PREP FOOTBALL: Riders stay on a roll

The Grand Forks Red River run game took a hit in the first half when starting running back Dayton Marek and offensive lineman Tony Jurkic suffered game-ending injuries.

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The Grand Forks Red River run game took a hit in the first half when starting running back Dayton Marek and offensive lineman Tony Jurkic suffered game-ending injuries.

The Roughriders' defense and quarterback Taylor Steen more than made up for the diminished ground attack.

Steen passed for 215 yards and three touchdowns, while the Red River defense registered eight sacks en route to a 19-8 win over West Fargo on Friday at Cushman Field.

"We had some big, physical guys up front that West Fargo couldn't handle," Red River coach Vyrn Muir said. "We were more physical than them for the most part."

The Riders won their fourth straight, improving to 4-1. Red River is the only team unbeaten in East Region play.


Steen, who has now thrown for a conference-best 690 yards this season, spread the wealth in the passing game, hitting eight different receivers. Steen has thrown for 11 touchdowns, while throwing one interception on the season.

"He's made strides every game," Muir said. "He's making good decisions and getting the ball where it needs to be."

Steen's eighth target of the night, John Hoplin, hauled in an 8-yard touchdown catch to give the Riders a 19-0 lead in the fourth quarter. The 6-foot-6 Hoplin out-jumped a much shorter defender in the end zone.

Defensively, the Riders, led by linemen Tanner Williams and Bryan Bjerk, pressured quarterback Tucker Bucholz and bottled the explosive Shane Siverson.

Siverson touched the ball four times against Williston in West Fargo's previous game, rushing for more than 100 yards and two touchdowns.

"Red River is just too fast for us," said West Fargo coach Jay Gibson, whose team dropped to 1-4. "We've got some big boys, but we aren't as big and agile as they are. It seemed like we weren't blocking them on any play. Red River has a real nice team."

Against Red River, Siverson carried the ball four times for minus-22 yards. Siverson, who started the game lined up at quarterback, didn't catch a pass at wide receiver.

"Siverson is a special guy, and he just needs some space," Gibson said. "I was disappointed in our offensive line for not picking things up."


The Riders' defense set the tone in the first half, recording seven sacks and grabbing one interception. The Packers managed minus-23 rushing yards in the first half.

Red River's 7-0 halftime lead was sparked by a trick play. Coming out to start the second quarter, Red River backup quarterback Luke Hodnefield lined up at running back and tossed a halfback pass to Adam Bothun for 38 yards. On the next play, Steen found Jeff Dennison on a perfectly executed corner route. Dennison's catch in front of a draped defender gave the Riders a 7-0 lead with 11:44 left in the second quarter.

The Riders pushed the lead to 14-0 quickly in the third quarter. On third-and-7, Steen hit Quinn Baumann on a short pass out of the backfield. Baumann picked up a block down the sideline and raced in for a 57-yard touchdown catch.

West Fargo's touchdown with 49 seconds left -- a 22-yard pass play from Bucholz to Jaime Heinen -- prevented the Riders from pitching their second straight shutout.

"We have to take it one game at a time now because we've dug ourselves a hole," Gibson said. "That's all you can do. Not every team gets a chance to play for the conference title. I think Red River will. They're in the driver's seat."

Miller has covered sports at the Grand Forks Herald since 2004 and was the state sportswriter of the year in 2019 and 2022.

His primary beat is UND football but also reports on a variety of UND sports and local preps.

He can be reached at (701) 780-1121, or on Twitter at @tommillergf.
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