Panthers, Sioux face off on slushy gridiron
A week after the Rugby High School Panthers varsity football squad traveled to Carrington High School for a muddy shutout win against the Cardinals, an early fall blizzard handed the team another challenge.
The storm changed plans for a home game against Westhope/Newburg/Glenburn, but only slightly.
Both teams traveled to Minot Monday night to face off on a slushy gridiron at Duane Carlson Stadium, and the adverse conditions seemed only to energize the Panthers, who made yet another win look easy.
Both teams ran, slipped and slid across soggy green turf, small clumps of ice flying from their cleats as they moved. Fans huddled on cold aluminum benches, wrapped in blankets and sipping hot chocolate. Cheerleaders in warm-up gear kept spirits high on both sides and fans chanted and occasionally broke out in Christmas carols.
Rugby Coach Travis Risovi described the varsity team’s approach to football in less-than-ideal conditions.
“The boys play with a lot of heart. They play with a lot of effort, and they are putting it all on the field no matter what the conditions are or who they’re playing,” he said.
The Panthers began the game with an early lead in the first quarter, much as they had in Carrington. A Jaden Hamilton touchdown to Devan Michels put six points on the board, but a two-point conversion failed.
The WNG Sioux took possession of the ball, only to turn it over on an interception by Kory Vetsch, who took the ball in for another six points. A second two-point conversion failed.
The second quarter saw 19 more unanswered points from the Panthers. Cole Slaubaugh sacked WNG quarterback Jackson Tofteland, causing a fumble recovered by Panther Lathan DeMontigny. A 17-yard pass from Hamilton to Michels followed, resulting in another TD, although an extra point kick attempt failed.
Another Sioux fumble and Panther recovery followed about a minute later. This time Joel Matehs ran the ball in for a touchdown and a Tim Mueller kick for an extra point was good.
The Panthers had more work to do before the second half began. Another drive down the icy field ended with a three yard Hamilton carry for another touchdown, followed by a blocked extra point kick attempt. Halftime began with a 31-0 Panther lead.
As the sky darkened at the beginning of the third quarter, the Panthers continued their charge down the field, this time, though, they met with a recharged Sioux team, who held the line against Rugby just feet from their end zone. Ty Gross managed a 1-yard run in for another touchdown, followed by a Mueller extra point.
Fourth quarter Sioux timeouts gave WNG opportunities to regroup and execute a scoring drive of their own as Sioux Matthew Dufner ran the ball in for a 25 yard touchdown. A two-point conversion attempt failed.
The slick, icy field meant tough going for both sides, and a Sioux defensive player was slow to get up from a tackle toward the end of the game. The game ended with a WNG turnover on downs and a 38-6 Panther win.
“This is a group of kids who enjoy playing sports together,” Risovi noted after the game. “They encourage each other; they work hard together and they have fun together, and that’s a big part of playing sports. Those Friday nights, well, tonight, it’s Monday night – it makes it all worth it, because you come on the field and you end up with a victory like this.”
Rugby quarterback Hamilton said of his team, “I think we have a really good defense. We’re one of the top teams in the state on defense.”
Hamilton said he and his teammates were focused on wrapping up their regular season play and looking ahead to regional play. “It sounds like we’re #3 seed in regions; sounds like we’re against Oakes. That’s what people have been saying.”
Hamilton said the key to Panther wins is “just practicing and getting better each day. We’ve got a good game plan for game days, and we play a good game.”
Risovi said of the playoff picture, “Right now, we’re definitely sitting at number three. If the season ended right now, we’d be playing against Oakes, because they’re the number two seed in their region. If the season ended right now, that’s where we’d be.”
“But,” Risovi added, “we have Bottineau yet, and obviously Oakes has games left too, and that region has to work everything out still.”
The Rugby Panthers will square off against the Bottineau Braves this afternoon at 2:00 at Bottineau High School.
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