Red River takes Cushman Classic after second-half comeback
The Roughriders scored all 19 of their points in the second half, with Gunnar Heuchert collecting a rushing and passing touchdown.
GRAND FORKS — Grand Forks Red River coach Vyrn Muir wasn’t sure where his team’s heads were at going into the locker room at halftime. Down 9-0 to Grand Forks Central in the 26th edition of the Cushman Classic, the Roughriders were looking for any kind of lane.
“We did not play well in the first half," Muir said. "The message was we have to go out there and we have to make some plays and we have to get off the field on defense. Stop letting them have big plays and just execute."
Then in the fourth quarter, a time-eating and methodical drive — featuring three third-down conversions — was capped off by a 2-yard Pearce Parks touchdown run, securing a 19-9 win for Red River. It is Red River's second Cushman Classic victory in a row, and their 12th in 14 years.
Parks, who threw for 127 yards, teamed up with Jaden Rustad, Brett Feller and Gunnar Heuchert to rush for 132 yards and two second-half touchdowns. Heuchert was also able to make an impact through the air, throwing two completions for 52 yards and a touchdown.
Just before the end of the second quarter Central’s Dylan LaMont and Cole Barta connected three times for 79 yards on the same drive, leading to a Leo Strandell touchdown reception from the 1-yard line.
Following that up, Central pulled off a two-minute drill with 1:54 left in the half, ending with a Ross Wilber field goal to put the Knights ahead 9-0.
“We felt like coming into this game we didn’t have to throw it as much," Strandell said. "That second and third quarter, something happened that I just don’t know. We have to figure it out. That’s three games in a row where our third quarter has been God-awful."
Coming back from the locker room, the Roughriders had some tricks up their sleeve to get momentum back.
The first offensive play saw Parks lateral to Heuchert, who tossed a 43-yard pass to Quinn Nelson and brought them inside the 5.
“They were doing certain things on defense with some of the tendencies we had," Muir said. "It took us a bit to realize and play that chess game with them."
Heuchert, under center this time, finished the drive with a quarterback sneak from the goal line to get Red River on the board.
On the next drive, the air attack came into play again. Parks, in Knights territory, launched a jump ball to Carter Byron, who came down with the ball at the 1-yard line. Heuchert came back in to complete the scoring drive with a 9-yard touchdown pass to Nelson, giving Red River the lead for the first time.
“Overall, we just figured it out at halftime,” Nelson said. “I just remembered the film and figured out what they were doing and that helped me. Biggest game of the year, obviously. This is awesome.”
The Parks touchdown followed this, as the Roughriders started the fourth quarter on their own 33 and managed to rush downfield and get up by two possessions while leaving just 4:55 left on the clock.
“That’s how we have to play right now," Muir said. "By the time we get to the third and fourth quarter, if we can still call those runs that go for one or two yards, they will start going for four or five and they did."
Nelson’s hands would seal Central’s fate, however. Looking to get back into the game, LaMont's 24th pass attempt of the night was jumped by Nelson and picked off.
With four minutes left on the clock, the Roughriders were able to bust through the line and hold on for the win.
“We made a big play at the end when we needed to and we did enough during the game. It wasn’t pretty by any means for us,” Muir said. “At the end, we had the right calls at the right time.”
Red River now goes on to play West Fargo Sheyenne, while the Knights will take on Valley City.