St. Croix Central Panthers

Shutouts in Middle Border Conference football are rare, but that is what the St. Croix Central defense achieved at Osceola on Friday.

The Panthers bounced back from their first loss of the season to earn a 28-0 win at Osceola Friday night to move to 1-1 in the MBC. They host Prescott this Friday. Prescott lost 16-8 to Somerset in Friday’s round of MBC games.

Central played well on both sides of the ball on Osceola’s turf. The Panthers relied on a power running game to churn out several long drives, setting the tone by driving inside the Osceola 10 on the opening possession of the game. While the Panthers were stopped on downs, they showed they could move the ball successfully.

Osceola answered with a 51-yard run on the following possession, but the Panther defense then met the challenge, stopping the Chieftains on downs at the Central 22. The first quarter ended scoreless.

The Panthers opened the second quarter with a 53-yard drive that produced the first score of the game. By pounding fullback A.J. Holmgren and halfback Sam Fischer between the tackles, the Panthers moved the ball steadily. The touchdown came when the Panthers called a sweep, with Kyle Trainor sweeping right 10 yards for the score.

The next score showed the Panthers’ ability to strike quickly. Panther coach John Tackmann said he would have been happy going into halftime with a 7-0 lead. But the Panthers faced a third-and-14 situation, so a pass play was called. Mason Sullivan got behind the Osceola secondary and quarterback Caden Wester dropped the pass right into Sullivan’s hands for an 85-yard touchdown with 2:41 left in the half.

Central’s defense shut Osceola down on the opening drive of the second half, capped by a quarterback sack from Riley Drinkwine. Osceola’s short punt was caught on a gutty fair catch by Jayden Boyce at the Osceola 39. The Panthers then battered Holmgren and Fischer into the heart of the Osceola defense on a seven-play scoring drive. Holmgren barged through the center of the Osceola defense for a seven-yard touchdown with 5:49 left in the third quarter.

Central moved the ball deep into Osceola territory in the fourth quarter, but a bad snap on a field goal attempt gave the Chieftains the ball. Central’s next possession ended on a fumble at the Osceola 21.

Boyce was instrumental on Central’s final touchdown. He returned an Osceola punt 17 yards to the Chieftain 30. On the next play, Boyce rocketed through a hole and scored his first varsity touchdown. Tackmann said Boyce’s speed is becoming an asset for the Panthers.

“He’s a fast, smart, high-energy individual,” Tackmann said.

Central gained 282 yards on the ground, led by 81 yards from Holmgren. With the wet conditions, the Central coaches elected to have quarterback Caden Wester take snaps under center instead of from the pistol formation. That set up Holmgren to be the lead blocker on all of Fischer’s carries, where Holmgren was especially effective. Wester also rushed for 78 yards on 16 carries. Wester completed three of his four pass attempts for 104 yards.

Central’s defense rarely let Osceola make any offensive progress. Osceola completed a few quick passes, but any long passes were hurried and off target. Safety Nolan Merth intercepted two of Osceola’s deep pass attempts, near the end of each half.

Tackmann said all 11 players on the defense deserve credit for this shutout, because the defense made all the plays, up the middle and sideline to sideline. He said the Panthers will need that type of performance against Prescott on Friday. Prescott opened MBC play two weeks ago by scoring 43 points in a win against Osceola.

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