PBL football ends season with 40-7 loss to Carlinville in second round of IHSA Class 3A playoffs

PAXTON — Paxton-Buckley-Loda’s football season came to an end in the second round of the IHSA Class 3A playoffs as the No. 2-ranked 3A team in the state — Carlinville — built a 40-0 halftime lead en route to a 40-7 victory.
The Panthers ended their season with a record of 7-4. Their lone score came via a 3-yard touchdown run by Gunner Belt with 5:18 remaining in the fourth quarter.
The touchdown was set up by a tackle by Belt as Carlinville attempted to punt on its previous play, but after a high snap, Belt recorded the tackle on Carlinville’s 3-yard line.
“I told them at halftime, like I normally do, that they have two choices. One’s a negative choice, which is pouting and feeling sorry for yourself, and the other choice is to come out and keep playing hard and show good, tough character, and that’s what we did in the second half,” PBL head coach Jeff Graham said.
The Panthers are saying goodbye to 11 seniors — T.J. Jones, Mason Ecker, Austin Gooden, Andrew Swanson, Keyn Humes, Chase Elson, Kyle Poll, Tanner Bowen, Jake Rich, Christian Denam and Calvin Foster. They are also returning their two starting quarterbacks from this season — junior Belt and sophomore Gavin Coplea.
“I’m proud of these guys. I’m proud of our seniors,” Graham said. “I love them all.”
After scoring on a 3-yard touchdown run on Carlinville’s opening possession, Dixon caught five scoring passes from Jarret Easterday.
Dixon, who is listed as a wide receiver on Carlinville’s roster, capped a six-play, 38-yard drive — which included a 57-yard pass from Easterday to Dixon on a third-and-9 that put the ball on PBL’s 4-yard line after a 1-yard run by Ethan Wallace and a Gooden knockdown of an Easterday pass attempt — with his touchdown run with 9:05 left in the first quarter on third-and-goal from the 3-yard line.
“We haven’t (done that before). It’s been in the hip pocket for a while now,” Carlinville head coach Chad Easterday said. “It’s the time of year where you don’t want to sit in December and ask yourself if you could have, should have or would have. He’s special.”
Junior Dalton Busboom and Rich tackled Wallace for a 1-yard loss on first and goal and Wallace ran for two yards on second-and-goal prior to Dixon's touchdown run.
After a three-and-out by PBL's offense forced the Panthers to punt to Carlinville's 25-yard line, Dixon’s first touchdown pass came via a 53-yard pass with 6:10 left in the first quarter. Busboom recorded a sack before Easterday completed a pass to Nick Walton on second-and-17 for eight yards and another pass to Nick Ambuehl for a first down on the Cavaliers' own 41-yard line.
Dixon's touchdown reception was scored on a second-and-10.
After another three-and-out, Dixon scored on an 11-yard screen pass to cap a 72-yard drive that started with a 30-yard pass completion from Easterday to Will Walton. 
The Cavaliers' Jeffrey Stufflebean recovered the ensuing onside kick attempt on PBL's 49-yard line. After a 23-yard pass completion to Ambuehl, Easterday and Dixon connected on a 28-yard touchdown pass to extend Carlinville's lead to 27-0 with 2:01 left in the first quarter.
“That’s something that we do all year. That is our style,” Easterday said. “We take a lot of pride in special teams. That type of kick is something we’ve done for the last 10 weeks. It’s very hard for opponents that don’t play us on a regular basis to have to deal with that. It’s very hard to practice against, and we actually look for kickers that are able to do that sort of thing.”
In the second quarter, Dixon received touchdown passes covering 10 and 62 yards.
“You have to account for him in so many plays,” Chad Easterday said. “He makes plays throughout the game where it puts you in uncomfortable positions when you have to call plays against that on the other side.”
Dixon finished the game with 238 yards on nine catches.
“The first thing I said when I watched the film (last weekend), I looked at my coaches and said, ‘(Dixon’s) the real deal. This kid’s an athlete,’ and it showed today,” PBL head coach Jeff Graham said. He’s just a good player. He’s fast. He’s physical.”
Meanwhile, Jarret Easterday completed 21-of-26 pass attempts for 372 yards.
“He’s been able to do those types of things all year long,” Easterday said. “We’re able to hurt you vertically, as well as their run game. We didn’t get to see the run game as much. They decided to play a six-man box in there today. They gave us a look where we able to throw it, and we took it.”
“All year long, we’ve been pretty successful against the run, but we couldn’t stop the pass. Easterday just doesn’t miss, and they’re so athletic on the edge," Graham added. "It’s a really good team.”
Dixon also grabbed one of two first-half interceptions off PBL quarterback Gavin Coplea early in the second. He almost scored, but the touchdown was called back due to an illegal block in the back penalty.
