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St. Croix Central football looking to keep it simple

St. Croix Central running back Cody Gostovich (33) is congratulated by his teammates after he scored the Panthers' first touchdown in Friday's game against Barron.1 / 2
St. Croix Central senior receiver Dante Carlson (45) tries to break away from a Barron defender in the first quarter of Friday's game in Hammond.2 / 2

The St. Croix Central football coaches came to the realization that they may have been overwhelming the young lineup the Panthers are using during the team's first two games of the season.

So as the Panthers shift toward their Dunn-St. Croix Conference opener this Friday, expect to see a simpler, more direct game plan when they play at Colfax.

The Panthers went 0-2 in the non-conference start to the season, including a 35-18 homefield loss to Barron last Friday.

There were times the Panthers looked good during the game. But there were also times it was clear the players were being overtaxed by the complicated schemes the team uses. SCC head coach Tony DiSalvo said the coaches have to remember that this isn't the same team as last year, when the Panthers had seniors at nearly every position.

"It'll be a simple game plan," DiSalvo said of the approach to the Colfax game. "We were expecting them to do a lot of the things the older kids could do."

The coaches are looking to find the team's strengths and build around them as they gear their plans toward the conference season. One strength that clearly emerged in the two losses is the Panthers' ability to move the ball on the ground. In sophomore running backs Trenten Smith and Cody Gostovich, the Panthers have a pair of tough young ballcarriers who can keep drives moving. Smith is averaging 6.3 yards per carry in the first two games, including a 124-yard performance against Barron. Gostovich is averaging 5.2 yards per carry.

"The passing game will come after people have to put seven or eight people in the box (to stop the running game)," DiSalvo said.

If the Panthers can force defenses to respect the running game, the coaches hope it will give the team more of a big-play potential.

"That's why we went to the spread offense, to get the ball to people in space," DiSalvo said.

DiSalvo said there will also be moves made to help clear up the assignments for the players on defense. The Panthers have given up several big plays in the two games when there appeared to be confusion on assignments in the secondary.

While the coaches are doing what they can to make the assignments easier for the players, the players still have to make some improvements. One of them is tackling. The Panthers gave up several big plays where they had numerous chances to make tackles, but Barron's running backs were able to bounce away from the tackles.

The Panthers stayed competitive through the first half on Friday, scoring once in each quarter to trail 21-12 at halftime. The Panthers gave up two big plays in the third quarter which allowed Barron to break the game open.

Colfax is an intriguing opponent this Friday. The Vikings have struggled terribly in recent years, but they started the season 2-0. Their wins came against Eleva-Strum and Ladysmith, two struggling programs, so this Friday's game will be a much better indicator of how much Colfax has improved.

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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