Centralia’s football Panthers proved they could score against one the best teams in the state Friday night at Miller Field.
Though they lost 38-21, they did so after coming back from a 20-0 deficit. They also proved that they could pass against the best.
The moon was full over Miller field and so were the stands. Two varieties of Panther fans packed them. Homegrown ones, there to celebrate homecoming and see their local heroes go toe-to-toe with last year’s state semifinalists and Monroe Ci
tians, there to carry on what might be the Clarence Cannon Conference’s founding rivalry.
Things started tough for Centralia.
Monroe City scored early and often in the first quarter: off a pass 49 seconds into the game, then off two runs, one at the 7:20 mark the other at the 2:27 mark.
But time Centralia’s defense, snapped back, denying two of Monroe City’s three first first-half attempts at a two-point conversion.
Centralia’s offense snapped back as well, when with 11 seconds left in the first Trey Owens broke loose with a Clayton Simkins handoff 45 yards down field, zigging, zagging, whacking and weaving his way through Monroe City’s defenders in his own special touchdown ballet.
From the sidelines, Centralia Head Coach Jim Newsted called
out “Double Front Left,” which Simkins translated for the audience by whipping a two-point conversion pass to Jared Holiman to put Centralia on the board with eight points.
Then things got interesting.
Monroe City tried to pass, the hands of Centralia’s Nick Wheaton always seemed to get in the way.
Monroe City tried to rush. Centralia Panthers with names such as Hicks, Kaiser, Stidham and VanSkike always seemed to get in the way, ripping into Monroe City ball-carriers like Bonzai the basset ripping into a pile of Hog Haven brisket.
Nobody scored in the second quarter.
Then, as Monroe City Head Coach David Kirby put it, “adjustments were made at half-time.”
On both sides and Centralia’s showed first. Seven minutes into the third, Simkins took the hike, glided back three strides while cocking his arm to throw. Misdirection complete the loaded pass became handoff to Kaiden Davenport, who running backfield curve behind Simkins went from the east to the west, arching toward the goal-line’s west corner. He broke two tackles, dodged another, then got hit at the knees by a fourth. Diving toward the goal he landed a the four-yard line. The next play Simkins launched Owens to the same corner. Owens made it over the line and was hit hard by two Monroe City defenders. The ball flew from his hand, hit the turf once and was recovered by Wheaton for the touchdown. Luke Hunter put his kick between the uprights to make the score 20-15, still Monroe City, but Centralia fans were starting to feel hope.
Three minutes later Monroe City bit at that hope with a 24-yard touchdown run, followed by another two-yard touchdown run at the eight-minute mark of the fourth quarter, then a 34-yard touchdown rush with 1:56 left.
Simkins did not let those slip by unanswered. At the 5:34 mark he ran his own touchdown in from the eight-yard line.
This was a hard-fought game,” Newsted told the team afterward. “If we would’ve played this hard last week, we would have won. That is a darn good football team, and we knew they are. That team is better than Mexico.”
Fighting their way onto the scoreboard took real grit, he told them, more than other teams would have shown.
“You came out from 20 to 0 and hit them hard,” Newsted said. “Others would have just let them run out the clock, but we fought hard and got back in the game. Their fullback was a bear, hard to stop. They’re a heck of a football team, we’re a heck of a football team. We play that hard against Macon next week, we’ll kick Macon’s butt.”
Newsted said Macon did not come close to taking the yards Centralia took from Monroe City Friday night.
Centralia’s offense took 305 yards from Monroe City, 178 on the ground, 127 in the air. Daven port led them with 87 rushing yards followed by owns with 75.
Regarding Centralia passing, Newsted said he and Simkins simply took what Monroe City offered. “We started running that belly and they started putting that outside linebacker in where the belly was supposed to be, where our running play was. So I knew the pass was open.” He complimented Simkins work against Monroe City.
“I thought Simkins played a heck of a game,” Newsted said. “He took some shots and kept getting up.”
One observer said the culmination of those shots might have blunted Centralia’s scoring.
“Momentum seemed with the good guys until just inside the half as Centralia was rallying a solid drive Clayton Simkins took a huge hit from Collin Pennewell. That hit took the wind out of Simkins and the Panthers on what looked like promising drive. . .. Football is a game of moments and inches. Monroe capitalized on more of each Friday might.”
“We knew they had the athletes to air it out,” said Kirby. “They definitely did a good job of pushing it downfield with their passing game.” Conversely, he said they had hoped to push Centralia to throw more, out of respect for Centralia’s running game. “We knew that every kid they had in the backfield had an opportunity to be successful … We were concerned about everybody.”
“One tough kid,” Newsted said. “Our quarterback’s very tough.” He also complimented Wheaton’s work. “We moved Nick from spread end to slot back to get the ball to him better . . . He had some nice catches, a heck of a receiver. We’re going to keep trying to get him the ball.”
Centralia’s defense held Monroe City to 385 yards, 307 on the ground and 78 in the air.
Kaiser led the defense with 11 total tackles, all assisted. Hicks and Stidham backed him up with nine total tackles each. Hicks made seven solo tackles and Stidham one. VanSkike with six total.
If they make a good week of practice and beat Macon, this Friday, Newsted said, the could still win the district championship.
“We can beat Macon,” he said. “We can beat Palmyra, we can win our district. There are games we can win. There is a future here, but you have to believe there’s a future. We can beat everyone in our district. Our goal needs to be the district championship. We cannot let this get us down. We ran the ball well… We were right in that came until the last couple downs. We have to have to come back against Macon. We have to have the same attitude next week that we had this week. No pouting. We can win district if you really want to. You have to believe.”