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St. Croix Central football team looks for respect in battle with Somerset

St. Croix Central halfback Korey Jacobson (28) breaks into the Durand secondary for a touchdown during the Panthers' win over Durand on Saturday.1 / 3
Central's Ethan Lindahl (12) uses a block from D.J. Haas (3) to pick up more yardage in Saturday's win.2 / 3
Central receiver Cody Nyhagen (23) makes a leaping catch in traffic during Saturday's game.3 / 3

All season long, it seems that people have doubted whether the St. Croix Central football team is for real.

Is 11-0 real enough for those second-guessers?

The Panthers continued their undefeated 2011 season on Saturday, rolling past Durand, 30-22 in Level 2 of the WIAA Division 4 playoffs. The final score doesn't show how well Central played. Midway through the third quarter, Central held a 30-6 lead.

Now the Panthers face their biggest test. They will face Middle Border Conference champion Somerset at 7 p.m. on Friday on the Spartans' home turf.

Central coach Tony DiSalvo said the Panthers are using the lack of respect they receive as motivation. He said the success of Central and Spring Valley, which won its Division 6 game over Marathon by a 42-6 score on Saturday, shows the Dunn-St. Croix Conference was stronger than the naysayers are claiming.

"That's totally it," DiSalvo said of the perceived lack of respect the Panthers receive. "Everything we read says it's a weak conference, that we haven't played anybody."

If Durand believed that, the Panthers quickly showed that wasn't the case. Central drove down the field and scored on its first possession, with junior Cody Nyhagen getting the touchdown on a 7-yard run.

Central's second touchdown came on some outstanding improvisation by Panther quarterback Carl Moll. The play was supposed to be a screen pass to the left side of the field, but Durand had the receiver covered. Moll scrambled to his right, lofting a pass to Tyler Lathe, who made the catch, then fought off a couple Durand defenders to reach the goal line.

Durand came back to score, cutting the Panther lead to 14-6 late in the first half. Nyhagen came back with a big kickoff return, carrying the ball into Durand territory with 1:30 left in the half. The Panthers quickly pushed upfield, getting the touchdown on a 5-yard run by Korey Jacobson. The two-point conversion lifted Central's lead to 22-6 at halftime.

Jacobson put the game out of reach, scoring on a 42-yard run early in the third quarter that extended Central's lead to 30-6.

Durand scored on two touchdown passes late in the game.

Durand has the reputation for being a physical team, but the Central coaches were of the opinion that Central was the more physical team in the game.

While the Panthers were physical, they were also precise in their execution. Moll's work at quarterback epitomized that. He completed 19 of his 23 passes in the game, good for 192 yards. DiSalvo said three of Moll's incompletions were catchable passes, so his numbers could have been even better. Moll has now passed for 1,886 yards in the Panthers' 11 games this season.

The multi-faceted offense that Central presents proved to be too much for Durand. Six Central receivers caught passes, led by six from Nyhagen and four each from Lathe and Ethan Lindahl.

The ground game was solid again, with Jacobson running for 89 yards on 13 carries. Jacobson now has 943 yards for the season on 100 carries, giving him a whopping 9.4 average per carry.

DiSalvo said the Panthers had a great week of practice leading into the Durand game. Durand runs a single-wing offense that isn't seen often. DiSalvo said the Panther scout team learned the Durand offense so well that it gave Central's defense a good chance to recognize all of the facets in the rarely-seen offense.

"Defensively, we understood what they did. We have to do that again this week," DiSalvo said.

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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