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PAXTON — After seven straight losses to GCMS, PBL went into this matchup as obvious favorites, having won two more games this year than its Ford County counterpart.
Nevertheless, the Falcons and Panthers gutted out a defensive struggle in which PBL came out on top with an ugly 7-6 win.
“A win’s a win, I guess,” PBL head coach Jeff Graham said. “We’ll take it. We hung on. It’s a win. You have to give a lot of credit to GCMS. They played hard, their kids played hard. They were healthy. They played hard and did a good job. You have to give Coach (Mike) Allen a lot of credit.”
With the win, PBL improves to a record of 4-1. The Falcons, meanwhile, fall to 1-4.
Graham said, however, that GCMS’ record is very misleading.
“Their three losses coming in were to some perennial powers,” Graham said. “Their record did not show what they were. I think that was obvious because they did a really good job. They’re well-coached, and they played hard.”
In order to clinch its first victory over GCMS since 2004, the Panthers would need a big play from one of their bench players.
Brock Swanstron was thrust into the spotlight at the secondary position after Josh Hopkins suffered a sprained left ankle in the second quarter.
He would need to step up and make a play after GCMS had the ball at about midfield. The Falcons got there with a third-and-5 pass from Jesse Boma to Jordan Seymour.
On the play, Boma rolled to his left and threw a completed pass to Seymour as he was chased by Trent Wooten.
“Jesse had trouble and scrambled,” GCMS head coach Mike Allen said. “He does a nice job of creating things. He threw back across his body to Jordan, who made a great catch.”
One play later, however, Swanstron saved his team’s 7-6 lead by intercepting Boma’s pass.
“It was a good play,” Graham said. “Brock’s a sophomore that stepped in when Hopkins got hurt. We had a lot of guys step in tonight.”
The throw was intended for Reece Simpson on GCMS’ right side.
“We just underthrew our corner pass,” Allen said. “It was open, but we just underthrew it. Jesse had a lot of pressure on him. He had to get it off a little quicker than he wanted to and just underthrew it a little.”
Drew Schrodt was responsible for PBL’s lone points in the game.
He ran 50 yards down the right sideline, beating a GCMS defender to the pylon for the touchdown run. With Jonah Wilson’s extra point, which would turn out to be the game-winning point, the Panthers led 7-0 with 9:24 left in the second quarter.
Schrodt had a total of 61 yards on nine carries in the first half. He would finish the game with 63 yards on 10 touches.
Schrodt had to leave the game early due to a knee injury.
“He dinged up his knee a little bit,” Graham said. “We’ll just have to see what happens. He really couldn’t go full speed. He played hard. I don’t know which play he dinged his knee up, but it was in the first half.”
On PBL’s depth chart, Hopkins is listed as Schrodt’s backup. Since he was out with a sprained ankle, Schrodt’s rushing duties were put into the hands of freshman Matt Poll.
Poll finished the game with 18 yards on six carries.
“Matt Poll had to step up,” Graham said. “He did pretty good. I was proud of Matt.”
In the first half, Schrodt also had 2.5 tackles for loss of yards on defense. Tim Kehrer replaced Schrodt in the second half.
The Panthers also had to deal with the absence of guard/linebacker Colten Eichleberger, who tore his ACL the previous week.
“We had a lot of guys step in tonight,” Graham said. “We pulled it together, stayed tough and pulled out a win. As good as they played, we’ll take the win.”
Despite the absences of Schrodt, Hopkins and Eichelberger, PBL gained a total of 202 yards on the ground.
Jesse Houtzel led the way with a total of 95 yards on 21 carries, including 61 yards on 11 touches in hte first half.
The Falcons gained 162 yards. Jordyn Schultz was GCMS’ leader with 77 yards, including a 54-yard scamper that pulled his team to within one point.
“It was our 26 double dive, where we read and either give it to the fullback or the tailback,” Allen said. “Jesse (Boma) did a great job reading it. The line did a great job blocking up front. Everybody attacked the fullback, we gave it to Jordyn, and he was off to the races.”
Zach Johnson missed the extra-point attempt, however, keeping the score at 7-6 in favor of PBL with 8:57 left in the third quarter.
“He ran the ball hard all night,” Allen said. “Nick Retherford ran the ball hard all night. We just weren’t able to put points on the board besides the one touchdown.”
Despite the rushing numbers, the game was a defensive struggle.
Vaughn Gentzler started the tone by intercepting Boma on GCMS’ first possession.
The Panthers had a chance to score a touchdown later on in the first half with a Houtzel run on third-and-13 that helped set up fourth-and-1 on GCMS’ 17-yard line. The drive stalled, however, as Nick Retherford recorded a tackle-for-loss.
Following Schultz’s touchdown run, PBL managed to get to the Falcons’ 26-yard line with a drive that included a 39-yard pass to Wooten from Weston Weber and a fourth-and-four run from Weber that barely made it to the first-down marker.
Following a Lane Dueringer sack and a delay-of-game penalty, the Panthers faced a third-and-22. After a run by Weber gained three yards, PBL was forced to punt on fourth-and-19.
“(The Falcons) have a good, solid football team, obviously,” Graham said. “A lot of credit goes to those guys for working as hard as they did.”
On GCMS’ ensuing possession, it got the ball to PBL territory.
The Falcons gave the ball back, however, on a failed handoff. Wooten recovered the fumble on PBL’s 46-yard line.
Boma went 2-for-5 for 18 yards.
For the Panthers, Weber would finish the game completing 3-of-7 passes for 48 yards. He also ran the ball eight times for 26 yards.
In the first half, Retherford was GCMS’ leading rusher with 30 yards on nine carries, as the Falcons accumulated a mere 42 yards on the ground and 46 total. Schultz ran for minus-eight yards on six touches.
“I thought it was a great high school football game,” Allen said. “I thought our defense played awesome all night long. We just have to put points on the board. We can’t continue to count on our defense to hold teams down. As an offense, we have to put points on the board, and that starts with me as the offensive coordinator.
“Coach Graham and (PBL assistant coach Doug) McCoy called a great game. (Falcons defensive coordinator Kyle) Bielfeldt called a great game. It was just a hard-hitting game on both sides. We just came up one point short.”