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WATSEKA — In its past three games, PBL scored an average of nearly 20 points before its opponent got on the scoreboard.
The Panthers faced their first deficit of the season last Friday at Watseka, as the Warriors scored two first-quarter touchdowns to take a 14-0 lead.
After Drew Schrodt scored on a 13-yard touchdown to make the score 14-6 at the end of the quarter, Watseka’s Daulton DePatis scored on a quarterback sneak to make the score 21-6 in favor of the Warriors with 9:41 left in the second quarter.
Although PBL rallied back with 13 unanswered points, it would not be enough. for its fourth consecutive. The Panthers fell to a record of 3-1 (1-1 Sangamon Valley Conference) with a 21-19 loss to Watseka.
“I’m very proud of these kids,” PBL head coach Jeff Graham said. “That was PBL football. We kept fighting and fighting and fighting. We got down early, but we fought back, and I’m so proud of these kids for continuing to fight. We’ll be back after it.”
In the first half, PBL fumbled the football a total of three times. Watseka (4-0, 2-0 SVC)scored two touchdowns off a couple of those turnovers.
After a Jesse Houtzel fumble was recovered by the Warriors on PBL’s 33-yard line, Watseka quarterback Daulton DePatis scored on a 33-yard touchdown run along the right pylon to put his team up 6-0 with 7:57 remaining in the first quarter.
On the Panthers’ next possession, Austin Hasselbring sacked Weston Weber, forcing a fumble that was recovered by Watseka on PBL’s 21-yard line in the process.
Austin Blair went on to score a 10-yard touchdown run. After a two-point conversion run by DePatis, the Warriors led 14-0 with 5:28 left in the opening quarter.
Exactly four minutes later, Drew Schrodt put PBL on the scoreboard with a 13-yard touchdown that cut his team’s lead to 14-6 at the end of the first quarter.
In the second quarter, Watseka answered back with a one-yard touchdown by DePatis to extend its lead to 21-6.
On PBL’s ensuing possession, Schrodt coughed up the football. The fumble was picked up and returned to the Panthers’ 25-yard line by Blair.
The Warriors, however, failed to capitalize on PBL’s third fumble of the first half.
Austin Kidwell went into the end zone on a sweep to the right side. The touchdown was nullified, however, by a holding penalty.
From there, PBL forced a turnover on downs.
The Panthers gave themselves a chance to score a touchdown of their own when Weber connected with Schrodt on a 55-yard completion down the right sideline to the Watseka 26-yard line with 2:25 left in the half.
Houtzel capped off the drive with a four-yard touchdown run to make the score 21-13 at halftime.
“With three fumbles in the first half, we were fortunate just to be down eight,” Graham said. “I’m proud of them. Nobody gave up. We kept plugging away. It’s a loss. It’s behind us. It’s over. We kept fighting. I’m proud of the kids. That’s really all there is to say.”
The holding penalty that took away Kidwell’s touchdown was not the only squandered scoring opportunity Watseka had in the first half.
On their first possession, Alex Gocken caught a pass from DePatis on the left side and raced for the end zone. He fumbled the ball before reaching the goal line, resulting in a touchback for PBL.
“We had a touchdown,” Watseka head coach Steve Lucas said. “I’m not sure that ball wasn’t out, but they said it came out. That’s impossible. The guy was 30 yards away. How could he make that call?”
Before the first half ended, Blair had a long run that would have resulted in a first-and-goal for the Warriors at PBL’s five-yard line. Instead, an illegal block in the back negated the run.
“Stupid stuff on our part,” Lucas said. “We probably should have had two or three more scores, but we didn’t. That’s the name of the game.”
Both teams would end the third quarter scoreless.
The Panthers had a chance to get some points after Schrodt gained big yards on both a fake punt and a run to the right side, resulting in PBL possession on the Watseka 25-yard line.
The drive stalled, however, on a missed field goal by Jonah Wilson from about 40 yards out.
In the fourth quarter, PBL capped a scoring drive that included a fourth-down catch by Schrodt with a two-yard touchdown run by Weber.
The score cut the PBL’s deficit to two points (21-19) with 5:13 left in the fourth quarter. The Panthers tried the two-point conversion, but Weber was sacked.
Schrodt finished the game catching both of Weber’s pass completions for 66 yards. He also led the Panthers in rushing with 143 yards on 25 carries.
“He just made us look sick,” Lucas said. “We couldn’t tackle him. We had to have missed 15 tackles, and you can’t do that against a good team.”
Houtzel rushed for 84 yards on 18 carries while Weber contributed 19 yards on 13 touches.
Overall, PBL finished the game with a total of 246 yards.
“We executed well,” Graham said. “I think that was obvious. Our offensive line did a really good job executing. Drew and Jesse and Weber ran the ball hard, all three of them.”
Watseka held onto the ball for 3:55 thanks to some nifty running from DePatis. His runs out of the Warriors’ mid-line option play gave the team two first downs that forced PBL to use all of its timeouts.
The Panthers got the ball back via a turnover on downs, but at their own 14-yard line with 1:18 remaining in the game.
Blair finished the game rushing for 102 yards on 17 carries while DePatis had 91 yards on 12 carries, as Watseka picked up a total of 211 yards on the ground.
“Our defense never gave up, but I’ve got to give some credit to Watseka right now at this point,” Graham said. “They really executed well. They hid the ball really well. That little mid-line option they run is a very good play. It’s a hard play to defend. It’s something we went through this week and whatnot.
“The bottom line is I’ve got to give the credit to Watseka. They execute really well. I said that going into the game. We saw it, and they do. They execute well, and they’ve got some hard runners and they have a good offensive line. DePatis and Blair run the ball hard, and they did a nice job, so I have to give Watseka a lot of credit, too.”
On PBL’s final possession, Weber was intercepted on third-and-9 by DePatis with 23 seconds remaining.
“That was a hell of a football game,” Lucas said. “I told the guys that PBL would be ready and they were going to be playing hard, and they did. PBL’s a really good football team. They played their hearts out.”