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Panthers swat down Blue Jays 38-14 in Stanley

By Sue Sitter - | Sep 11, 2021

For the second time this football season, the Rugby Panthers traveled to unfamiliar territory to take on a team they haven’t faced in recent years – and came home with a win.

The Panthers stood at 1-1 as they boarded the bus for a two-hour ride to Stanley. Coach Travis Risovi had reviewed film with the Panthers showing the Blue Jays playing against nine-man Divide County the previous week. Risovi said the Panthers were still unsure of what to expect from the Blue Jays, who lost against the Maroons Aug. 27.

The Panthers had struggles of their own that Friday, when they lost a home game to the Bishop Ryan Lions.

The Blue Jays met the Panthers with a tough defense that had Rugby quarterback Erik Foster trapped at first. After he gained few yards, then fumbled and recovered the ball, Foster walked back to the sidelines for the punter to take over.

The Blue Jays, who had yet to score a touchdown all season, moved the ball aggressively downfield to the Panthers nine-yard line before Rugby picked off a pass thrown by Cooper DuPay. Still, the Blue Jays’ defenders held the Panthers’ offense back. The first quarter ended with a 0-0 score.

The second quarter began with the ball still in Rugby’s possession and two downs to go. With a few yards to go for a first down, Foster’s next pass sailed over wide receiver Rylan Hildenbrand’s head. Punter Kory Vetsch took the field. A last-minute fake failed to materialize and the Blue Jays took over on downs – just 13 yards from their goal.

Dupay connected with wide receiver Keyton Meiers for their first touchdown of the season. A field goal kicked by Jonathan Chavez gave Stanley a 7-0 lead.

After a return by wingback Macen Heisler gave the Panthers a start on their own 38-yard line, Rugby went to work.

The Panthers battled their way to midfield. With just four yards to go to a first down on their fourth down, the Panthers found themselves pushed back by a holding penalty. A decision to risk a pass gave the Blue Jays the ball on downs again.

Then, things turned around for Rugby. A DuPay fumble gave Rugby the ball at their own 27 yard line. A holding penalty brought the Panthers back farther. After the snap, Foster looked downfield to find Austin Schneibel, who nabbed the pass and ran 81 yards for the Panthers’ first touchdown.

Next, Foster connected to Riley Tuenge for two more points. The Panthers would lead for the rest of the game.

“It was a big play,” Risovi said of Schneibel’s 81-yard TD. “Austin’s a kid who’s playing a new position for us this year. He’s playing tight end for us and he seems to find a way to make a big play in every game. He had a big play against South Prairie, a long touchdown run. He had a really nice long reception against Minot Ryan the other night.”

The Panthers scored a second TD minutes later when a series of handoffs by Foster moved the ball to the Blue Jays’ 36 yard line. A final handoff to Tuenge put the Panthers in the lead 14-7 before a two-point conversion by Vetsch gave the Panthers even more.

The Blue Jays fought back in the third quarter when a 28-yard TD pass to Meier and another kick by Chavez gave Stanley 14 points.

Foster and the Panthers responded by relying on rushing plays to move the ball. Tuenge would rack up almost 140 rushing yards in the game. Vetsch put the ball across the plane for a third Rugby touchdown and Tuenge scored the two-point conversion.

The Panthers’ defense went to work. John Jundt sacked DuPay, forcing an incomplete pass. The Blue Jays would decide to punt, only to see it blocked by Schneibel, who ran the ball in for a fourth Panthers TD.

With a 32-14 lead, the Panthers seemed to lose focus. Penalties for personal fouls and false starts came more frequently from the refs. The Blue Jays saw some of their own.

However, the Panthers rushing combo of Tuenge and Vetsch kept moving. Vetsch rushed in for Rugby’s final TD of the game. The Blue Jays stopped a two-point conversion attempt. The clock ran down with the scoreboard reading 38-14 for the Panthers.

“We ran the ball pretty well that night. We were able to find some open space and actually, both our running backs had a really good night. Kory Vetsch ended up getting two touchdowns running, but Riley Tuenge rushed for almost 140 yards that night and a touchdown, also. Kory leads the way as our fullback. Both had a really nice night running the ball,” Risovi said after the game.

Risovi said the Panthers looked forward to their Sept. 10 game at home against the Des Lacs-Burlington Lakers, a team they’ve faced often in past years.

“They have a really good group of athletes. I’m really impressed with their wide receivers,” Risovi said of the Lakers. “They run good routes and they seem to have good overall team speed. Their running back is a fantastic player,” Risovi said of DLB’s Caleb Rist. “We’re going to have to make sure we keep him bottled up because it will be a long night if we let him get out into some space, because he’s pretty impressive.”

“We still need to do a better job of staying away from penalties,” Risovi said of the Panthers’ game plan. “We’re still having trouble with unforced penalties – the false starts; lining up in the wrong position. We have to clean that up and obviously, with ball security, we need to make sure we take care of the football and not turn it over and make our possessions count. We’re a pretty good football team. If we just clean those things up, it’ll be a lot of fun.”

Risovi said he looked forward to the Sept. 10 game. “It’s senior night,” he said. “The senior class deserves to have a good game here. They’re a hard-working group. They’re a super group of boys and I’ve really enjoyed coaching them. I know we’re not halfway through the year but hopefully, we can have a special night for them Friday.”

“Rugby’s crowd is always fantastic,” Risovi added. “I’m always thankful for what we have for support. I know no matter what sport we’re in, whether it’s football or baseball or basketball or whatever’s going on, the Rugby fans are just fantastic.”

Coverage of the Sept. 10 game against the DLB Lakers will appear in the Sept. 18 Tribune.

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