The Centralia Panthers celebrated homecoming with four quarters of Panther power football, beating the South Shelby Cardinals, 41-14. Though Cardinal all-star Brock Wood broke through twice for touchdowns, the game was never in doubt for Centralia fans.
The names Wheaton, Durant, Holiman and Littrell, echoed through the night as the Panthers scored early and often, Panther quarterback John Durant’s hoarse counting balanced by the enthusiastic roar of the Centralia crowd.
Centralia scored twice in the first quarter, the first after Nick Wheaton took a Durant handoff, faking east, speeding west, then south down the sideline faster than BoneZai the Basset could slurp down a bowl of Hog Have chili.
Centralia lit up the scoreboard again at the 3:40 mark when Durant faked a button hook run then completed a 10-yard pass to Jared Holiman to make it 13-8, Centralia.
13-8, because between the Panthers’ twin bolts across the goal line, Wood lived up to Panther Coach Jim Newsted’s earlier warning not to take the Cardinals for granted. He and the Cardinals ground down the field, capped by Wood slicing up the middle for a nine-yard touchdown run.
Cardinal Head Coach Rob Wilt made sure the point was taken by calling a successful two-point conversion that saw Centralia’s defense tracking and trapping Wood, while Cardinal running back
Daniel Burke took the ball around the other side for two.
“That’s what we practice for,” Wilt said afterward, bigger schools, bigger numbers, bigger players. We condition the best we can, and condition to make these things happen and when we play back down against Class 1-sized schools in the post season, we’re ready.”
He said they are one and six and they only team they beat, Putnam County, was the only team their size. “We approach games like this, “what can we do to make ourselves better.”
If Newsted and Durant were impressed, they showed it by scoring again in the top of the second, with Durant slicing a pass though 88-yards of the starless black sky over Miller Field into Wheaton’s north-bound hands for a touchdown.
“Nick had a good night,” Newsted said afterward. “He got dinged up a little bit tonight, but he’s talented and tough, he’ll be back. He’s our go-to guy for big plays.”
“We knew Wheaton is a nice player out there on the edge for them,” Wilt said afterward. “We knew he could make plays.”
Wheaton was not the only one on South Shelby’s radar. “Their quarterback Durant, obviously,” Wilt said. “He’s a playmaker.”
To make sure the Cardinals knew Centralia was taking them seriously they scored again at the bottom of the second when Durant’s should-be-patented up-the-middle end-zone dive allegedly fell in inch short of a touchdown. Undeterred, he handed the ball to Littrell who burst through the Cardinal front four to score Centralia touchdown number four.
That should have been it for the Cardinals, but while “touchdown” was not frequent visitor to their Friday night vocabulary, “quit” was not there at all. At the 2:13 mark, Wood took Hunter’s kickoff and ran it 71 yard for South Shelby’s last score of the game.
On the sideline, Newsted could be heard gently explaining “don’t kick the ball to Wood,” advice scrupulously followed the rest of the night.
Both teams were scoreless in the third. Durant’s legs and Hunter’s right foot combined to turn the last six yard to the goal post into another seven points with two minutes and change left in the game to make it 41-14 Centralia.
Centralia’s offense finished the game with 542 yards, 151 passing and 391 rushing. Centralia’s defense held the Cardinals to 95 yards, 14 passing and 81 rushing.
Durant led the rushing with 203 yards, followed by Holiman with 88 and Gus Stidham with 74. Durant passed for two touchdowns and ran for two. Wheaton led in receiving yards with 93, followed by Guy Moran with 20.
Stidham led Centralia in the tackling department with 12, four solo and eight assisted. Littrell backed him with 10, seven solo and three assisted. Trevor Bodine and Michael Donaldson each had six total.
Centralia is now 4-3.
“We got our mojo back,” Newsted told the team afterward. “I am very proud how you are stepping up with the new stuff we’re doing. That was more our style tonight. Now we’ve got to get a little more pass stopping. Great Homecoming seniors…”
Later he told the Fireside Guard, he thought his team did a better job containing Wood than people expected. “Yes, he had some big plays . . . but we made our goal to stop him and we did a good job on it. . . Offensively I thought I quarterback ran really well tonight and offensively our receivers blocked really well. We asked them to do some new things tonight and they came through when we ran the ball outside and asked to them to block… Jared Holiman did a good job at running back tonight, we had some different plays at quarterback because I knew they were starting to key in on what we were doing there, that’s why we changed up some of the run plays for John. He did a good job of learning those plays. All in all, I thought we had a good game plan.”
Friday, Oct. 12, Centralia is home again, facing Illinois’ West Hancock High for senior night.