Panthers outlast Wildcats in title game

Posted 11/11/15

By Derrick Forsythe Record Staff Writer Lined up against a program known for its winning tradition and frequent trips to the postseason, the Wright City football team found itself outmatched on …

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Panthers outlast Wildcats in title game

Record Staff WriterLined up against a program known for its winning tradition and frequent trips to the postseason, the Wright City football team found itself outmatched on several levels during a 43-12 loss in the Class 3 District 5 championship Friday.The Wildcats’ trip to face Centralia was a humbling and somewhat inspiring one, as the senior class saw just how far this group has come in a short period. On the contrary, they stared down a Panther team that Wright City aspires to emulate in many ways.“Centralia’s size was a huge problem for us that created very unfavorable matchups up-front,” said senior linebacker Austin Buchheit. “Our guys were just littler and couldn’t move the big bodies they brought at us.”Senior quarterback Andrew Pfuhl, who found himself scrambling much of the night, says the Panthers’ familiarity with big games also paid off.“We saw two great communities back their football teams, but the experience factor kicked in,” said Pfuhl. “We were all pretty green to this situation.”Wright City tried to establish its running game early, but the Panthers made it clear senior running back DeRenzo Blanks would have to earn every inch, as he finished with just 7 yards on 12 carries. The Wildcats were held to just two net rushing yards.“We wanted to make them one-dimensional to where they could not run the football,” said Centralia Coach Erle Bennett. “It sounds strange to do that to a spread team, but we wanted to put them in a situation where they had to throw the football, and we were able to get a couple of turnovers as well.”The Wildcats were forced to go to the air more than they routinely have during a very balanced offensive showing this season.“We can’t throw the ball if we can’t run the ball,” said Sargent. “We have done a phenomenal job of being as balanced as possible up until this game. You have to do both, and if you can’t, then you’re going to be in trouble.”Pfuhl finished 19 of 35 with 273 yards but was pressured into throwing three interceptions by a Centralia defensive line that was constantly breathing down his back.“The quarterback was very good at extending plays,” said Bennett. “He’d drop, then get out of the pocket, and we didn’t get the kind of pressure on him we wanted to once he was out. He was able to make some plays downfield with their very good athletes.”With the Wildcats trailing 22-12 at the end of the first quarter, Centralia slowly imposed its will to gain a comfortable edge. Bennett said being able to control the line of scrimmage was the biggest difference maker for his team.“The greatest challenge they presented was that they were very strong and aggressive on the line,” said senior linebacker Kyle Tuepker. “They had big athletes up front and were able to make good holes for the running back.”Centralia’s ground game proved very difficult for the Wildcats to contain, as a combination of three backs continually pounded the ball up the middle. The Panthers were particularly effective in their ability to conceal the football and confuse the defense.“They were well-coached and didn’t make a lot of mistakes,” said senior receiver Tyler Brittain, who finished with a team-best 77 yards on five catches. “They also did a really good job of hiding the ball in their running game.”After receiving help from a pair of Wright City penalties on the opening drive, Centralia punched in a 3-yard rushing touchdown.Moments later, the Panthers regained possession with favorable field position by snagging one of the three interceptions thrown by Pfuhl. It took them just one play to reach the endzone again after connecting on a 29-yard touchdown pass to go ahead 15-0 just three minutes into the game.Wright City promptly responded, as senior Kyle Tuepker raced 72 yards on the ensuing kickoff return to give the Wildcats an escape from an escalating circumstance.Centralia picked off another throw by Pfuhl with 2:17 remaining in the quarter, later converting on a 15-yard run to go ahead 22-6.“We missed a lot of flat routes tonight that turned into interceptions and all three of those interceptions ended up leading into points,” said Sargent.The Wildcats employed the deep passing game on their next drive, with Pfuhl finding Muse on a 50-yard touchdown pass as time expired in the first period.Both coaches agreed the turning point was during the second quarter, during which Centralia broke off two big scoring plays to extend its lead to 22-12. The most detrimental of those, according to Sargent, was a 73-yard run by quarterback Nick Romine.“That happened as the result of a missed assignment,” said Sargent. “If you’re not disciplined against an option team like that, then you’re going to give up big plays.”Trailing 36-12 at halftime, Sargent tried to inspire the Wildcats toward a comeback, but neither team would produce as efficiently on offense as they had during the first two quarters.Centralia went nearly 21 minutes without scoring again until converting on a 4-yard pass play late in the fourth quarter.“We mismatched them a lot and gave them some fits, but when it really came down to it, we just didn’t execute on certain plays,” said Sargent, who noted the final score wasn’t indicative of his team’s effort. “Our guys came out here and battled against a very solid team.”Muse totaled 59 yards on three catches.Buchheit led the way with 10 tackles, while Tuepker added seven.Wright City finished the season 8-4, its best record since 2010.

Wright City senior running back DeRenzo Blanks stiff-arms a Centralia defender during Friday’s district championship game. Centralia won 43-12. Derrick Forsythe photo.