It started great, at least for Panther fans, in less than seven minutes the Panthers were up 14-0, and it was a good night to be a fan of the black and white. By the end of the fourth quarter though, the scoreboard at Macon’s Hugh Dunn Field read 37-20 Macon.
“There’s nothing here that says you didn’t play your butts off,” Centralia Head Coach Jim Newsted told his silent team afterward in the post-game huddle as the Macon Tigers cavorted on the east side of the field. “That’s a good team there, we came out and surprised them early… The season’s not over. We either come back and play, or we quit.”
As of Friday night, Newsted said it was unclear who the Panthers would play in the first round of districts. He told the team they would either play Mexico, Southern Boone or Winfield. and not at home. “We have to come back with a whole new attitude. This will be the hardest game to come back from, adversity-wise. We have to come back on Monday, the other coaches and I, we’ll be working on new stuff for you.”
The first seven minutes though, were vintage Centralia.
At 9:28 in the first quarter, after a short Wheaton run to the north, a short John Durant quarterback sneak up the middle and another Wheaton rush to the south, Duran faked going up the middle, faked a handoff to Grafton Littrell then handed the ball back to Wheaton. Weaving through the Macon defense like an anaconda on expresso, Wheaton zigged, zagged and rushed 23 yards to the goal line, scoring the first of his two touchdowns.
He did it again less than three minutes later, this time from 28 yards out.
Panther place kicker Luke Hunter capped both rushes with successful extra-point kicks and Centralia was up 14-0 in less time than it takes to eat a Chop-House 41 cheeseburger.
“We were very aware of Wheaton,” said Pete Claus, Macon head football coach. “Maybe were just a little anxious, a little too amped for those first two drives and got themselves in a bad position and a kid like Wheaton will make you pay for that.”
Two minutes later, Macon’s spread-option offense found traction and Macon quarterback Nash Waller culminated a drive with a one-yard lunge over the goal line. Macon’s extra point kick was no good, but Waller compensated at 9:05 in the second by connecting with Kendrick Waddle for a 24-yard touchdown pass.
Both teams’ defenses dug in and the scored stayed 14-13 Centralia the rest of the first half.
“They have several skill kids we had our eye on,” Claas said afterward. “That Guy Moran is good, and their quarterback, Durant is obviously a good runner. Stidham, they just have skilled kids everywhere, but certainly we knew about 10, Wheaton.”
The third quarter was tough for both teams, but Macon managed to score again, while their 4-3 defense kept Centralia from returning to the end-zone. “They were moving us around with a lot of shifting and motion,” said one observer of Macon’s tactics in the third quarter. “That got us off balance, but it looks like we’ve about got it figured out. They were spreading us out so much our defense couldn’t have enough players in the box. That makes it that much more important that you play perfectly and don’t miss a tackle.”
“They knew who our top receiver was and they put two on him or at least put a spy on him,” Claas said afterward, when asked if Centralia’s defense had hindered Macon’s passing game, which gained 88 yards, compared to their 228 rushing yards.
Gus Stidham led that defense with 16 total tackles, five solo and 11 assisted. Grafton Littrell backed him up with 10 total, six solo and four assisted. Wheaton, one of my Panthers playing both sides of the ball, had nine total tackles, four solo and five assisted.
Centralia’s offense regained a little traction in the fourth.
That is when Durant broke out the long ball for a pair of passes, first to Liam Hill, then to Stidham. Stidham caught his with is feet in bound and his hand inside, then outside the sidelines, but it looked fine to the referees when he held up his hands, still clenching the ball, as he knelt outside the sidelines.
Stidham’s catch put Centralia on the three-yard line. From there, Durant wasted no time in zipping right up the middle and diving across the line for Centralia’s last score of the night.
Durant finished the night with 91 passing yards, combined with the team’s rushing yards, the Centralia offense finished the night with 231 total yards, compared to Macon’s 316. Wheaton led the team on the ground with 65 rushing yards, followed by Durant’s 58 and Jared Holiman with 20.
Newsted said afterward that though Macon had underestimated Centralia’s speed in the first half, they did a better job of adjusting than Centralia did as the game progressed. “We surprised them… spread them out and took advantage of the run. I don’t think they expected us to be as fast as we were. They adjusted, we did too, but not as well. It kind of dominoed on us.”
Macon got momentum on their side, he said, a huge factor in football.
“It doesn’t feel very good … but we still have a shot in districts,” Newsted told the team afterward. “We are capable of making a run. We come back and we fight. It’s a whole new season.”