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Pana Panthers survive trip to Piasa Birds, 35-21

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(PIASA) — Pana defenders swarm to Piasa quarterback Quinten Strohbeck during the Panthers 35-21 win on Friday night at Piasa in South Central Conference action. From left, in white jerseys, are Joel Deere 65), Monte Weddle (33) and Kamden Brown (72).

(Tom Latonis/Breeze-Courier Photo)

(PIASA) — The Pana Panthers football team came from a touchdown back to post their fourth straight win, 35-21 over Piasa Southwestern, in a South Central Conference game at Piasa.

“We weathered the storm,” Pana Head Coach Trevor Higgins said following the game. “Anytime we come here, this is a hard place to play because it’s a longer drive, so we knew coming in toitwe weren’t going to have to have a good start. But, we fought hard. We kicked it into gear in the first half and that last drive before halftime was huge for us to get the momentum there.”

The “storm” the coach referred to were the Piasa Birds, not the rain which stopped prior to game time and never was a threat throughout. Pana had the ball first and drove to the Piasa 37, when a fumbled exchange gave the Birds the ball after it was recovered by David Watkins.

The drive stalled quickly and they were forced to punt as were the Panthers on their next possession, which made them punt from their own 7-yard-line. Piasa was in good position at the Pana 28 and it took them seven plays to score with 1:08 left in the first. Ian Brantley kicked the extra point and the home team was ahead, 7-0.

The Panthers would not get on the scoreboard until the 2:44 mark of the second quarter, going 70 yards in eight plays for the score. Senior quarterback Max Lynch swept around the right side and carried the ball in from 35 yards out. Sophomore Wyatt Kile kicked the extra point to tie the game, 7-7.

Kile was filling in for regular extra point kicker, Sam Sims, who is suffering from a calf injury.

“Sam’s got a quad that’s been bothering him this week and was irritated when he kicked, so we decided to not have him kick tonight and hopefully that will heal up and he can do it from here on out,” Higgins said. “We just have a few guys here and there we are trying to keep healthy because we just don’t have the numbers to have guys out. We’re being a little overly cautious.”

After Piasa had a four- and-out, Pana got the ball at their own 25 with 1:37 left in the half and needed just four plays to go 75 yards for the score to put them on top at halftime. The drive was highlighted by three straight completion by Lynch – a short gain to sophomore Hayden Blackwell, then a 30-yard play to senior Carter Beyers followed by another completion to Blackwell covering 19 yards to put the ball at the Piasa 21. From there, Lynch worked his magic, breaking tackles and zig-zagging his way to the end zone with 44.1 seconds left in the half. Beyers tried the extra point kick, but it was no good and Pana went to the locker room at halftime leading 13-7.

During halftime, the Birds hosted a ceremony honoring Gary Bowker, Sr., who has served the Southwestern School District for 50 years as a teacher and a coach. On hand for the ceremony was Gary Bowker, Jr., former Pana Head Basketball coach and teacher who was broadcasting the game Friday night. The third generation of Bowkers, Pana senior Brant Bowker, was in the Pana locker room as a member of the football squad.

The second half started with the Birds taking the kick- off 51 yards in nine plays for the score with 7:34 left in the period. They were added on the drive by a personal foul penalty against the Panthers for a hit out-of-bounds which set them up at the Pana 13. Jacob Fisher carried the ball in from one yard out to seal the drive. The extra point try was good and Piasa went up, 14-13.

“Second half, they went down and scored on us immediately, so there’s that ‘aw man, we’re not playing well,’ but then we kicked it in after that,” said Higgins. “I was really proud of the guys and their effort. They just trusted the system, never broke – we bent a lot – but didn’t break tonight and got a good win against a good Piasa team.”

The Panthers bounced back with a 65-yard drive after the ensuing kick-off, using a dozen plays, mainly utilizing Lynch’s legs to get to the Piasa 18. On third-and- eight, Lynch hit Blackwell left alone on a post pattern for an 18-yard touchdown play with 3:16 to play. The Panthers went for the two- point conversion and Lynch hit Beyers with a strike as Pana went up, 21-14.

Pana recovered a fumble by the Birds at the Panthers 49 by Logan Keith, quarterback who came into the game after an injury to quarterback Quinten Strohbeck. There was a scramble for the ball and Pana’s Kamden Brown came up with the ball and rambled more than 30 yards before being stopped at the 14. On fourth-and-six from the 10, Lynch found Beyers again in the end zone for the score with 1:14 showing in the third. Pana went for the two and Lynch passed to Camren Cook for the conversion which gave Pana a 29-14 lead.

In the fourth quarter, the Panthers were driving and were at the Piasa 31, facing fourth down. Lynch went back to pass and appeared to fire a completion to Hayden Stark which appeared to look like a completion for the first down, but after a consultation, the referees waved it off and gave Piasa the ball back.

They were unsuccessful on a fourth down play, giving Pana the ball back at the at their own 37. It took the Panthers four plays to navigate the 63 yards for their final touchdown of the night. Lynch connected with Cook on a 39-yard score with 3:19 to play. They extra point kick by Beyers was good for a 35-14 Pana lead.

There was a scary moment in the game which held up the proceedings for nearly a half- hour. On the ensuing drive, Southwestern’s quarterback Strohbeck was hit hard along the Piasa sidelines by Lynch. He went down and laid on the field while an ambulance was awaited. In looking at video of the hit, it was completely legal, but the officials called it a helmet-to-helmet hit and assessed Pana a 15-yard penalty.

After the ambulance arrived and Strohbeck was taken to the hospital, the game resumed with the Panthers putting in their second string defense. Southwestern was able to score with 1:09 to play and kicked the extra point which made the final, 35-21.

According to posts on Facebook on Saturday, Strohbeck had been released from the hospital after observation and no injury was sustained.

In the South Central Conference race, Pana is in a three-way tie for second at 4-1 with Greenville and Vandalia. North Mac is alone in first with a 5-0 mark.

Pana hosts Litchfield in SCC action for their homecoming game on Friday, Sept. 30, 2022, at Brummett Field in Pana. Kick-off is set for 7:00 p.m.

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