SECTION 5 NINE-MAN CHAMPIONSHIP: Panthers outrun the Mercs
South Ridge plays Mountain Iron-Buhl on Friday night at 7 p.m. at Public Schools Stadium in Duluth
November 8, 2019
Fans attending the Section 5 Nine-Man championship football game between South Ridge and McGregror were barely in their seats Friday afternoon when the fireworks started for the Panthers. South Ridge found the turf in Esko to their liking and bolted out to a 30-point first-quarter lead and ultimately cruised to a 57-20 rout of the Mercs.
On the very first play from scrimmage, Connor Bushbaum raced 46 yards for a touchdown. It was the first of four touchdowns in the quarter for the junior running back, as the Panthers went up 8-0 after Bushbaum also tacked on the two-point conversion run.
"It was a great way to set the tone of the game," said South Ridge coach Brent Johnson. "The play was a well-executed play from all of our offensive guys."
The run by Bushbaum was just a glimpse of what the rest of the quarter would hold for the Panthers. By the end of the first quarter Bushbaum had added three more touchdowns on runs of 15, 50 and 10 yards respectively.
"Connor's first quarter was unbelievable," Johnson said. "I just kept feeding him the ball and he kept racking up the yards and the touchdowns."
By the end of the first quarter, Bushbaum had a remarkable 180 rushing yards and four touchdowns as the Panthers led 30-0.
"When you start a game the way we did, the team definitely gets into a rhythm," explained Johnson. "As a coach, the play calling gets easier when you are going the way we did."
Not only did Bushbaum have a great night, but the overall running game of the Panthers was nothing short of spectacular as they ran for 508 yards as a team. While Bushbaum finished with 189 yards on the ground, Nick Larson added 115 yards himself on the ground.
"Our offensive line was a huge factor in the win," Johnson remarked. "Our other backs in the backfield were also key to springing Connor free to get those touchdowns and long runs."
McGregor managed a score in the second quarter, but South Ridge answered back with two more scores, both by Larson on runs of 65 yards and 31 yards, pushing the lead to 44-6 at halftime.
"Nick (Larson) also had a good game and he has been running the ball well for us," Johnson said. "Larson also played well on defense and led our team with 10.5 tackles."
The third quarter saw the Panthers score on a Weston Stroschein 3-yard run and on a 16-yard run from Trevor Miller, sandwiching a McGregor score with South Ridge leading 57-12 after three quarters.
One of the unsung heroes for the Panthers is fullback Matt Clark. He is the one to pick up tough inside yardage and in lead blocking for Larson and Bushbaum.
"Matt doesn't necessarily get a ton of yards, but when he does get the ball, he's a bull," Johnson said. "He is the main factor the other backs get the yards they get along with our offensive line."
Johnson said the Panthers defense had a solid game and a solid season.
"They have been a huge factor in our wins this year." Johnson said.
The win improved the Panthers' record to 9-2 on the season. They now move into the first round of the state tournament against the Section 7 winner Mountain Iron-Buhl on Friday night at 7 p.m. at Public Schools Stadium in Duluth.