Panthers spoil Grafton homecoming
As dark clouds threatened and wind blew from the north and west, the Rugby High School Panthers varsity football squad squared off against Grafton’s Spoilers in Grafton last Friday night.
A small contingent of Rugby faithful filled the bleachers opposite the home team’s stands on the field, cheering the Panthers on as they sought to take on the role of spoilers themselves at Grafton High’s homecoming game. Some arrived late; the game had been scheduled for 7:00 p.m., but officials had decided to move it ahead to 5:00 p.m. to avoid the thunderstorms predicted for that evening.
Redemption from two recent losses was at stake for the Panthers.
The Panthers had suffered defeat the previous Friday at home against Langdon Area/Edmore/Munich and the week before in Harvey at the Hornets’ homecoming.
But just as the brisk wind and dark skies signaled a change in the weather, a change was in store for the Panthers in a good way.
The game started as a contest between the two schools’ defensive units, as each team shut down the other, turning possessions over on downs.
Panther head coach Travis Risovi said of the first half: “We had a couple of plays that were there; we just missed: it was an incomplete pass, or it was a block, or it was a sack.”
As the clock wound down on the first half of the game, the score remained a 0-0 tie but the Panthers had cause for a mini-celebration when Jaden Hamilton picked off a Landon Woinarowicz pass attempt just before the second quarter ended.
“We just didn’t click on the plays when we had the advantage of the wind. And that second quarter, we were just stuck on the wrong side of the wind, and there wasn’t a throwing game going into the wind,” Risovi reflected.
“And,” Risovi added, “They (Grafton) had all eight in the box and running was tough sledding.”
The Panthers stormed the field for the second half ready to put points on the board, and they did in a big way.
Rugby took advantage of good field position after a Spoilers punt blew back from a strong wind and a seven-yard carry by Hamilton and handoff to running back Joel Matehs set up Rugby’s first touchdown, followed by an extra point from Panther Tim Mueller.
With the wind at their backs and confidence lifting their spirits, the Panthers defense shut down the Spoilers offense in a hurry, and a 20-yard Hamilton pass connected with wide receiver Corey Mattern for another touchdown, followed by another extra point from Mueller.
Yet another TD followed, this time when Hamilton connected with Devan Michels, and Mueller punctuated the score with another extra point.
The Panthers defense stayed strong even when the Spoilers had the wind to their advantage, and Grafton saw their hopes to make progress shut down time and time again.
The Panthers cheered as the final seconds of the game wound down on the clock, and hurried to wrap up the evening with a 21-0 win, about 10 minutes before the first clap of thunder sounded and raindrops fell.
“We came back in that third quarter and had the wind again, and this time we took advantage of it,” Risovi noted after the game. “We made those blocks that we missed in the first half; Jaden made the throws that we missed in the first half; we made the catches that we missed in the first half. Things clicked, and we got moving, and that’s the way we can play.”
Risovi credited the strong Panthers defense for keeping the Spoilers at bay.
“Defensively, really all year, we’ve played defense really well. We’re getting after it; the boys are playing really hard, they’re tackling well; they’re doing their jobs and that’s what they did again tonight, the whole game for four quarters,” he said.
Risovi said Mueller’s role as kicker was relatively new, but Mueller had played with the Panthers before.
“Tim Mueller about two weeks ago came and said, ‘Coach, I’d like to go out for football.'” Risovi recalled. “He did play football a couple of years ago, but he had gotten injured, and hadn’t played since. He said he would try kicking, and he’s been staying out late at practice and doing some extra work. He has the talent to do it, and he’s doing a nice job with it. So, we said, ‘If we scored tonight, you’re going to get your chances,’ and he proved that he could do it.”
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