Cowboys run wild
A lighting-thunder combination of running backs proved unstoppable and the Rugby football team’s season came to an abrupt end Nov. 1 at Johnsen Field.
Visiting Killdeer, the No. 2 seed from Region 4, pounded through the Panther defense with senior tailback Lewis Dobitz and senior fullback John Knopik en route to a 48-20 win in a Class A quarterfinal. Both players surpassed 100 yards on the ground and the Cowboys’ bruising style of play on both sides of the ball took a toll.
Rugby senior quarterback Brad Heidlebaugh, an all-state selection as a junior, was unable to return for the second half with a collarbone injury and Killdeer scored 20 unanswered points after the break.
“It started up front with the offensive line,” said Killdeer coach Lou Dobitz, Lewis’ father. “Our biggest question mark of the team was our offensive line because we had one guy come back (from last year). Our guys run hard. They’re athletic, but they run hard.”
Knopik, listed at 160 pounds, ran more like a 200-pound back and opened the scoring with a 7-yard run to cap a nine-play drive spanning 61 yards. He broke off a 27-yard run to put the Cowboys in the red zone and ran over a couple Panthers, including Heidlebaugh (6-4, 215) at safety.
“Ever since I was little I ran it up the gut,” Knopik said. “No regrets when you run, just gotta go right at ’em.”
A 37-yard interception return for Heidlebaugh gave Rugby (9-1) the ball at the Killdeer 5-yard line to start the Panthers’ second drive. Heidlebaugh scored from 5 yards out a few plays later.
The game moved at a quick pace early and Killdeer enjoyed a 20-8 lead after the first quarter. Dobitz scored on a 61-yard run with a blazing display of speed up the right sideline. The Cowboys (8-1) recovered an ensuing surprise onside kick, but Rugby forced one of few Killdeer three-and-outs. Killdeer responded with a pick-six on Rugby’s next play from scrimmage as sophomore Dillan Jepson took the interception in from 20 yards.
A trick play resulted in the first touchdown of the second quarter and Killdeer went up 28-8. As if Dobitz wasn’t busy enough on the ground (123 yards on 16 carries), he shifted roles for a halfback pass, finding junior Hayes LeMieux wide open for a 54-yard scoring strike.
“That’s a great football team,” Rugby coach Scott Grochow said. “They’ve got speed and they’re just a good, good football team. We didn’t do well tackling and part of that is their speed.”
Rugby’s one flash of speed came in the form of junior Victor Gronvold, who took the kickoff 87 yards for a touchdown and an immediate answer to the Cowboys’ trickery. The Rugby defense followed with a stand and used nearly all of the final four minutes of the half before an already-ailing Heidlebaugh scored on an 11-yard run to cut the deficit to 28-20.
“I felt like we could climb back,” Heidlebaugh said. “We weren’t playing well from the start and they came out and hit us in the mouth.”
Rugby players said Killdeer was the most physical team they played and without Heidlebaugh in the second half, a power attack wasn’t possible. X-rays came back negative on Heidlebaugh’s collarbone. Senior receiver Tanner Bernhardt was forced under center and was picked off twice as the Panthers tried to keep pace.
“They set in and adjusted to whatever we threw at them,” said Rugby senior running back Eric Hooker, who finished with a team-high 94 yards rushing. “They were ready for the pass and the run, but going into the half we started to figure it out. Not having Brad kind of took it out of the team.”
Knopik, who finished with 102 yards on 13 carries, continued to set the Cowboys up in the second half. Senior quarterback Trenton Rohr scored a pair of third-quarter touchdowns on runs of 9 and 33 yards. Dobitz followed a 22-yard run with a 4-yard jaunt for the game’s final points, seconds into the fourth.
“They run really hard,” Rugby senior linebacker Bennie Mygland said. “You have to hit them more than once to get them down. They’re the toughest, overall, team we played all year.”
Killdeer outgained Rugby 363-164. Even before Heidlebaugh went out, Rugby was unable to do much against a strong Cowboys’ secondary. Heidlebaugh’s first seven attempts fell incomplete and he finished an uncharacteristic 3-for-13 for 35 yards. RHS will grauate 11 players in May.
“Great is the word that come to my mind,” Grochow said of his senior class. “It was a great experience. If I taught them half as much as they gave to me, I’m way ahead of the game.”
The Cowboys advanced to today’s semifinal matchup with Region 4 champion Hazen (10-0), the only team they lost to. The two-time defending state champion Bison beat Lewis & Clark-Our Redeemer’s 43-14.
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