A stagnant second half overshadowed Litchfield's best half of football in some time on Friday, Sept. 6, as the Panthers fell to Gillespie 42-6 at Lloyd Hill Field.
Just 79 seconds into the game, Litchfield found the endzone, marking the first time they had scored first in 14 contests. On third and 15, Clayton Walch connected with Charlie Rayphole on a short pass that Rayphole turned into a 73 yard gain and the Panthers' first score of the season.
While the score was the highlight of the game for the Panthers, there would be other high points in the first half.
Gillespie would score on a four yard run by Frankie Barrett in their first offensive series, but Litchfield marched the ball back down the field after the kickoff. Walch had two big runs, one for 20 and one for 35, that brought the ball inside the Gillespie ten when coupled with a flag for unsportsmanlike conduct on the Miners.
The only thing that didn't go right for the Panthers in the first half was their ability to hang onto the ball. Walch would fumble on the Gillespie four to end Litchfield's second series, then would turn the ball over again deep in Gillespie territory late in the first quarter, a sequence that led to the Miners' second score, a two-yard run by John Berry.
While the offense wasn't able to add to their total, the defense did yeoman's work on their side of the ball in the first quarter. Twice the Panthers would stop Gillespie on fourth and short, including a tackle for a loss by Jefferson Thomas on the Litchfield three yard line.
The Miners would add to their lead in the second quarter on a seven-yard end-around by Danny Bertolino, making the score 21-6, but Litchfield would stave off further damage when they forced a fumble in the Miners' next series, with Hunter Niemann recovering the fumble.
The Panthers would threaten to cut into the lead late in the second quarter, with Colin Becker catching a 35-yard pass from Walch, but the Miners would keep Litchfield from a first down and run out the clock in the first half.
In the second half, the tone would be set early, an unfortunate thing for the Litchfield faithful. Gillespie's Tanner Whitfield snagged a short kickoff to start the third quarter and weaved his way 60 yards for Gillespie's fourth touchdown, just 14 seconds into the second half.
That was the beginning of the end for Litchfield as the Miners scored again on a six-yard run by Thomas Johnson late in the third quarter, then added two more scores in the fourth, both from Alex Ottersburg. Barrett connected with Ottersburg for a 50-yard touchdown reception with 10:43 to play in the fourth, making it 42-6, followed by a 49-yard run by the senior for the dagger with 5:39 left in the contest.
After going for more than 200 yards of offense in the first half, the Panthers were held to -39 yards in the second half. The combo of the Miners' big play capabilities and Litchfield's inability to gain momentum meant that the Panthers were in the loss column for the second time this season.
Walch, who was knocked out of the game briefly in the third quarter, finished with 110 yards passing and 86 yards rushing, a total that would have been larger had it not been for some late sacks by the Miners.
Charlie Rayphole would have two catches for 76 yards, while Colin Becker (34 yards) and Drew Hartzell (15 yards) also had receptions.
Defensively, Jefferson Thomas had ten solo tackles, including three for a loss, while Dylan Maxwell also had ten tackles and was a difference maker on the defensive end. Caleb Jurgena also had a solid game for the Panthers with six tackles and an assist.
Litchfield will be back at home in week three of the season as they host the Piasa Birds of Southwestern High School.
September 6 at Litchfield
Gillespie 13 8 14 14 49
Litchfield 6 0 0 0 6
1st: Litchfield - Charlie Rayphole 70-yard touchdown reception from Clayton Walch (2pt failed)
1st: Gillespie - John Berry 4-yard pass from Frankie Barrett (kick good)
1st: Gillespie - John Berry 2-yard run (kick failed)
2nd: Gillespie - Danny Bertolino 7-yard run (2pt. conversion)
3rd: Gillespie - Tanner Whitfield 60-yard kickoff return (2pt. conversion
3rd: Gillespie - Thomas Johnson 6-yard run (2pt. failed)
4th: Gillespie - Alex Ottersburg 50-yard pass from Frankie Barrett (kick good)
4th: Gillespie - Alex Ottersburg 49-yard run (kick good).
Passing: Clayton Walch 3-13-110, 1 TD; Blaine Stewart 1-2-15.
Rushing: Clayton Walch 18-86, Caleb Jurgena 1-8, Drew Hartzell 6-6, Austin Niehaus 2-(-6), Blaine Stewart 2-(-11), Chase Dealey 1-(-25).
Receiving: Charlie Rayphole 2-76, Colin Becker 1-34, Drew Hartzell 1-15.
Tackles (Solo/Assists): Jefferson Thomas (10/1), Dylan Maxwell (10/1), Caleb Jurgena (6/1), Hunter Niemann (2/4), Josh Adams (3/2), Clayton Walch (3/1), Charlie Rayphole (3/1), Colin Becker (1/1), Austin Niehaus (1/0), John Corso (1/0), Blaine Stewart (1/0), Blake Balestri (0/1), Drew Hartzell (0/1).