Raiders snatch lead from Panthers
Homecoming week did not end with a victory for the Rugby Panthers last week at Johnsen Field.
The Lakota-Edmore-Dakota Prairie Raiders were able to respond to the Panthers’ 10-point first quarter with two touchdowns and two point after tries in the second, two more touchdowns in the third and a double Varnson connection in the fourth for a 34-24 victory.
A nearly eight-minute opening drive put the Panthers in the red zone, however an incomplete pass attempt between senior quarterback Anders Johnson and junior wideout Joey Berg forced a 24-yard field goal attempt-the first of the season for kicker David “D.J.” Schneibel.
The Panthers would get the ball back with just over two minutes to play in the first quarter. After a fumble recovery put the Panthers at 2nd down and 17, Johnson executed a 53-yard keeper.
“For whatever reason we let up after that,” said Panthers head coach Scott Grochow. “We really need to avoid those types of things. I really believe if we play complete games we could easily have won at least two games.”
The Raiders were almost able to score on the ensuing kickoff return, however an illegal block penalty stripped those points off the board. The Panthers were then able to take advantage of a fumble recovery in Raider territory, however incomplete pass attempts resulted in a turnover on downs.
A costly pass interference penalty on the Panther defense put the Raiders deeper into Panther territory on their first drive of the second quarter. Senior quarterback Jaden Varnson was able to convert a 3rd down on the Panthers’ 1-yard line into a touchdown and kick for the extra point. Junior running back Hunter Gibson started the second drive with a huge punt return into Panther territory. A complete pass between Varnson and classmate Alex Otto put the Raiders on the Panther 18-yard line, and a gift offsides penalty on the Panther defense allowed them to advance further. Gibson then finished the drive on a 13-yard run for a score.
“We told our kids to just keep playing and maintain composure as we thought we could run and pass the ball,” said Raiders coach Joe Harder. “The second quarter saw us get a good drive and loosen up the run defense with some good passing plays. Once we were able to get them to respect the pass, running lanes opened up.”
Varnson and Gibson would later connect to cap off the Raiders’ opening drive of the second half, and with junior tight end Colton Berg on the subsequent drive for scores.
The Panthers had a response in junior running back Kaden Jaeger. With less than four minutes to go in the third quarter, Jaeger took it to the house on a 51-yard run. The Panthers would get the ball after a short punt in the final minute, after a pass attempt between Johnson and classmate Ethan Morin resulted in a 4th down and 10.
Just seconds into the fourth quarter, Jaeger ran for a 28-yard score, with Johnson running for the conversion.
Jaden Varnson would then connect with tight end Cole Varnson for a 7-yard touchdown pass.
The Panthers traveled to Park River on Friday to play the Park River-Fordville-Lankin Aggies in region play.
“We are facing two-time defending state champions who return a few starters from that team. We need to be able to limit their running game and stay away from big plays,” Grochow said of the Aggies. “We also need to find some consistency on offense.”
The Panthers play the Harvey-Wells County Hornets at home on Oct. 7.
“It’s a rivalry so we need to be ready to play,” Grochow said. “We have to put together a complete game and stay sharp. Special teams could play a big role in this game.”
Grochow said for the remaining games on the schedule, including Harvey and Larimore, the Panthers need to play complete games and show what they can do.
“We do it during practice but for whatever reason we have a hard time taking it to the field on Friday nights,” Grochow said. “We really need to figure out how to take what we are taught during the week and use it the whole game on Fridays.”
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