Chase Michaelis grabbed an interception on the Panthers’ first possession of the game on a third-and-12 after a Jones run for a 2-yard loss and an incomplete pass.
The Panthers went into halftime with only six yards of total offense and two first downs — one on a Cavaliers (11-0) pass-interference penalty. 
“Those (defensive players) are underlooked because we score some points, but I thought their effort and intensity in the first two quarters was just unbelievable,” Easterday said.
Following Dixon's interception, a couple of holding penalties stalled the Cavaliers' ensuing drive, forcing them to punt from PBL's 45-yard line. After PBL went three-and-out from its own 6-yard line and Dixon's 10-yard touchdown reception via screen pass, Will Walton recovered an onside kick for Carlinville on the Panthers' 46-yard line.
After Humes defended an incomplete pass, Easterday recovered a fumble on a bad snap before Belt tackled Will Walton on a 12-yard pass completion and Dixon ran out of bounds short of the first-down marker on fourth-and-4.
The Panthers went three-and-out again before Dixon's 62-yard touchdown reception on a second-and-10 with 4:02 left in the second quarter. Alex Rueck recovered the following onside kick for the Panthers at PBL's own 47-yard line before a pass-interference penalty on a pass attempt toward Belt and a second-and-13 completion to Ecker along the left sideline gave the Panthers a first down at the Carlinville 25-yard line.
The drive stalled, however, as three incomplete passes and a rushing attempt by Coplea for a 1-yard loss forced PBL to turn the ball over on downs with 2:18 left in the second quarter.
PBL finished the game with 17 yards of total offense.
“We tried everything we could (to get the offense going), but we just didn’t get it done offensively,” Graham said.
Carlinville went three-and-out on its first possession of the second half as a false-start penalty was followed by two runs by Hunter Robinson netting a loss of six yards.
On third-and-21, Swanson and Gooden tackled Robinson for a loss of another six yards before the Cavaliers punted to their own 35-yard line.
On PBL's ensuing possession, an incomplete pass on second down and two runs by Belt netting two yards was followed by a tackle for loss by Carlinville on fourth-and-2. The Cavaliers then went three-and-out as Christian Denam and Gooden combined for a tackle for a loss of yards on first down before Rich and Poll recorded tackles for loss on second and third down, respectively, forcing Carlinville to punt on fourth-and-21.
Three incomplete passes then forced the Panthers to punt before a 15-yard pass from Michael Byots to Joe Lewis moved the ball to PBL's 40-yard line for Carlinville.
After a knockdown of a pass by Gooden and a false-start penalty, Gooden recorded a sack on second-and-15, and an incomplete pass on third-and-25 followed the high snap that set up Belt's touchdown.
The PBL defense then recorded a three-and-out, including a sack by Jayden Ware on first down, before the Cavaliers punted to their 36-yard line. The running clock then ran out on the game.
Things could not have worked out much better Carlinville in its journey through the IHSA Class 3A playoffs so far.
Due to playing on the road in the second round, per the IHSA rules, Carlinville (11-0) gets to play at home in the quarterfinals.
“I’m going to take it,” Easterday said. “I’m not sure if that was how I drew up my personal bracket, and I’m not taking anything away from PBL. I thought they did a great job last week, and a good job today. We were able to hurt them with some matchups early and got them rolling a little bit. They had to do some things they didn’t want to.”
The Cavaliers will face Williamsville -- which defeated Fairfield on the road, but has to play on the road next weekend due to Carlinville having a higher seed -- in the quarterfinals next weekend.
“I don’t know much about (Williamsville), but they definitely have a good ballclub, and we’ll have to be prepared,” Easterday said.
The 40-0 halftime lead that Carlinville built also let the Cavaliers bring in their substitutes as the second half was played with a running clock, per other IHSA rules.
“I think that’s huge this time of year when you can do that, and there’s no injuries,” Easterday said. “I was very proud of the substitutions and our coaching staff for those types of abilities.”

Carlinville 40, PBL 7
CAR   27  13  0   0   — 40
PBL   0   0   0   7   — 7
Scoring summary
C -- Dixon 3 run (pass failed)
C -- Dixon 53 pass from Easterday (Schmidt kick)
C -- Dixon 11 pass from Easterday (Schmidt kick)
C -- Dixon 28 pass from Easterday (Schmidt kick)
C -- Dixon 10 pass from Easterday (kick failed)
C -- Dixon 62 pass from Easterday (Schmidt kick)
P — Belt 3 run (Humes kick)

Categories (3):Prep Sports, Football, Sports


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