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Panthers come from behind to top Spring Valley

St. Croix Central running back Cody Gostovich runs to the outside to escape several Spring Valley defenders during Friday’s contest at Spring Valley. (Photo by Sean Scallon)

The ball bounced St. Croix Central’s way and then some in a 26-19 Dunn-St. Croix Conference victory Friday at Syverson Park in Spring Valley.

“It was a game of field position,” said SCC coach Tony DiSalvo. “In the first half, we had great field position and we took advantage of it. In the second half we were kicking into the wind and that really changed the game for us.”

The No. 9 ranked Panthers used two fumble recovery returns for touchdowns by Josh Freyholtz and Cody Refsnider, along with 13-yard touchdown run by Cody Gostovich, to build an 18-0 halftime lead.

“Good teams are able to create turnovers like that and score off of them,” DiSalvo said. “Things did change once we got into the second half though and Spring Valley was able to get some momentum going, which allowed them to come back on us.”

Spring Valley rallied to score three times in the second half to take a 19-18 lead midway through the fourth quarter. Spring Valley scored once in the third and twice in the fourth to take the lead.

“That is the first time we have been behind all season,” DiSalvo said. “But I have to give credit to the kids because they worked hard to come back and regain the lead.”

SCC then received another fortuitous bounce in its favor when quarterback Kyle Larson picked up his own fumble from the center snap and connected with wide receiver Jason Matteson on a 44-yard pass play, which was Central’s only completed pass. The big play set up Central to score the game-winning touchdown on a 3-yard run by Gostovich.

“It was a nice way to end the game and that last drive was really a character-building drive for us,” DiSalvo said.

Central had 177 yards rushing on the night, led by Trent Smith’s 51 yards on 14 carries and Gostovich’s 76 yards on 13 carries.

“Those two combined for 127 yards of offense and had a really good night,” DiSalvo said. “Both those guys were running hard all night and that really helped our offense.”

On defense, DiSalvo praised the play of Freyholtz, Gostovich, Shiloh Goodwin and Andrew Vanderpoel.

“All of our linebackers played really well Friday, and Vanderpoel had a really good game at defensive tackle for us because he was able to handle the double-teams well,” DiSalvo said. “All the other guys also did really well on defense and we had those takeaways too, which really helped.”

Central remains undefeated at 6-0 overall and 4-0 in the DSC and will host Glenwood City at home at 7 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 10.

“Glenwood City has went the opposite of us over the last few years, where we have gone from a spread offense to an option offense and they have gone from an option offense to a spread offense,” DiSalvo said. “So it will be interesting to have to try and defend that spread offense since they will probably throw the ball more than we are used to. And they are battling for a playoff spot, so it is an important game for them and us.”

This week is also Homecoming for the Panthers, which DiSalvo hopes won’t be too much of a distraction for his players.

“There will be a lot of things going on this week that could be a distraction for the guys and I hope they can just keep themselves focused on the task at hand and go into the game ready to play,” DiSalvo said.

The Panthers finish up the season on the road at Elk Mound on Oct. 17, before heading into the playoffs.

“Even though we have been winning, we still need to get better and do a better job at reacting to new defenses and offenses that we might see each week,” DiSalvo said. “We need to react when we see things happening on the field and not think about it all too much. We just have to play and run our plays to the best of our ability.”

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