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Bishop Ryan scratches out fourth-quarter win against Panthers

By Sue Sitter - | Sep 4, 2021

Sue Sitter/PCT Macen Heisler catches a pass by Erik Foster for a Rugby Panthers two-point conversion against Bishop Ryan’s Lions Aug. 27.

After studying film of North-West Region rivals Bishop Ryan Aug. 24, the Rugby Panthers seemed to have the Lions’ number when they met on Johnsen Field Aug. 27.

Wherever Lions moved on the gridiron, they found Panthers ready to stop them.

“Our kids battled like crazy. I’m proud of them,” Panthers coach Travis Risovi said after the game.

However, Risovi added, “We just came out on the wrong end.”

The Lions managed to scratch out a 20-14 win in the final minutes of the hard-fought game.

A first quarter fumble by the Lions gave the Panthers a promising start, setting up forward progress for Rugby. An Erik Foster pass sailed into the end zone for Rugby, only to be picked off by Bishop Ryan defender Zachary Hendrickson.

Or so it seemed.

Hendrickson’s apparent pickoff had drawn flags from refs, who called pass interference on the Lions. The Panthers offense lined up at the Lions’ 11-yard line, setting up a touchdown carried by tailback Riley Tuenge. A two-point conversion by cornerback Macen Heisler followed.

The Lions continued to struggle both with the Panthers and penalties in the first minutes of the second quarter. After a false start penalty and a short carry by Lions quarterback Jett Lundeen put Bishop Ryan at third and five before Lundeen connected with receiver Caden Duphonaise for a first down. Lundeen, a freshman, kept the team moving forward as he threw passes to his receivers, many of them seniors. With the Lions within striking distance at the Panthers’ 20-yard line, Rugby piled on all carriers. Still, Bishop Ryan moved forward. With one yard to go, Lundeen lunged over a pile of players into the end zone for the Lions’ first TD of the game. A pass to Hendrickson tied the score 8-8.

The Panthers began their scoring drive with two carries by Tuenge. The Lions faltered, catching a holding penalty. The Panthers caught one of their own. A false start call pushed them back to second down and ten before they ultimately turned the ball over on downs midfield.

Panthers defenders Will Kuntz and Austin Schneibel stopped the Lions’ offensive cold. A holding penalty added to Bishop Ryan’s woes, forcing them to punt at fourth down and long.

The Lions made their punt count, forcing the Panthers to start at their own five-yard line. A long carry by fullback Kory Vetsch and an even longer pass return by Schneibel gave Rugby hope for another TD, but a fumble recovered by the Lions with seconds to go ended the half with an 8-8 tie.

The third quarter saw the Panthers stay on the Lions even more. Heisler picked off a Lundeen pass. Two plays later, he carried the ball into the end zone for a 14-8 Panthers lead.

A two-point conversion attempt failed for the Panthers, keeping them at 14. The Lions answered minutes later with a TD of their own. A false start penalty pushed the Lions back on their two-point conversion attempt, which the Panthers easily broke up in the end zone.

As the last minutes of the third quarter ticked away, the Panthers saw more penalties of their own. A call on an illegal man on field put the Rugby offense farther away from their goal. A penalty on the Lions for roughing the passer brought the Panthers 12 yards away from the end zone, but further attempts to move the ball forward made no difference. The fourth quarter would begin with a 14-14 tie.

The Panthers found more obstacles placed by penalties and Lions. With 13 yards to go on the fourth down in Lions’ territory, Foster connected a 12-yard pass to receiver Jacob Ripplinger, forcing a turnover on downs.

The Lions’ next possession yielded no results for them. They punted, giving the Panthers the ball on the 45-yard line. Tuenge and Vetsch attempted carries, each getting swamped by Lions. Heisler attempted a carry only to get pushed back by a wall of Lions, who forced a fumble, recovered by the Panthers.

With 14 yards to go on the fourth down, Foster attempted a Hail Mary pass against the Catholic school’s team. Bishop Ryan’s Hendrickson intercepted.

With the ball on Bishop Ryan’s 38-yard line, Lundeen went to work. He drilled a pass to Hendrickson, who carried it to Rugby’s six-yard line before Vetsch pushed him out of bounds. The Lions continued to hurt themselves with penalties, however, and the ball moved back to the 16-yard line after a holding call.

With 3:35 on the clock, Lundeen connected with Hendrickson in the end zone for six more points. Panthers outside linebacker Gavin Schepp batted down Lundeen’s two-point attempt, keeping the score 20-14.

With just over three minutes left on the clock, penalties turned against the Panthers, first for illegal motion, next for a false start.

The Panthers were on their first down with 20 yards to go and time was running out. Foster ran the ball for two short gains. At third down and long, the Panthers caught an illegal substitution penalty. Desperate, Foster threw a long one, only to see it picked off by Hendrickson. With the ball in their possession, the Lions let the remaining 13 seconds of the game run off the clock.

“We did have a couple of big penalties,” Risovi noted. “It’s stuff we need to clean up. But, man, I thought the effort was good and it was a really good football game.”

“It’s early in the season,” Risovi added. “I’m very happy with the effort. I thought we laid it all on the field but we just came up on the wrong end of the scoreboard. They played hard.”

The Panthers would next study film of Stanley’s Blue Jays. The Panthers would travel to Stanley Sept. 3 for a game at Stanley Junior-Senior High School. Results from that game will appear in the Sept. 11 Tribune.

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