St. Croix Central football team adds dimensions for playoff upset
One of the top passing attacks in the state was pitted against one of Wisconsin's top high school running backs on Friday when St. Croix Central made the long trek to Northland Pines.
But instead of being a one-dimensional team that could only pass the ball, St. Croix Central played a well-rounded game to knock undefeated Northland Pines out of the playoffs. Central pulled off one of the biggest upsets in the state with its 34-20 victory.
Central is the seventh seed in the Division 4 playoff bracket, while Northland Pines was a number two seed. And because the Panthers played on the road last week, the Panthers will get to host the second round playoff game this week. The Panthers draw Barron, which held on for a 48-41 win over Spooner on Saturday. Central and Barron will clash at 2 p.m. this Saturday in Hammond. Both teams bring 6-3 records into the game.
If there were any concerns that the Panthers would be road weary from their all-day trip to Northland Pines, the opening kickoff of the game erased those worries. Central senior Cody Nyhagen took the kickoff back 76 yards for a touchdown to start Central's offensive fireworks.
While Central's passing game was dynamic as always, the Panthers used a new-found ability to run the ball to take charge in Friday's game. The Panthers rushed for a season-high 191 yards. Quarterback Carl Moll, along with Nyhagen and Aaron Delander at halfback, split the ball-carrying responsibilities. Moll gained 96 yards, Nyhagen 50 yards and Delander 45 yards.
That balanced out Northland Pines' main strength, senior running back Austin Ramesh. Ramesh is a University of Wisconsin-Madison football recruit, but he couldn't last through the game Friday. Ramesh suffered a concussion when the Panthers tackled him on a running play.
"He's a big rig," said Central coach Tony DiSalvo of Ramesh. "They weren't as good as advertised. I think they'd be in the middle of the pack in the (Dunn-St. Croix Conference)."
The game was close until Ramesh was knocked out of the game in the third quarter. The Panthers scored the final three touchdowns of the game to pull away in the second half.
The passing game netted 233 yards for the Panthers. Senior receiver Tyler Lathe was Moll's favorite target, catching a career-high 16 passes, good for 126 yards. Nyhagen caught seven passes for 77 yards, putting him over the 1,000 yard mark for the season. Moll has passed for 2,300 yards through the Panthers' nine games.
DiSalvo said a strong all-around game like this is what the Panthers need to continue being successful in the playoffs.
"We played our best game," he said. "It was our best defensive game. We make the stop on a Division 1 athlete."
One of the best defensive plays of the game for the Panthers was made by senior cornerback Jag Johnson, who made a one-handed leaping interception in the end zone.
The game was not perfect for the Panthers, however. The offense wasn't able to get the first down on two fourth-and-short situations and the coaches will be looking for better execution in short yardage situations on Saturday.