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Football: Panthers ready for the important business

St. Croix Central senior quarterback Collin Nelson (2) skirted around the edge of the Elk Mound defense for a four-yard touchdown run on this play Friday, Aug. 25. Dave Newman / RiverTown Multimedia

With non-conference wins over Durand and Elk Mound neatly put away, the St. Croix Central football team now turns its focus to the real business of its season.

The focus from the start has been the Middle Border Conference season. The Panthers start their MBC schedule this Friday, Sept. 1, playing at Ellsworth. Ellsworth also went through the non-conference schedule 2-0 and the battle of the two Panther squads should be an interesting battle of different offensive styles. Central continues to run the ball a large majority of the time, running mainly out of the wishbone set, with several slight variations. Ellsworth runs a much more wide open style of offense. In Friday's 13-7 win over River Falls, Ellsworth passed the ball 31 times and ran the ball 31 times.

"We'll have our work cut out for us," Central coach Tony DiSalvo predicted. "The Flom kid (Ellsworth quarterback Drake Flom) is good and they've got some weapons."

Central is coming off a 42-7 win at Elk Mound where the Panthers dominated the game. Elk Mound had 51 yards of offense in the first half and 46 of those yards came on one pass play.

Central opened Friday's game with a 70-yard scoring drive that lasted more than seven and a half minutes. Elk Mound answered with its only score of the game, an 89-yard kickoff return touchdown.

For the rest of the game, Central handily moved the ball wherever it wanted. The Panthers averaged seven yards per carry. Quarterback Collin Nelson led the attack with 106 yards rushing on 12 carries.

"Collin had a superb game getting us in the right position," DiSalvo said. "He's got the experience and it's really starting to show."

Central fullback Ryan Larson ran for 86. He was allowed to give a tender ankle a rest for most of the second half, but the Panther offense continued to hum with Keagan Berg taking over at fullback.

"He runs hard. That's a nice 1-2 punch at fullback," DiSalvo said.

While the ground game was steady, the Panthers also showed they can strike quickly when needed. The Panthers got the ball with 1:28 left in the first half, leading 21-7. They quickly expanded the lead to 28-7, when Nelson found a blazing Austin Kopacz behind the Elk Mound secondary for a 79-yard touchdown pass.

DiSalvo said he's pleased with how the offensive line is progressing, particularly who well Nathan Berends has done taking over at center.

Elk Mound had excellent speed at receiver and halfback, but the Mounders could never mount any major drive against the Panther defensive starters. Larson and Alec Fischer led Central with nine tackles. Payton Nogal produced eight tackles, a sack and a forced fumble. Josh Woodington had six tackles, most of them coming on special teams where he always seemed to be the first Panther to reach the Elk Mound kick returner.

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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