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Rugby looks to build off of last year’s success

Sue Sitter/PCT Members of the Rugby Panthers go through conditioning drills during an August training camp practice in preparation for the 2021 season.

Coming off a 6-3 campaign a year ago, which included four straight wins to end the season, fifth-year Rugby head coach Travis Risovi has high hopes for 2021.

“We have a lot of returning players who have varsity minutes. We finished last season playing very good football and felt that we could have been a playoff team with a solid 6-3 finish. The goals are set high this year,” Risovi tells The Minot Daily News.

The optimistic Risovi will be coaching a Panthers squad that capped off the 2020 regular season with an emphatic 41-8 home victory over Bottineau on Oct. 16. This year’s club features 16 returning starters, eight of which will start on offense, and eight more starters returning to the defensive side of the ball. As far as leadership and experience goes, 10 players on this year’s team will be seniors.

Early on in training camp, Coach Risovi is encouraged by the overall intensity level displayed by his group. The Rugby football mentor also expects his established nucleus to build on last year’s late surge with hard work and dedication.

“So far I like what I have seen. The team is working hard, they seemed to be very motivated, and practices have been very competitive. In 2020, our young players were gaining experience playing varsity football and you could see the growth week by week,” Risovi adds. “The key to continuing that momentum is to not be satisfied and work every day to get better. This team has lofty goals, and we will have to continue to improve every day if we want to accomplish them.”

One of last year’s offensive leaders, quarterback Brody Schneibel, will be back in the huddle in 2021 for the Panthers. A dual-threat signal caller, Schneibel amassed 502 rushing yards and accounted for 12 all-purpose touchdowns on offense in 2020. Other offensive returners include running backs Kory Vetsch and Riley Tuenge who combined for 395 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. While Vetsch was one of two All-Region selections for Rugby, Schneibel and Tuenge both earned honorable mentions for their efforts a year ago.

Vetsch and Tuenge also were key contributors on the defensive side of the ball at linebacker. While Vetsch racked up 84 total tackles, a pair of sacks and three interceptions from his middle linebacker position, Tuenge made his presence felt at outside linebacker with 51 tackles.

Other defensive standouts from last year’s squad include safety Erik Foster. Back in the fold for the upcoming fall campaign, Foster’s playmaking skills led to eight interceptions and Rugby’s other All-Region selection. Up front, Dylan Bartsch was a frequent visitor of opposing backfields as he tallied six sacks from the defensive end position. At season’s end, Bartsch was recognized as one of Rugby’s four All-Region honorable mention players.

Both Foster and Bartsch are underclassmen who will be relied upon to make plays for a defense that surrendered an average of just 12 points per game in Rugby’s final four contests.

Other defensive leaders include region honorable mention selection Lathan DeMontigny who totaled three sacks from the defensive end position, linebacker Austin Schneibel who registered 50 tackles and cornerback Logan Harner who had five passes breakups last fall. Fellow corner Macen Heisler also contributed to the Panthers cause with three pass breakups, an interception and a defensive touchdown.

Following a season opening 32-0 win over South Prairie on Aug. 20, Rugby plans to host the Bishop Ryan Lions on Aug. 27. The Panthers then plan to travel to Stanley for a matchup with the Blue Jays on Sept. 3. After that, Rugby has a home date against Des-Lacs Burlington on Sept. 10 followed by a road contest against Velva on Sept. 17.

Later in the year, Rugby plans to host Westhope/Newburg/Glenburn on Sept. 24, and will go on the road to square off against Nedrose on Oct. 1 before closing out the regular seson at home against New Town on Oct. 8.

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