Even Mother Nature couldn’t rain out the anticipation of Nokomis’ first meeting with Pana in almost 40 years, but that didn’t stop her from trying.
A large crowd withstood a steady downpour throughout much of the game to watch the Redskins hit the gridiron against the Panthers for the first time since 1983. While the rain didn’t affect the enthusiasm for the game, it didn’t help the Redskins on the field as five turnovers helped Pana pick up a 17-0 victory in Nokomis.
“We had opportunities, but we made too many mistakes, too many turnovers,” Coach Paul Watson said after the game. “You can say the field, you can say the weather, but they capitalized on the turnovers and we didn’t. So, we learn from that and take that into the playoffs and make a run.”
The weather played a factor immediately as Pana broke a long run to start the game, but gave the ball back themselves as Cooper Bertolino recovered one of two fumbles in the game by quarterback Max Lynch.
Starting on their own 15, Nokomis tried to move the ball on the ground, which was already fairly saturated by the first whistle. Three plays and three yards later, Connor Overby took the snap to punt from deep in Nokomis’ own end, but Carter Beyers busted through for the Panthers and Pana recovered a blocked punt on the Nokomis 15.
Three plays later, Austin Henschen ran it in from four yards and the Panthers were on the board, 7-0.
Nokomis would get the ball at midfield to start their next drive, but weren’t able to move it beyond the Pana 48 and turned the ball over on downs. With a steady diet of runs by Lynch, Pana was able to move the ball down to the Nokomis two before being pushed back five yards on a penalty and settling for a 24-yard field goal by Bo Christer.
Down 10-0, Nokomis got good field position to start their next drive, with Matthew Hill popping a big return, followed by a personal foul penalty against Pana that moved the ball to the Panthers’ 37. Hill, Jake Watson, Jake Johnson and Overby took turns running the ball down the rain-soaked field, eventually getting to the three-line with just under nine minutes to play in the second quarter.
Disaster struck for the Redskins as they tried to gain the last few yards for their first score of the game, as a Pana hit jarred the ball loose and the Panthers smothered it on their own two to end the threat.
Nokomis’ defense stepped up and kept Pana from moving the ball, with Cooper Bertolino getting a sack that nearly resulted in a safety. The Panthers’ punted three plays later and Nokomis had good field position once again.
Like the previous drive, the Redskins’ rushing attack worked the ball into the red zone. Unfortunately, the turnover bug struck again, with Pana recovering Nokomis’ second fumble on their own 20.
“We held them to 17 and we got inside (the 20) a few times where we should have punched it in and scored,” Watson said of the opportunities against the Panthers. “It felt like it should have been 14-10 at halftime, but we’ll learn from it and move on.”
The Redskins got the ball to start the second half, but another turnover, an interception by Colin Schmitz, gave Pana the ball back with 7:13 to play. Nokomis recovered, though, literally and figuratively as Matthew Hill collapsed on a fumbled pitch by the Panthers four plays later to give Nokomis the ball on their own 43.
With the rain coming down harder, the Redskins were unable to find the traction to get their offense in gear and punted the ball away four plays later. Pana answered with a six-play, 65-yard drive that culminated with a 21-yard Lynch touchdown that made it 17-0 with less than a minute to play in the third quarter.
Nokomis would have two more tries to break up the shutout, but both ended with big plays by the Panthers. Drew Hackler recovered a fumbled snap that gave Pana the ball on the 50-yard line in the series after Lynch’s touchdown and Austin Henschen picked off Overby for the second time in the game late in the fourth quarter to snuff out what had been a 10-play drive to that point.
The pick ended the game for all intents and purposes as the Panthers knelt down for the final two plays to run the clock out.
Despite the turnovers and the final score, the game was about as close to a moral victory for the Redskins as you could get. No one had been within 20 points of Pana going into the game and Nokomis not only held their own, but they nearly equalled the Panthers’ offensive totals, accumulating 132 yards to the Panthers’ 144 yards on offense, their lowest total of the season by 200 yards.
They’ll take the lessons from Friday into week nine, a road match-up with Dupo where a familiar face may be making a return. Senior all-stater Landon Engelman has been out since the first quarter of Nokomis’ week three win over East Alton-Wood River due to a broken arm, but may be back for the game against the Tigers.
“We want to fix the little things that we need to fix. Landon goes back to the doctor Monday, so we are hoping we can get him in there for a few reps to see how he does and get him back for the playoffs,” Watson said. “It’s just another weapon that we’d have that we haven’t had.”
Combine that with the weapons that the Redskins have had to this point and Nokomis will be a force to be reckoned with when the playoffs start on Oct. 29-30.
October 14 at Nokomis
Pana 10 0 7 0 17
Nokomis 0 0 0 0 0
1st - 8:47 - (P ) - Austin Henschen 4-yard run (Bo Christer kick)
1st - 1:00 - (P ) - Bo Christer 24-yard field goal
3rd - 0:53 - (P ) - Max Lynch 21-yard run (Bo Christer kick)
Passing: Pana - Max Lynch 5-11-25; Nokomis - Connor Overby 1-3-18.
Rushing: Pana - Max Lynch 14-63, Austin Henschen 7-38, Brenden Schoonover 1-12, Monte Weddle 1-6; Nokomis - Connor Overby 14-50, Jake Johnson 19-28, Jake Watson 10-20, Matthew Hill 8-16.
Receiving: Pana - Brenden Schoonover 3-18, Austin Henschen 1-6, Devon Peebles 1-1; Nokomis - Isaac Satterlee 1-18.
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