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Panthers shut out South Prairie in muddy season opener

By Sue Sitter - | Aug 28, 2021

Mud and a slippery field at South Prairie High school proved to be no obstacle for the Rugby Panthers against the Royals in the varsity football season opener south of Minot.

The Royals took their home field looking for a fresh start after a winless 2020 season. The Panthers, who came just one game shy of a slot as a wild card team in the playoffs last year, looked for a win to build a solid season on.

The Panthers and Royals clashed in the mud Aug. 20 before Rugby players boarded the bus with a 32-0 win to start their season.

Fans on both sides huddled under umbrellas during the first quarter, watching as the ball slipped from the grasp of receivers and quarterbacks on both sides. Rugby would lose possession five times before the game ended. The Royals turned the ball over just as many times.

After a scoreless first quarter, Panthers quarterback Erik Foster made his first touchdown, not as an offensive player, but by picking off a Royals pass as a free safety. Receiver Kory Vetsch topped the TD off with the first of three two-point conversions.

“He did a nice job for his first varsity experience playing quarterback,” Panthers coach Travis Risovi said. “He’ll continue until we can get Brody (Schneibel) back.” Schneibel is the Panthers’ first-string quarterback.

Minutes after his first touchdown, Foster handed the ball to tailback Riley Tuenge for another TD. After another two-pointer from Vetsch, the Panthers ended the first half with a 16-0 lead.

Middle linebacker Austin Schneibel, Brody Schneibel’s younger brother, started the third quarter’s scoring drive for the Panthers. Vetsch followed up with his third two-point conversion. Minutes later, wingback Will Kuntz took the ball down field into the end zone in the third quarter, but a penalty called against the Panthers wiped out his touchdown. Macen Heisler made up for the missed opportunity by moving the ball 25 yards into the end zone for the Panthers’ fourth TD. Cornerback Logan Harner took the ball in for the final two points of the game.

Risovi gave more Panthers time off the bench in the fourth quarter. Tucker Volk took over as QB for Foster. The rain ramped up and Volk went down in a sack. The fourth quarter went the way of the first, with both teams struggling to keep the ball in their possession until the clock ran down, ending the game in the Panthers’ favor.

“There weren’t ideal conditions in the game,” Risovi said the following Monday after he reviewed video footage of the game. “It was slippery and it was wet. And that was with both teams. We both had a bunch of turnovers and I do think the weather played into it.”

“South Prairie is a young program and they’re still building and learning,” Risovi added. “And the thing with us was everybody to us is basically a new team and we’re going into every game prepared to win a game and play the best we can. I didn’t like the turnovers, honestly, but I don’t know if we had a whole lot of control over it.”

“I thought our effort was good and our energy was good and I thought the boys played with a lot of passion and energy out there, so I liked that part,” Risovi noted. “You could tell they were ready to play a football game. They were excited to go play someone else besides ourselves.”

“We’re in a nine-team region and we don’t all get non-region games this year,” Risovi said. “In the past, we’ve always played a non-region game or even two non-region games before we got into that region schedule.”

“So this year, we’re right into that region schedule and it’s important. Every game counts and it’s a good way to start, no matter who we’re playing, getting that first region win and hopefully, we can build from it,” Risovi added.

Risovi said the Panthers would spend the week preparing for their first home game against the Bishop Ryan Lions Aug. 27.

“Bishop Ryan has a really nice team. They have all their linemen back from last year. They lost some very good skilled position players, but their linemen are back and when I watched them on film against Trinity, they were pretty impressive. They looked good on the offense and defensive line and they gave Trinity a lot of issues. It’s something we’re going to have to prepare for this week and be ready to play Friday night,” Risovi said.

The Panthers would study film on Ryan before putting in place their strategy “for what we want to do Friday night,” Risovi said.

Risovi said the Panthers’ coaching staff would prepare the team to play in more rain and mud, since the weather forecast for Aug. 27 called for possible thunderstorms.

“We tell the guys when they’re playing in the elements – because there might be a time later in the season when they’re playing in the snow and cold – we just have to be a little extra careful with the ball. When you’re going to take contact, you have to wrap it up with two arms and make sure you’re holding onto the ball,” Risovi said. “There might be times when you’re playing on a nice, dry fall night, you can try to get a few extra yards because people are hanging on you and dragging on you. But on a night when it’s wet and slippery and cold, it might be time to tuck in the ball and go down with the tackle so we don’t have a turnover that we really didn’t need.”

Results from the Panthers game against Bishop Ryan will appear in the Sept. 4 Tribune.

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