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Football: St. Croix Central takes first step in returning to Madison

St. Croix Central's Austin Kopacz (11) had a big night on both sides of the ball on Friday. Here he's shown returning an interception for a touchdown in the Panthers' 41-14 win over Durand. Dave Newman / RiverTown Multimedia

The St. Croix Central football team knows the way to Camp Randall Stadium.

This was the first step for the Panthers in making their third-straight trip to the WIAA State Championships.

Central opened the 2018 season with a 41-14 non-conference win over Durand. Central will be back at home again this Friday, hosting one of their old rivals from the years in the Dunn-St. Croix Conference, Elk Mound.

Central won the WIAA Division 4 state championship in 2016 and they lost the Division 4 state championship game in 2018. With a return trip to the state title game as their main goal, the Panthers made a convincing opening argument on Friday.

There were encouraging signs on both sides of the ball for the Panthers. The Panther defense held Durand without a first down until the final minutes of the first half. Central's defense limited Durand to 102 total yards, with 59 yards coming on a touchdown pass against the Central reserves.

Central scored four touchdowns in the first half to take charge of its season opener.

Central opened the scoring with 3:45 left in the first quarter when quarterback Austin Kopacz broke free on a 47-yard keeper. The Panthers scored again a minute later. That score was set up when defensive lineman Nate Berends intercepted a Durand screen pass, returning it to the Durand 15. Five plays later, Central fullback Ryan Larson burrowed into the end zone for a 1-yard touchdown.

Penalties put Central deep in its own territory in the second quarter, but a 63-yard punt from Derek Myer flipped the field. The Central defense then forced a quick three-and-out by Durand. Durand's punt was returned to the Durand 44. On the next play, Larson burst through the line for a 44-yard touchdown.

Kopacz completed the first half scoring by returning an interception 75 yards for a touchdown.

Kopacz and Larson scored in the opening minutes of the second half. From there, Central's reserves played the rest of the game.

This was not a perfect performance on Central's part. Coach Tony DiSalvo pointed to the two first half turnovers as correctable flaws.

"Penalties killed us in the first half," DiSalvo said. That was most evident in Durand's scoring drive at the end of the first half. Central committed four penalties in that drive to account for most of Durand's positive yardage in the drive.

DiSalvo said building up an early lead allowed the coaches the chance to get many young players into the game, many of them getting their first taste of varsity competition.

"We've got a long way to go, but it was a first step," DiSalvo said of Friday's win. "We've got a good opponent coming in and we need to get better."

St. Croix Central 41, Durand 14


SCC -- Austin Kopacz, 47 yard run (Derek Myer kick)

SCC -- Ryan Larson, 1 yard run (Myer kick)

SCC -- Larson, 44 yard run (Myer kick)

SCC -- Kopacz, 57 yard interception return (Myer kick)

D -- Ceejay Schlosser, 1 yard run (attempt failed)

SCC -- Kopacz, 7 yard run (Myer kick)

SCC -- Larson, 24 yard run (kick blocked)

D -- Gunnar Hurlburt, 58 yard pass from Joey Biesterveld (Brian Ingli run)

St. Croix Central rushing

Austin Kopacz 12-97; Ryan Larson 7-89; Keagen Berg 7-50; Mike Steinmetz 2-9; Carter Zahl 2-6; Gabe Siler 3-0; Hunter Hoolihan 1-0; Logan Shackleton 1-0; Zac Holme 1-0

St. Croix Central passing

Austin Kopacz 0-2-1 interception

St. Croix Central receiving


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 more than 30 years.

(651) 301-7848