sophomore reserve running back Kade Leier had the final touchdown of the game on a 68-yard run. Leier, a contact-absorbing bruiser, finished with 133 yards on 14 carries. Leier plays on most special teams units and sees some time with the defense.
“It’s nice to have him,” Grochow said, “and to see some of the younger guys step up and show we have a good future ahead of us.”
The Panthers had a host of defensive playmakers with interceptions by Hooker and Gronvold, two sacks for senior Devon Berg, and fumble recoveries for senior Devin Volk, junior Spencer Koehmstedt and sophomore Ethan Morin. Koehmstedt had a sack the play before he pounced on a loose football. Not including penalty yards, Surrey gained just 16 yards of total offense. Senior quarterback Dalton Haas completed 7 of 21 attempts for for 76 yards.
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