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St. Croix Central football team finally hits the win column

St. Croix Central running back Cody Gostovich is shown heading upfield on a carry in the Panthers' recent game against Barron.

Getting into the Dunn-St. Croix Conference schedule was just what the St. Croix Central football team needed.

After opening the season with two error-filled non-conference losses, the Panthers played much more crisply in their Dunn-St. Croix opener on Friday. The Panthers went to Colfax and took early control against the previously unbeaten Vikings, winning 28-14.

It was the Panther defense that gave the team a jump start. Shiloh Goodwin forced a Colfax fumble in the opening minutes of the game. Panther senior Dante Carlson scooped up the fumble, carrying it 19 yards to the end zone for the game's opening touchdown.

The Panthers received a scare from Carlson following the game. One of his legs swelled drastically and he spent two nights at the Hennepin County Medical Center. Central coach Tony DiSalvo said the injury was diagnosed as a severe bruise and the Panthers will likely be without Carlson for several weeks.

The return of Jason Matteson from an injury could help offset Carlson's loss. Matteson will likely return to receiver, where he was one of the team's top threats last season.

The second Panther touchdown came two minutes after the first. Sophomore halfback Trent Smith scored on an 8-yard run, putting the Panthers in front 14-0 less than four minutes into the game.

Two new additions to the Panther roster had an immediate impact in Friday's game. The Panthers added two foreign exchange students to the roster, both who are kickers. Their deep kickoffs pinned Colfax deep in its own territory, giving the Panthers a decided edge in the field position battle.

The Central lead was raised to 20-0 before the first half was complete. Panther quarterback Kyle Larson connected with Tony Berg on a 16-yard scoring pass with 27 seconds left in the opening half for the team's third touchdown.

The Panthers gained 143 yards of total offense in the first half, but the offensive success waned in the second half. The Panthers could manage just 24 yards of offense in the second half.

Colfax scored once in the third quarter and again in the fourth quarter to climb back into the game, shaving Central's lead to 20-14. DiSalvo said some of the players might have let up in their intensity with the 20-0 lead, a lesson that almost proved costly.

It wasn't just the Panther offense that saw its effectiveness tail off at halftime. The Panther defense was ferocious in the first half, limiting Colfax to 37 total yards. Colfax had the Panther defense on the run in the second half, gaining 178 yards in the half.

Central was able to score with 2:33 left in the game to safely seal the victory. Ryan Gulich scored the final Panther touchdown on a 1-yard plunge.

When the Panther defense was at its best on Friday, the players were flowing to the ball to make gang tackles. The Panthers had four players in double digits in tackles, led by linebackers Cody Gostovich and Smith, who recorded 13 and 12, respectively. Goodwin and Decker Grass each produced 10 tackles.

DiSalvo said another key to the defense was having 250-pound junior John Spaeth available for the first time this season. DiSalvo said Spaeth's presence made it much more difficult for Colfax to run the ball up the middle.

The Panthers will need to take another step forward this week if they want to add to their win total. The Panthers will host Mondovi at 7 p.m. on Friday. Mondovi has a large senior class and the Buffaloes have targeted this season as their big chance at a conference title.

"If we stick our nose to the grindstone we can beat them," DiSalvo said. "We can't take steps backward against a good team."

Dave Newman
Dave Newman has been the sports editor at the New Richmond News since 1988. He has covered the action in the Middle Border Conference, Dunn-St. Croix Conference and Big Rivers Conference for nearly 30 years.
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