It was good, old-fashioned hard-nosed football. The St. Croix Central team opened its season with a top-quality team effort, beating Ellsworth 24-8 last Thursday. The game was part of the annual Gridiron Classic played on the artificial turf at UW-Stout.
This year's Panthers are a team that prides itself on playing tough, basic football. To do that, the Panthers need to execute better than their opponents. That was the case against Ellsworth. The Panthers scored three times in the first half and controlled the ball for long stretches in the second half.
Panther coach Tony DiSalvo made a bold move by starting sophomore Jeff Fern at quarterback. The move turned out to be golden, with Fern playing like he'd been in pressure games all his life.
"He looks just like Nate (his older brother who quarterback the team for several years)," DiSalvo said. "With Jeff we're able to run the option, we can use our whole playbook with a mobile quarterback."
Fern was 5-10 passing and he also ran the ball six times for 38 yards.
The Panthers were able to grind out several drives during the game. The offensive line consistently opened holes in the Ellsworth defense and the Panther coaches gave each of the running backs chances to get established. The Panthers carried the ball 45 times for 286 yards.
Senior Craig Myer was the pacesetter for the running backs. He carried 21 times for 106 and scored the first two Panther touchdowns. The third score came on a pass from Fern to senior Ryan Fedie.
Fullback Brady Hughes and wingback Willie White also had productive games running the ball.
Ellsworth has an excellent passing game, led by junior quarterback Travis London. He threw the ball 25 times in the game, but the Panther defense didn't let Ellsworth break any long pass plays. Ellsworth had little luck running the ball against Central's defense, so Ellsworth could not sustain any drives in the game.
One of the key plays by the Panther defense was a fumble forced by Hughes from his linebacker spot in the first quarter. It didn't lead to an immediate score, but it gave the Panthers excellent field position that would eventually be turned into the team's first touchdown.
This game showed the Central coaches that they need to build up the players' conditioning, with the coaches saying players were getting winded late in the game. That is not an incrimination of the youth of the Panthers. On both offense and defense, there were three sophomores in the starting lineup for Central.
After the performance by Central in their scrimmage, the coaches weren't sure how they'd fare against Ellsworth. A great week of practice got the Panthers ready for the win.
"Our kids made a big improvement from our scrimmage to our first game, especially in our secondary play," DiSalvo said. "Now we need to make that amount of improvement again."
That's because the Panthers will be facing their second straight Middle Border Conference opponent this Friday. The Panthers will play their home opener against their rival, Baldwin-Woodville. B-W was a winner in its season opener, taking down Mondovi 35-22.
St. Croix Central 24, Ellsworth 8
St. Croix Central 8 16 0 0 24
Ellsworth 0 8 0 0 8
SCC -- Craig Myer, 3 yard run (Ryan Fedie run)
Ells -- Jordan Eggenberger, 16 yard run (Eggenberger run)
SCC -- Myer, 5 yard run (Jeff Fern pass from Fedie)
SCC -- Fedie, 13 yard pass from Fern (Tom Redmon pass from Myer)
First Downs 17 16
Rushing Yards 286 229
Passing Yards 76 141
Passes 5-10-0 int. 12-23-0 int.
Penalties 5-30 5-56
SCC -- Craig Myer 21-106; Brady Hughes 7-76; Willie White 6-45; Jeff Fern 6-38; Matt Kaner 2-12; Dez Zimmerman 3-9
SCC -- Jeff Fern 5-10-0 int; 76 yards
SCC -- Ryan Fedie 3-58; Brady Hughes 2-19