Time to get serious
Fair weather is expected for today’s Class A first-round playoff game at Johnsen Field.
A fair start to the win-or-go-home portion of the season also is expected for Region 3 champion Rugby (8-0).
The Panthers open the playoffs against Region 4 No. 4 seed New Salem-Glen Ullin at 3:30 p.m.
“We just gotta come out and do the little things,” RHS coach Scott Grochow said. “Obviously, like any other coach, we’ll tell you we gotta stay balanced. We gotta not shoot ourselves in the foot. As long as we’re assignment sharp, we think we have a chance.”
The Panthers will look to pressure a freshman quarterback in Brandon Schroeder. The young signal-caller took over for 6-foot-3 senior Spencer Rebel midway through the season. The Holsteins (5-3) were looking for an advantage in the passing game and the move is paying off. Rebel has four touchdown receptions in four games with 14 catches for 158 yards.
“He did a really nice job,” NS-GU coach Steve Kleinjan said. “It would’ve been tough for a lot of kids, but he really grasped the idea of doing what’s best for the team and trying to make us better as a whole.”
The Holsteins are coming off an 18-12 double-overtime win over Southern McLean in the regular season finale. NS-GU’s three losses came to the three teams in Region 4 that finished ahead in the standings.
“We’re a young ball club,” Kleinjan said. “We start a lot of underclassmen. We only have five seniors and three start, but we’ve been able to win games at crucial times to be in position to make playoffs
“Strength-wise, we’re traditionally a power-running game and this year we’ve been able to balance that with more throwing.”
RHS will present a stiff challenge for the young visitors as the Panthers have allowed an average of 8.4 points per game with an average winning margin of about 33 points.
Led by senior linebacker Bennie Mygland, the team’s leading tackler, RHS has proven more than formidable against the run and the pass. The Panthers have 11 interceptions and seven recovered fumbles.
“We’re just gonna make sure we have the right guys on the right people and communicate on defense,” junior linebacker Blackhawk Jones said.
RHS is coming off a 28-6 win over Des Lacs-Burlington, the No. 4 seed out of Region 3. The score was tied 6-6 at halftime before the Panthers took over.
“We got in at halftime and we knew we had to get our stuff together,” said Zach Miller, RHS senior lineman and tight end. “We’re not used to a tie game, so it was a bit of a wake-up.”
Offensively, RHS will look to befuddle NS-GU with a mean, three-headed rushing attack and versatile set of wide receivers.
All-state quarterback Brad Heidlebaugh has dominated defenses with his legs, rushing for 687 yards on 61 carries. Heidlebaugh has 14 rushing TDs and nine more through the air.
Senior running back Eric Hooker has grown stronger through the season and has 12 rushing scores of his own. Hooker, a steady between-the-tackles back, has 564 yards on 82 carries.
Junior running back Victor Gronvold provides the speediest threat on the team and has about 450 yards on barely 30 carries. He has three rushing TDs and joins senior receiver Tanner Bernhardt on kick and punt returns.
“Obviously, they’re extremely talented,” Kleinjan said. “The quarterback looks like a tremendous athlete. I’m the head track and field coach, so I’m familiar with the all-around athletes Scott has up there with those kids. Any word you can describe (for) a good team I’d say that’s the way I’d describe them.”
Miller, at 6-foot-4, leads the Panthers in receiving with six touchdowns and nearly 400 yards on 23 catches. Junior Ryan Michels has a pair of touchdown receptions and close to 250 yards.
The Panthers have beat each opponent in every facet of the game, but untimely penalties have slowed momentum at times.
“We talk about it each week,” Grochow said. “We don’t want to dwell on it because then they don’t get aggressive. Last week was a good learning experience, in that we have to go out and try to win and not play to not lose. That was a learning experience for us.”
The Panthers will have to contain junior running back Cullen Seeger, who leads the Holsteins with 600 yards on 133 carries with 11 total touchdowns.
“They’re decent-sized,” Grochow said. “They run a lot of pro-type offense, a little shotgun, but not a lot. They probably run the ball a little more than they throw it, but we can’t fall asleep on the pass. They have a receiver 6-2, 6-3 and we have to make sure we take care of them.”
The winner will face the winner of Region 3 No. 3 seed Harvey-Wells County (4-4) and Region 4 No. 2 seed Killdeer (6-1). The quarterfinal round is set for Nov. 1. RHS will host that game if it advances today.
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