Panthers grab onto Cardinals for home win
When the Rugby High Panthers took their home turf at Northern Lights Field to face the Carrington Cardinals Oct. 2, they knew they were in for a fight.
The Cardinals had come to the game with a 4-2 record and a noticeable advantage in weight, height and ages of players.
“That’s their thing,” Panther Coach Travis Risovi said of the Cardinals. “They just run at you and run at you and they’re big boys. They’re big, strong kids and we don’t have the size of them, really.”
The Cardinals counted six seniors in their ranks, while five played for the Panthers.
The Panthers started the game with a 3-3 record, which included a loss to Harvey’s Hornets, who suffered a 24-6 loss to the Cardinals after beating the Panthers earlier in the season.
“We knew after (a loss to Grafton) that if we lost any more games, we wouldn’t have a chance for the playoffs,” Risovi said. “That was gong to be the end of any chance.”
Rugby wasn’t ready to give up just yet, however.
The Panthers used speed, agility and determination against bulk to win over the Cardinals 12-8.
The Panthers started the game by running onto the field through a paper banner dedicating the game to the United States military.
Both teams played aggressively from the start with the Cardinals relying on senior Ethan Buskness to carry the ball downfield.
The Panthers were ready. At times three or four Rugby players piled onto Carrington’s powerful receivers to stop them in their tracks.
After long carries and punts on both sides, the Panthers executed a flawless punt fake with tight end Cole Slaubaugh carrying the ball to turn a fourth down and five to a first down.
Three plays later, the Panthers again gained a first down. Rugby quarterback Brody Schneibel connected a pass to Slaubaugh for the first Panther touchdown of the night. After a missed extra point attempt, sophomore Maicen Heisler intercepted a pass by Cardinal Lukas Hendrickson, setting up another Panther TD.
The first half of the game ended with a 12-0 Panther lead and a team brimming with confidence.
Both teams struggled against formidable defenses during the third quarter. Panther offensive players found themselves running at a wall of Cardinals, while tenacious Panthers leaped onto Carrington offensive players and held on until the Cardinals dropped.
Both teams saw fumbles in the second half. The Panthers recovered a Cardinal fumble, but Carrington stopped their attempt to put more points on the board. After a Panther punt, a Carrington return put the team close to the goal line, setting up a touchdown by running back Drew Schroeder and a two-point conversion by Buskness.
The battle intensified as the clock ran into the fourth quarter. The Panthers found themselves frustrated by penalties and pushed by Cardinals. A Carrington turnover on downs gave the Panthers an opportunity to move the ball downfield a few yards at a time, but Rugby never reached a first down and punted.
The last minutes of the game sparked determination in the Cardinals, who took a timeout at what the game announcer called a “huge third down.”
“Get loud!” the announcer urged, and the crowd obliged.
With five yards to go on a fourth down in Panther territory, Buskness completed a pass to Schroeder, who threw a lateral pass back to Buskness. Austin Schneibel tackled Buskness, but the Cardinals were close to their goal.
Heisler broke up a long pass attempt on the next play. With the game clock winding down, Buskness threw another long pass – right into the hands of Panther free safety Erik Foster to end the game 12-8.
“We beat a good team,” Risovi said after the win. “We came out and played really hard physically. The boys got after it. We were aggressive right from the get-go and that’s what I was asking of them tonight. I told them that if they came out on the field and we were as physical as the other team or more, we would give ourselves a chance to win and we would be able to do that.”
As for the playoff picture? “We’ve still got a chance,” Risovi said. “We’re keeping ourselves alive.”
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