St. Croix Central football now 10-0; hosts Durand in Saturday playoffs
A severe case of nerves gripped the St. Croix Central football team in the first quarter of the Panthers' first game of the WIAA Division 4 playoffs on Saturday.
The undefeated Panthers spotted Baldwin-Woodville a 14-0 lead, before using fast, physical play to wear down the Blackhawks. That resulted in the Panthers coming back for a 28-22 victory on their home field.
As the top seed in the regional bracket, the Panthers will be back home in the second round of the WIAA playoffs this Saturday. They will play at 3 p.m., facing Durand. Durand has an 8-2 record and finished second in the Middle Border Conference this season.
The Panthers bore little resemblance to an undefeated team in the first quarter of Saturday's game against B-W. The Panthers did not maintain blocks well and their offense couldn't generate any yardage running or passing.
B-W got the first score on a dump pass to tight end Andy Jacobson who found a void in the middle of the Panther secondary, going 55 yards for the score.
The Blackhawks got the ball back on an interception late in the first quarter. The Panther coaches called a timeout, huddling the team together. The coaches kept using one word in the huddle: "Relax."
B-W turned that turnover into points, scoring with 1:18 left in the quarter to build the lead to 14-0.
The turning point of the game may have been an interception by Central's Ethan Lindahl to end the next B-W possession. Lindahl returned the ball to the B-W 17. He also breathed life into a Panther team that was about to flat-line.
The Panthers didn't score on that possession, but they did on their next. Quarterback Carl Moll lofted a pass down the sideline, where Tyler Lathe made a juggling catch for the touchdown.
At the end of the half the Panthers had another golden scoring opportunity, driving inside the B-W 10, before the clock ran out.
B-W got the first break of the second half, when a defensive end intercepted a pass at the SCC 30. The Panthers got the stop, with Lathe sacking B-W quarterback Brody Peterson on fourth down.
Halfback Justin Kattre then stepped into the spotlight. His runs of 29 and 14 yards took the ball to the B-W 2. Kattre then carried for the third straight play, plunging into the end zone to tie the score at 14-14.
B-W wasn't ready to give up. The Hawks used three big plays, covering 36, 28 and 28 yards, to quickly take back the lead at 22-14.
Central struck back even quicker.
Moll tossed a swing pass to Cody Nyhagen. Nyhagen broke several tackles as he tore down the B-W sideline, scoring on a 68-yard play. Korey Jacobson's two-point conversion tied the game at 22-22 with 1:28 left in the third quarter.
B-W was now showing signs of wearing down, with several players needing to be helped off the field during the fourth quarter. The Panthers got the ball back and moved into B-W territory on a 36-yard catch by Nyhagen.
On fourth down, the Panthers called a timeout. Central coach Tony DiSalvo said he was planning to punt, but the players convinced him to go for the first down. Not only that, they had a play in mind they thought would work.
And it did. Jacobson swung out of the backfield, taking a pass from Moll and going untouched for the 40-yard touchdown with 8:05 left in the game.
From there, the Panthers relied on their defense. Lathe made two big stops on one possession, before Marcus Malecek knocked down a fourth down pass to end the drive.
B-W got the ball back with 1:56 left, but Nyhagen intercepted a pass on the next play to seal the victory.
The win is the 10th straight for the Panthers, but DiSalvo said the team will have to perform much better to keep the streak alive this Saturday.