After back-to-back losses by more than 35 points each, the Litchfield Panthers were looking for a win on Friday night in Roxana, but maybe more importantly, they were looking for some glimmer of hope for the remainder of the 2012 season. While they came up just short of the victory against the Shells, losing 20-18, the night was far from a loss for the LHS football team.
Early on it looked as it would be another long night for the Panthers as Jordan Briggs scored on a 63-yard run for the Shells just 48 seconds into the game. Briggs would strike twice more for Roxana in the second quarter, running it in from 33-yards out for one score then score on a 51-yard run on the next drive to give the Shells a 20-0 lead with 4:40 to play in the half.
While the third of Briggs’ touchdown trio put the Panthers in a significant hole, the run may have sparked the LHS offense, which had just one first down to that point. With time winding down in the half, Litchfield put together an eight-play, 73-yard drive that culminated with the Panthers’ first score of the game.
Litchfield went to the ground for the drive, riding junior running back Colten Steele and sophomore quarterback Ryan Howard for 55 rushing yards in the drive. With 1:05 to play in the second quarter, Howard made his first completion of the night count as he found Cole Grosenheider in the corner of the end zone for an 18-yard touchdown.
Neither team would get much going offensively in the third quarter until Steele stepped in front of a Chance Foss pass for an interception at the Roxana 23 yard line. Four plays later, Howard would score on a nine yard touchdown run, cutting the Shells’ lead to 20-12.
The Panthers defense would step up and force Roxana to punt in the Shells’ next series, giving LHS the ball on the Litchfield 25. A 35-yard run by Steele moved the ball into Roxana territory as Litchfield worked to cut into the deficit further.
On third and seven from the Roxana 23, Austin Bryant took the ball on a reverse, dragging two tacklers the last few yards to gain the first down and keep the drive alive. Three plays later it was Bryant again coming up big, snagging Howard’s pass from midair for a 12-yard touchdown to make it 20-18. The Panthers would go for two, with Howard attempting to find Bryant again, but Nathan McCalley knocked down the pass to keep the Shells lead at two.
With just over five minutes remaining in the game, the Litchfield defense went back to work, holding the Shells to just two yards over the next three plays and forcing them to punt for the third time in the game. Steele would be back to receive the Roxana kick, but the punt glanced off his hands and was recovered by Roxana at the Litchfield ten yard line. The Shells would fail to capitalize though, turning the ball over again, with the Panthers scooping up the Roxana fumble on the Litchfield 11.
With 2:22 left in the game, Litchfield began their final drive with hopes of picking up their second win of the season. After two plays yielded just one yard, Howard found Nate Jenkins over the middle on third and nine for a 37-yard gain to the Litchfield 49.
A three-yard run by Steele and an incomplete pass brought up third and seven for the Panthers, who tried some trickery on third down by having Steele throw a halfback pass down field to Bryant. Bryant had a step on the Roxana defense, but Briggs managed to get a hand on the pass at the last second, nearly intercepting the toss before it fell to the ground.
On fourth down, Litchfield went to the air again, with Howard attempting to find Grosenheider over the middle. The pass would just miss its mark as the Shells dodged the Panthers’ final bullet and went to victory formation for the final 48 seconds of the game to close out the win.
Offensively, Litchfield would do their most damage on the ground, with Steele racking up 103 yards on 24 carries and Howard rushing for 69 yards on ten carries. Howard also threw for 82 yards, with Steele catching three of the six passes from the sophomore QB.
Defensively, senior Jon Kinney had seven solo tackles and two assists, while Conner Simmons had seven solo tackles and a fumble recovery.
The loss leaves Litchfield at 1-5 and eliminated from playoff contention. The Panthers will play Pana next Friday with hopes of picking up a win on homecoming.