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(PANA) — After two consecutive losses, the Pana Panthers got back on the winning track with a 43-9 pounding of South Central Conference foe Gillespie at Brummett Field in Pana. It was Senior Night for the 2023 football team.
The victory came after a week of soul-searching by the Panthers and their coaching staff following an overtime loss at Hillsboro the previous Friday.
“We had a lot of meetings this week with our seniors, with our offensive line and said ‘This season is going to go as you lead it’,” Pana Head Coach Trevor Higgins said. “In those meetings, the kids decided to step up and start bringing some energy to practice – it’s the best week of practice we’ve had all year. I don’t think it’s any coincidence they come out and execute well on Friday night. It’s nice to see kids are stepping up, leaders are coming up – and not just from our seniors, some of our underclassmen as well – it’s just good to see everyone get a good win.”
The Panthers rolled up 408 yards offensively. Junior Isaiah Harbert ran the ball 20 times for 121 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Junior Wyatt Kile ran for 103 yards with 7 carries and freshman Cayden Durbin had 42 yards on 11 tires and a touchdown.
Through the air, Kile accounted for 133 yards, going 5-of-7, throwing 3 touchdowns. Senior Cole File caught 2 of those passes, good for 86 yards and sophomore Tyler Rench caught 2 touchdown passes with 9 yards and senior Jamarion Cobbins caught one pass, good for 38 yards and a touchdown.
Pana climbs to 5-2 and is playoff eligible.
It didn’t take long for the dominance of the Panthers to come out. Gillespie had the ball to start the game and after a 5-yard false start by the Miners, Gillespie quarterback Tristen Wargo threw an interception to Sam Sims at the Pana 40 and the Panthers took over 15 seconds into the game at mid-field. Eight plays later, junior Isaiah Harbert plowed his way into the end zone from 3 yards out for the score at the 8:32 mark of the first. Sims booted the extra point for a 7-0 lead.
Both teams struggled on their next possession. Gillespie had a 4-and-out and the Pana put on a drive, getting down to the Gillespie 6. However, 3 consecutive holding penalties by the Panthers had the ball, second-and-goal from the 21. Pana ran four plays and couldn’t move the ball with the Miners taking over at their own 30 after a sack of Pana quarterback Wyatt Kile on fourth down.
Gillespie got on the scoreboard early in the second period, a 32-yard field goal from Dawson Morgan with 9:26 to go in the half. From there, the Panthers took over, reeling off 34 unanswered points which lead to a running clock midway through the third quarter.
Kile connected with Rench on a 4-yard TD pass with 7:09 showing in the half. Harbert got the 2-point conversion for a 15-3 advantage. At the 3:43 juncture, Durbin pounded his way into the end zone for the score and the Sims kick got the lead to 23-3. Pana capped off the half – with 16 seconds left – a Kile-to-Rench connection from 3 yards out to make it 29-3 after the Sims kick.
Pana had the ball to start the second half. Kile had a fine kick-off return, taking the ball at the Pana 22 and ran down the far sideline 40 yards to the Gillespie 38 for a first-and-10. Kile took the snap on the first play from scrimmage and found Cobbins on a corner route good for a touchdown just 11 seconds into the second half for a touchdown. Pana lined up for an extra point kick, but holder Cash Lynch stood up and found Kamden Brown for the conversion to make it 37-3.
The Panthers scored for the final time with 7:39 to go in the third, capping off a 6-play, 62-yard drive with another Harbert touchdown. The try for 2 points was no good, but the Panthers had a 40-point lead, 43-3. Highlight in the drive was a 38-yard pass play from Kile to File to get the ball to the Gillespie 24.
The Panthers will play their final 2 games of the regular season on the road, the first one next Friday, taking on the vastly improved Litchfield Purple Panthers.
“Litchfield is going to be tough,” Higgins said. “Hopefully we come in with the right mind-set and practice just like we did last week – the coaches come up with our best game plan. We’re going to be in a battle next week.”