A multi-pronged offensive strategy and ground and pound defense gave the Centralia Panthers football team win number five the evening of October 12. Playing beneath a jet-black sky and atop coffee-brown mud they hammered the visiting West Hancock Titans 46-0.
Multi-pronged is no exaggeration. Especially when the sharp tips of those prongs had names such as John Durant, Jared Holiman, Gus Stidham and Grafton LIttrell and Nick Wheaton. Each of those Panthers scored at least one touchdown against the Titans. Holiman and Stidham each scored two.
Holiman put Centralia on the board early. Less than three minutes into the game he capped of a Durant downfield drive with a seven-yard blast up the middle, sliding through the mud and Titans for the last yard and Centralia’s first touchdown.
Less than two minutes later, it was Littrell’s turn, breaking through
with a one-yard run around the east side to make it 14-0 after Nick Wheaton scored with a two-point conversion.
In less time than it takes to get a JJ’s omelet, Centralia was up 14-0.
“We knew Number 14, Littrell was going to be a problem,” said Titans Head Coach Travis Cook. “Their speed,” he said when asked what they were planning on dealing with when they got to Centralia. “Number 10, Wheaton, Number 12, Stidham, and obviously, their quarterback, Durant. Obviously, they use a spread offense but they run first out of it. The way they hit their edges with their speed, we thought with the field conditions it would kind of neutralize that, but it didn’t.”
The field plagued the Panther too that night, but the Titans more, he said.
“We were still one-step slow on them,” Cook said. “We couldn’t catch them in sloppy conditions, I don’t know what would have happened on a dry field. Because they were still a heck of lot faster than us.”
Centralia finished the first quarter 14-0 and kept pouring on the speed and the points in the second. Holiman scored again with a nine-yard rush and Durant lasered a 10-yard pass to Wheaton for another touchdown, topped off by an extra-point kick by Hunter to make it 27-0 Centralia going into halftime.
Things looked ominous early in the second half.
“We made some halftime defensive adjustments,” Cook said of the Titans third-quarter drive, during which they spent the first six minutes driving the Panthers back the 10-yard line before Centralia regained traction. “We saw how they were lined up defensively, we looked it over … just a few changes here and there on our blocking scheme, it made a little bit of a difference, we made some headway. Me made some headway but we never could capitalize on it.”
Centralia ended the drive with timely tackles and some strategy changes.
“They came out and ran some counters against us, misdirection plays,” Newsted said, “knowing we were so fast to ball they ran one direction and then handed it off in another direction, when we realized what was happening Coach Forsee made a few changes with our linebackers’ reads and it worked.”
The Titans ate up 6 minutes of the second quarter clock but only came away with muddy uniforms to show for it,” said one observer.
Then Centralia got back to the business of scoring.
By then Nested had put moved Stidham to quarterback. With 3:48 left in the quarter, Stidham ran 12 yards up the middle for his first touchdown of the night.
By then the game was under the running clock and the fourth went by quick with Stidham going up the middle for a nine-yard score and with three minutes and change left, Michael Donaldson capped it off with a 26-yard touchdown run followed by a Luke Hunter extra point kick.
That capped the night for a Panther offense that took 405 yards away from the Titans, 304 rushing and 101 passing.
According to the preliminary statistics, Durant led the offense in rushing with 97 yards, followed by Stidham with 83 and Holiman with 52.
Durant also went nine for 15 in passing.
The Panther defense held the Titans to 62 yards, all of it on the ground. The Titans did not complete any passes. Littrell and Stidham led the defense in tackles with nine total each. Latrell had four solos and five assisted, Stidham had three solo and six assisted. Caden Vanskike had six total with 1 solo and five assisted. Bodine and Dominick Berck had five total each.
“We built a lot of confidence tonight,” Newsted said afterward. “The team came out and rallied around the seniors. We blocked really well. Our offensive linemen, before it got real muddy, were driving those guys off the ball. I thought we threw the ball well, as muddy and slick as it was we had some good passes and some good catches.”
Newsted said they had prepared for that by having the quarterback and receivers put their hands in buckets of water before passing and catching during Wednesday night’s practice.
He complimented Durant’s performance, “he is really growing, getting smarter and smarter about the game.” And nose guard Trevor Bodine’s as well. “He was all over that center, makes a lot of plays, we’re a different ball club when Trevor plays, he is a difference maker.”
He said he also appreciated “Jared Holiman stepping up as running back, he’s catching on and doing really well at running back… That gives us a lot more dimension, plus his blocking is phenomenal.”
During the post-game huddle, Newsted congratulated his seniors and the rest of the team, but reminded them that wining their last regular season home game did not mean their work was done.
“Big game next week,” he said. “We need the same momentum, the same intensity and the same fun as we had tonight. This game is supposed to be fun when you play hard and tonight it was. We’ve got a big one this week, great game, you deserve everything that happened tonight.”
One observer, watching one of the season’s high points from high up in the stands summed it up thusly: “What a fun game for the senior class to leave their mark literally on Miller Field. Starting with honorary team captain Trevor Robert’s tracks along the 45 joining his classmates at mid field for the coin toss. Once underway the boys struck early scoring the first possession and never really looked back… With only a single punt coming from the visitors for an entire game Centralia dominated the yardage, big plays and points on a wet and wild home field in front of Centralia’s most faithful of fans. Washers all over town will be working hard to wash out this win that will be a lasting memory for the class of 2019.”