Panthers stung at Hornets’ homecoming
Rugby’s Panthers traveled south to Harvey last Friday to face their familiar rival Harvey Wells County Hornets, who brought a deceptive 0-2 record into the game.
The Hornets also brought adrenaline and spirit fresh from a week of homecoming activities.
As HWC fans packed the stands on their side of the field and students walked around the sidelines decked in purple, the game began with the ball in the Hornets’ possession, which they quickly turned over to the Panthers on downs.
The Panthers lost possession more quickly than they had gained it when quarterback Jaden Hamilton’s pass was picked off. A few minutes later, the ball was back in Panther hands after a Hornet fumble.
The turnovers and losses on downs set a pattern for the first half, which ended without a point being scored.
Beau Eriksson, who serves as Panther head coach along with Travis Risovi, reflected on the game in an email to the Tribune. “We knew going in that Harvey would be a tough opponent. Though their record was 0-2, we knew they played tough opponents and were better than their record showed,” Eriksson wrote.
“Harvey was fired up for the fact that it was their homecoming and home opener versus one of their biggest rivals for the beginning of region play,” Eriksson added.
Homecoming royalty took the field at halftime and Hornets cheerleaders raised the volume in the HWC stands to a roar, and the third quarter began with charged-up Hornets swarming the field.
Although the Panther defense stopped most Hornet offensive drives, Harvey quarterback Isaac Friese delivered a devastating blow to the Panthers when he connected with running back Carsen Mertz, who ran 16 yards for a touchdown. Friese followed up with a two-point conversion pass to wide receiver Madden Thorson, and HWC took an 8-0 lead.
The Panthers scrambled to find openings and protect Hamilton, but the Hornet defense drew on energy from Harvey’s lead in the game to punch through the Panther offense and shut down Hamilton over and over again.
“Our biggest issue was letting previous, negative plays affect future plays,” Eriksson noted. “The sacks are not to be blamed on one sole position group. Our quarterback, running back and wide receivers are all responsible with the offensive line, along with Harvey working hard to bring pressure. But we let too many negative plays be a determining factor for future plays. We need to learn to respond better.”
The Panthers fired up their own offense in the fourth quarter, moving the ball deep into Hornet territory before Hamilton handed the ball to wide receiver Corey Mattern, who ran the ball three yards into the end zone for six points.
The Panthers’ attempt at a two-point conversion failed, however, and after more short possessions on both sides and more sacks on Hamilton, the clock wound down. The final Rugby possession saw Hamilton attempt a Hail Mary pass, which landed just a few feet ahead of the nearest open Panther, and pumped-up Hornets and fans screamed as they witnessed their first win of the season.
Eriksson gave the Hornets credit for a game well played.
“They were motivated and got after it from the very beginning and made it tough for us,” he indicated. “We will use this as a learning point and hopefully improve for future upcoming games.”
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