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St. Croix Central football team misses out on share of conference title

St. Croix Central senior halfback Aaron Delander (89) looks for running room on a play to the outside in last Thursday's Panther loss.

This loss should haunt the St. Croix Central football team.

The Panthers were thoroughly outplayed in their regular season home finale last Thursday, getting thumped by Glenwood City 36-14.

The loss ended up costing St. Croix Central in many ways. The biggest bummer came shortly after the game when it was found that Elk Mound had been upset by Boyceville, 14-0. With Elk Mound losing, St. Croix Central would have earned a share of the Dunn-St. Croix Conference championship with a win over Glenwood City. Instead, Central, Glenwood City and Mondovi all tie for second place in the conference standings with 4-2 records.

Thursday's loss also damaged Central's chances when the WIAA Division 4 sectional seeding meeting was held. The Panthers received the seventh seed in the tournament bracket. That means they will travel to Northland Pines in Eagle River, a trip of more than four hours, to play at 7 p.m. on Friday.

Central coach Tony DiSalvo said the Panthers likely would have been the third seed in the sectional bracket if they had beaten Glenwood City and would have been playing at home this weekend.

While the Panthers are facing an undefeated opponent this Friday, Central's coaches think their team has a good chance of pulling off an upset. Northland Pines plays in a conference against small schools in Northern Michigan, so it is difficult to gauge how good Northland Pines is. The Eagles do have a highly successful ground game, led by Austin Ramesh, who has rushed for more than 1,500 yards this season. Ramesh is a University of Wisconsin Badger recruit.

The coaches plan to have the football players leave class at 10:30 a.m. on Friday, get lunch, then climb aboard coach buses bound for Eagle River. The coaches plan for a stop in Wausau, before reaching Eagle River well before the game.

"We've got to show up and play some good football," DiSalvo said, saying the team hasn't played at its best for a full game this season and that Friday would be the perfect opportunity to do so.

A strong performance this Friday would also help the Panthers erase the memory of the Glenwood City debacle. The Panthers had communications problems all night, with issues in the offensive line, offensive backfield and defensive backfield being the most glaring.

The offensive line had several miscommunications that allowed Hilltopper defenders to get into the Panther backfield untouched. Those big hits also had a clear effect on the backfield members. The defensive backs had several blown coverages and the game could have gotten out of hand much earlier, but Glenwood City had two passes destined for touchdowns go right through their receivers' hands.

Panther quarterback Carl Moll passed for 267 yards in Thursday's game, but those numbers are deceiving. With Central unable to run the ball at all, the passing game was the only source of offense. Jason Matteson was Moll's most successful target in the first half. Matteson finished the game with six catches for 105 yards. In the second half Cody Nyhagen was able to shake free from the heavy attention he was receiving from the Hilltoppers to finish with nine receptions.

The Panthers didn't score their touchdowns until the fourth quarter, when Glenwood City nearly had the game to a running clock. Nyhagen scored the first Panther touchdown on a fumble return and Moll scored the second on a 4-yard run with 2:47 left the fourth quarter.