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Loss ends Panthers’ playoff hopes

By Sue Sitter - | Oct 9, 2021

Sue Sitter/PCT

A 14-19 loss to the Nedrose Cardinals in Nedrose Oct. 1 dashed the Rugby Panthers’ hopes for a playoff slot, but it didn’t end their football season.

As the game ended, North-West Region officials were uncertain whether COVID and other issues would prevent their last scheduled opponent, the New Town Eagles, from coming to Rugby Oct. 8 to end their regular season.

However, Panthers Head Coach Travis Risovi said the following Monday the game was on. The Panthers reviewed their tough loss to the Cardinals on film and moved forward to practice the next day.

Some questions lingered with Panther fans who witnessed what they believed was an illegal motion on the Cardinals’ winning touchdown in the fourth quarter. Others questioned whether a pass interference call should have been called on the Cardinals when Panthers QB Brody Schneibel attempted to connect with receiver Erik Foster in the first quarter. However, officials called plenty of penalties on both sides.

“That’s a part of every football game,” Risovi said. “There are calls you’re going to agree with and calls you don’t. You’ve got to work through those. We missed some plays. We had some opportunities and we missed them.”

“That’s just sports in general,” Risovi added. “Sometimes you win; sometimes you lose. They’re kids, and it’s life. You’re going to make mistakes at times. It’s a good learning lesson. Unfortunately, it’s a tough one, but we’ll grow from it.”

The Panthers struck the first blow in the game when Rugby’s Logan Harner took a Nedrose fumble into the end zone for a touchdown. Riley Tuenge brought in the extra point and the Panthers led 8-0.

Cardinals QB Josh Kalamaha responded with a TD of his own, brought in by Cards running back Cameron Bailey. Nedrose kicker Bryson Vannet put the score at 8-7 when he kicked in an extra point.

The quarter ended with an 8-7 Rugby lead, punctuated by a pass picked off by Rugby’s Foster.

Unable to capitalize on the play, the Panthers would punt, giving Nedrose good field position. Kalamaha connected with Bailey again and the Cardinals led 13-8.

Outside linebacker Riley Tuenge went to work for the Panthers, first carrying the ball 10 yards for a first down, then rushing for 25 more. Tuenge moved the ball inside the Cards’ 20 yard line before Rugby’s Macen Heisler moved the ball to the three yard line. Schneibel handed the ball to fullback Kory Vetsch for another Rugby TD. A two-point conversion failed, but Rugby ended the half with a 14-13 lead.

Defenses on both sides kept each other away from the end zone. However, Kalamaha made good progress downfield thanks in part to a long pass caught by wide receiver Keaton Cole. The Cards made progress to the Panthers’ four yard line, setting their sites on a winning TD. They inched their way to the one yard line before the Panthers’s defense stopped them cold on three more downs. With fourth and goal, Nedrose failed to cross into the end zone.

With the ball turned over on downs, Schneibel and Vetsch moved away from any danger of a safety for the Cards. A handoff to Harner, a carry for Tuenge and a 16-yard pass to Foster followed. The Panthers were at first and goal before a costly personal foul moved them back. With 22 yards to go on a fourth down, the Panthers turned the ball over.

The third quarter ended with the Panthers still in the lead, 14-13. When the fourth quarter began, a 56-yard TD by Kalamaha put an end to playoff hopes for the Panthers. The Cards missed an extra point attempt, but they kept their 19-15 lead until the game clock ran out.

“We’re out of playoff contention for this year, but we can still come back Friday night, win a game, finish with a 500 record on the year and at least finish the season off feeling better about ourselves if we walk away with a win,” Risovi said.

Ten seniors on the Panthers squad would play the last game of their high school career Oct. 8.

“It will be hard to lose those 10 seniors we have,” Risovi acknowledged. “They’re good kids. They work so hard and they’re a fun group. But we have a really good group coming back. That junior class is a big class that has a lot of experience playing. We’ve got some sophomores coming up who’ve got a lot of playing time, like Austin (Schneibel) and Dane (Heidbreder). They’ve got a lot of time, too, so there’s a nice group coming back. There are some young pieces that are pretty talented and they’ll fit in well.”

The Panthers would play their last game of the season on their home turf, Johnsen Field. Results from that game will appear in the Oct. 16 Tribune.

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