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ST. JOSEPH — After a 4-1 start, Paxton-Buckley-Loda’s football season had an unsatisfactory ending — to say the least.
The Panthers ended their season with a four-game losing streak that cost them a chance at a playoff berth. The streak concluded Friday with a 21-6 loss at St. Joseph-Ogden.
“It’s not a good way to end the season,” PBL head coach Jeff Graham said. “It’s disappointing, and I think everybody involved is disappointed. Someone may even say, ‘How can you make a positive out of that,’ and you really can’t with the exception of what we’re doing here is building a program.”
Despite the loss, PBL (4-5, 1-5 Sangamon Valley Conference) finished the season doubling its win total from last season.
“I think the people, the coaches and players and everybody involved, and even the people that come out to our games can see that we’re going in the right direction,” Graham said. “We have great kids that work hard. I wouldn’t trade our kids for anyone in the entire world. I love our kids, and they’re going to battle, and we’re going to get this thing done, and we’re going to build this program back up, and our kids have the work ethic to do that. I guess that’s the positive part. I’m staying optimistic, I’m staying positive, and I love our kids.”
Meanwhile, SJO (8-1, 6-0 SVC) won the outright conference title with the victory in addition to knocking PBL out of the playoffs.
“We talked about that to the kids,” SJO head coach Dick Duval said. “We had a share of it, but we wanted to be selfish and keep it all for ourselves. So they did that part. Our record is now 0-0 (heading into the playoffs). Everybody’s going to be the same, and we’ve just got to be ready to play from the first kick to the last horn.”
On its first possession, it looked like PBL might have a chance to spoil the Spartans’ plans of an outright conference title, as some runs by Drew Schrodt and Jesse Houtzel helped drive the ball to the SJO 25-yard line.
The drive ended, however, on a missed field goal by Jonah Wilson from about 43 yards.
On SJO’s opening possession, Trent Wooten intercepted a Dillon Walsh pass, giving PBL possession on the Spartans’ 43-yard line.
After a couple of first-down runs by Weston Weber and an offsides penalty by SJO that resulted in another first down, PBL faced a fourth-and-two on the 12-yard line.
The Spartans, however, stopped Houtzel short of the first-down marker, resulting in a turnover on downs.
The first quarter ended in a scoreless tie, and the score would remain so until about midway through the second quarter.
In the second quarter, SJO’s Aaron Woller initiated the scoring by returning a punt 45 yards to put his team up 7-0 with 6:24 left in the first half.
On the Panthers’ ensuing possession, a screen pass from Weber was intercepted by Dylan Koss.
With the pick, the Spartans had the ball on PBL’s 27-yard line. From there, Walsh completed a pass to Louis Acklin, who reached the two-yard line.
Following a false start penalty by SJO, Austin Hedrick scored on a seven-yard touchdown run. The scamper extended the Spartans’ lead to 14-0 with 4:05 left until halftime.
“Offensively, we struggled,” Duval said. “They put a lot of people up front, and we didn’t pick up a lot of their pressure when they were bringing their linebackers in. Obviously, it wasn’t very pretty with the number of guys we had out, and they were in key spots. We put a lot of different people in there for the first time. They’re bound to make mistakes.”
Hedrick filled the role of SJO lead runner for an injured Chase Patton. He finished the game with 145 yards on 29 carries and added another touchdown on a 20-yard run to increase the Spartans’ lead to 20-0 with 1:39 left in the third quarter.
“One thing I feel good about is that this year, we’ve been as deep as we’ve ever been at the running back spot,” Duval said. “Austin is a very capable runner. When Chase Patton was in there, he ran like a senior, and when he got hurt, Austin stepped in. Hopefully, he’s going to carry the load for us for a while.”
The third-quarter touchdown was scored off a turnover, as Weber threw his second interception of the game to Acklin, who returned the pick to PBL’s 48-yard line.
“They capitalized on our mistakes, and we just shot ourselves in the foot, and that’s the bottom line,” Graham said. “We got behind the 8-ball every time. In our offense, we can move the ball, but then if we get in a situation where at second-and-14, then we’re behind the 8-ball and we’re running plays that we don’t have scripted. When you get in that situation, that’s not how things get drawn up, and you have to adjust. Any coach will tell you that when you’re constantly in that situation, then you’re just shooting yourself in the foot. That’s really the story of this game.”
Despite the offense’s struggles and the special teams allowing Hedrick to return the second-half opening kickoff to PBL’s 41-yard as well as allowing the punt-return touchdown, Graham praised his team’s defensive effort.
“We preached defense for two weeks, and our defense came out and played pretty doggone good,” Graham said. “I know we gave up that long punt return, but our defense held in there. Our defense played well. We just shot ourselves in the foot offensively.”
Wooten led the defensive effort with 8.5 tackles and two sacks along with his first-quarter interception.
“Trent Wooten played well. He’s been a tough ballplayer for us all year,” Graham said. “Especially defensively, he’s really been a stronghold. Trent was one of the guys that started out in that Panther position that we play, and that’s where he ended up. He was solid. Trent’s a junior that plays his heart and is just a good kid.”
Graham said, however, that Wooten was not the only Panther defender who performed well.
“Will Boman’s been sick, so we had to move Nick Heisler to middle linebacker, and I thought he did a pretty good job tonight,” Graham said. “He filled the gaps pretty hard. Drew Schrodt played linebacker, and in our first couple of series, he was really doing a good job, too. Wil McClure had some tackles.”
The Panthers’ offense scored its lone touchdown with 4:15 left in the game with a 10-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-one by Schrodt. The drive that led to the touchdown included a fake-punt run by, and two pass completions to, Schrodt.
On the ensuing kickoff, Wil McClure appeared to have recovered the onside attempt. The referees ruled, however, that the kick did not travel the required 10 yards.
The Panthers would get another possession before the end of the game. However, SJO recovered a Weber fumble with 1:21 remaining and ran out the clock from there.
Weber went 5-for-11 passing for 72 yards. He also ran the ball 13 times for 20 yards.
Schrodt caught three of Weber’s pass attempts for 51 receiving yards. He was also PBL’s leading rusher with 52 yards on 17 carries.
Houtzel contributed 42 yards on 12 carries, as the Panthers gained a total of 110 yards on the ground.
The Spartans’ Walsh completed 7-of-10 passes for 101 yards. Acklin caught three throws for 83 yards.