St. Croix Central football plays for perfect regular season Thursday
A chance at a perfect regular season is on the line, not to mention an undisputed Dunn-St. Croix Conference championship, when the St. Croix Central football team takes the field this Thursday.
The Panthers will be playing at home in their regular season finale on Thursday against Spring Valley. The Panthers are 8-0 and have already locked up a share of the D-SC title. A win Thursday would make them undisputed champions and give them their first perfect regular season in many years.
Spring Valley comes into Thursday's game with a 7-1 record. This will be the third straight opponent the Panthers have faced that came into the game with one loss. The first was Boyceville on Sept. 30. The Bulldogs left that game with their second defeat, 26-0.
On Friday the Panthers went to St. Croix Falls to face the Large Lakeland Conference leading Saints. The Panthers showed off their offensive arsenal, scoring all five times they possessed the ball in the first half. The Panthers built a 30-0 lead in the first half and finished with a 36-22 win to spoil the Saints' Homecoming.
Spring Valley comes into Friday's game with plenty of motivation. If the Cards win, they get a share of the D-SC title. A win would likely lock up a first round home playoff game for the Cardinals, while a loss could put them on the road for the playoff opener.
Thursday's game also has huge playoff ramifications for the Panthers. An undefeated regular season would make them a lock for one of the top seeds in the Division 4 bracket, which is where the Panthers appear destined. Central and Bloomer are the only area Division 4 teams with undefeated conference records, which is the top measurement on how teams are placed in the playoff brackets.
The way the Panthers have been playing, there is no team anxious to meet up with them in the playoffs. The Panther offense tore through St. Croix Falls' defense on Friday, amassing 342 yards of offense in the first half. That kind of production harkens back to the Panthers' glory days of the late 1980s when they won a state championship with one of the most potent offenses in the state.
The Panthers finished Friday's game with 450 yards of offense. Quarterback Carl Moll was lethal, completing 13 of 21 passes for 215 yards and three touchdowns. Central's first two scores Friday came on pass plays. The first was a 23-yard strike from Moll to Ethan Lindahl, just 2:25 into the game. The next possession didn't last long, as Moll found Cody Nyhagen for a 71-yard score.
The running game wanted its turn at a big score, so senior halfback Korey Jacobson broke away for a 38-yard burst to make the lead 22-0. Jacobson finished the game with 122 yards rushing on nine carries.
St. Croix Falls' only points of the first half came on a long kickoff return with 2:00 left in the first half. The Panthers' response? March down the field and score in the two-minute drill. The Panthers scored with one second left in the half, on a 5-yard pass from Moll to Nyhagen, to boost the lead to 36-6.
Central's defense was just as effective as the offense on Friday. Five Panthers (Mike Nelson, Lauden Wood, Jacobson, Lindahl and Nyhagen) all record 10 or more tackles in Friday's win.
"We played our best half of the season," DiSalvo said of the first half carnage. "Our kids are playing with a lot of confidence."
While the Panthers played well on Friday, DiSalvo said the team will need to perform even better against Spring Valley.
"We'll have to play lights out. This is like a playoff game for us," DiSalvo said.