Despite hard runs by Grafton Littrell, and John Durant, some good catches by Nick Wheaton and hard hits by Littrell, Gus Stidham, Quentin Foster, Jared Holiman and others, Centralia’s Panthers lost their home opener tonight to Palmyra 28-8.
Centralia showed flashes of greatness in the treacherous much and mire of Miller Field.
Littrell’s 13 tackles, Nick Wheaton’s end-zone interception, John Durant’s up-
the-middles spiraling six-yard touchdown lunge, but an accumulation of what Centralia Head Coach Jim Newsted described as “too many little mistakes,” probably cost them the game.
The game started slow, with both teams fighting the field.
Centralia’s defense made it tough early for Palmyra, with Gus Stidham making the team’s first tackle. After having their first two running plays stuffed, Palmyra gained seven with a short pass.
That foreshadowed their first score, when at the 2:38 mark, Palmyra’s Jarom Alexander intercepted one of Centralia quarterback John Durant’s pass and ran it back 40 yards for the first touchdown of the game.
Centralia’s defense shifted to bulldozer and forced Palmyra into negative yards several times in the first, but as a team, struck by fumbles at crucial moments, was unable to convert field position into scoring until Durant’s fourth quarter touchdown followed by Wheaton’s two-point conversion run.
Palmyra scored two more touchdowns one off a pass, the other from a through the middle end zone dive, both by Palmyra quarterback Jacob Kroeger, one extra point kick and a two-point conversion to go into the locker room at half time with a 21-0 lead.
In the midst of it all, Newsted could be heard yelling from the side-lines, “Don’t you give up, don’t you give up. You keep fighting you hear me, you keep fighting…” Assistant Coach Tyler Forsee adding, “Let’s get that ball back.”
Over half time one observer said. “Our defense is getting worn out, too many turnovers. Trevor Bondine had to go right back on the field. Palmyra’s holding onto the ball, while we had five turnovers in the first half, that’s a lot. The defense is playing well. Palmyra’s playing power football and holding onto the ball.”
Challenged by Newsted, the defense turned it up hotter in the third. As the rain stopped, so did Palmyra’s scoring. Unfortunately for Centralia they still could not cross the line of scrimmage. When the buzzer sounded, at the top of the fourth, the score was unchanged, Palmyra 21-Centralia 0.
“We had plenty of opportunities to score in the third, Newsted said afterward, but a little mistake here, a tough ruling there and so forth, but we’re just going to keep plugging away and get better.
Things got moving again in the fourth, when Palmyra completed a scoring drive with another lunging touchdown and an extra point kick.
That inspired Centralia do slowly grind down the field, courtesy of Littrell’s rushing and Wheaton’s receiving to put Centralia position for Durant and Wheaton to put eight points on the board at the two-minute mark.
It’s not my skill kids I am worried about, he said discussing the game later. “My biggest concern is not my skill kids. I’ve got some young O-linemen that need to get better. Palmyra’s D-line was very smart, very fast. We had a hard time picking them up. We’re just young”
Though victorious, Palmyra Head Coach Kevin Miles, now 3-0, was worried about Newsted’s “skill kids.”
“Our defense is pretty salty. The weather gave us some help. We knew Centralia would have trouble throwing the ball … The Grafton Littrell kid, he’s a player. The quarterback, Durant, he’s a player. Those two were tough. The Littrell kid proved he was every bit the player we thought. He ran the ball hard and made some nice plays.”
Besides leading the defense in tackles, Littrell led Centralia in rushing yards with 104, followed by Durant with 26 and Hunter with eight. As a team, Centralia rushed for 130 yards and gained 31 passing yards.
Centralia’s defense held Palmyra to 33 passing yards and 233 rushing yards. Alex Arends and Gus Stidham backed up Littrell in the tackling department with 10 total tackles each., followed by Trevor Bodine with nine. Littrell also had four TFL sacks, Bodine, three TFL sacks and Arends, two TFL sacks.
Afterward, Newsted told the Panthers they were improving, getting better every game.
Palmyra, he said, was the equivalent of Monroe City, but this time instead of being shut out, this time Centralia, sacked, intercepted and scored.
“Guys, you, are getting better.” Newsted said. “Our biggest problem is the small mistakes. They add up. As we get better, we will make fewer of those. And, you, are, getting, better.”
He reminded them the plan is to peak at the district championships. “We want to be our best at districts.”
Newsted then brought them back to the immediate future. “We have a game here next week we should win, Highland… We have one more week to get a little better and another week and another game. We can win and we’re going to win. We’ve already played the two toughest teams on the schedule. Tonight, there was nothing wrong with your character or your effort. You can’t be depressed about that, we are getting better. You are getting better. Quitting is not an option. We are not going to get down on ourselves, we are not going to stop.”