Gallery: Bucs slip past Panthers

Published 10:49 pm Friday, September 26, 2014

Jason Jongbloedt of NRHEG carries the ball Friday during Homecoming against Waterville-Elysian-Morristown. — Micah Bader/Albert Lea Tribune

Jason Jongbloedt of NRHEG carries the ball Friday during Homecoming against Waterville-Elysian-Morristown. — Micah Bader/Albert Lea Tribune

NEW RICHLAND — Other than the last 27.1 seconds of the fourth quarter, the NRHEG football team never trailed.

However, a 10-yard touchdown run by Waterville-Elysian-Morristown’s Mitchell Wolters tied the game at 20, and the extra point by Brandon Kewatt gave the Buccaneers their first lead of the night.

NRHEG managed to move the ball to their own 47 yard line with 6.7 seconds left, but the pass for the hook-and-ladder play fell incomplete, and the Panthers lost 21-20 Friday on Homecoming.

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Panthers coach Dan Stork said he was pleased with the effort his team showed.

“I couldn’t tell you a kid right now who didn’t give it their all,” he said. “I’m so proud of them. They’re a great bunch of kids, and to come that close and to lose their Homecoming game to our biggest rival, Waterville, they’re hurting, and I feel terrible for them.”

NRHEG scored the first points of the game on a five-yard touchdown run by Trey Hoppe with 4:49 left in the first quarter.

“Our kids came out with a lot of fire and energy and worked hard,” Stork said. “We did some good things.”

On the second play of the second quarter, a two-yard carry by Wolters evened the score 7-7. The Panthers recaptured the lead four minutes later on a 32-yard pass from Trevor Tracy to Spencer Tollefson.

Tollefson led NRHEG’s receiving corps. with five catches for 83 yards. Tollefson and Tracy are both seniors, and Tollefson said he’s been playing football with Tracy since they were in fifth grade.

“We’ve had a connection ever since we were little,” he said.

With 5:05 left in the second quarter, the Panthers’ defense stepped up and forced the Bucs into a 4th-and-21 deep in their own territory. Waterville-Elysian-Morristown lined up in punt formation, and the snap flew over the punter’s head. However, the punter grabbed the ball on the bounce and passed it to an open receiver who almost converted the first down but was tackled by Tollefson. Amidst the chaos, the Bucs were penalized for having multiple ineligible men downfield. NRHEG declined the penalty and took over at its own 45-yard line.

On the first play of the ensuing drive, Tracy connected with Tollefson for a 26-yard gain. The Panthers didn’t move the ball on the next three plays, but on 4th-and-10 Hoppe bulldozed his way up the middle for 19 yards to set up a five-yard touchdown run by Nick Bartness with 1:07 left in the half.

In the second half, NRHEG was held scoreless, but Waterville-Elysian-Morristown scored on a Wolters run with 3:21 left in the third quarter, and he found the end zone again for the game-winning touchdown.

The Panthers had the edge in total yards 340-282, rushing yards 201-164, passing yards 139-118 and time of possession 25:37-22:23. But the Bucs had the advantage in total plays 62-58, and third-down conversions 8/14-3/10.

Hoppe led NRHEG’s ground game with 94 yards on 17 carries. Jason Jongbloedt added 48 yards on 11 carries, and Alex Merritt posted a team-high average of 7.4 yards per carry with 47 yards on five carries.

Nick Bartness and Hoppe led the Panthers’ defense with 9.5 tackles each. Wyatt Fitterer posted a team-high two tackles for loss.

Next, NRHEG (1-4 overall, 0-3 Gopher Valley AA Conference) will play at Gibbon-Fairfax-Winthrop (1-4 overall, 1-2 Gopher Valley AA Conference) at 7 p.m. next Friday.

Although the Panthers have four losses, they have all been close. NRHEG hasn’t lost a game by more than two possessions (15 points).