St. Croix Central Panthers

The rivalry between Baldwin-Woodville and St. Croix Central generally brings out the best in the teams from both schools.

In Friday’s game that served as the Blackhawks’ homecoming game, it was the Blackhawks who were at their best for most of the time. That resulted in St. Croix Central suffering a 35-14 loss that is a huge setback in their hopes of reaching the WIAA playoffs.

The loss drops the Panthers to 2-3 in the Middle Border Conference, while the Blackhawks are celebrating their first win in five MBC contests this season.

The Panthers will need to win both of their remaining games to be assured of a playoff spot. That won’t be easy, because Central hosts undefeated Ellsworth next Friday.

Friday’s game at Baldwin had a positive start for the Panthers. Central’s defense came up with a stop on the first B-W possession of the game. The Panthers then drove down the field, with Jayden Goodwin scoring on a three-yard run with two minutes left in the opening quarter for the first points of the game.

The early momentum quickly slipped away from the Panthers. B-W used its passing game to quickly tie the score. The Panthers then had a blunder on the ensuing kickoff that put the team in poor field position. B-W forced a punt and quickly used the good field position to take a 14-7 lead. That’s where the score stood at halftime.

The Panther offense was stuck in neutral most of the game. Coach John Tackmann said not having fullback A.J. Holmgren took away a main aspect of the team’s offense. His absence was also felt on defense. The Panthers rarely got a decent pass rush and one instance when they did, it blew up in their faces. Three Panthers had chances to sack B-W quarterback Wyatt Larson on a pivotal play in the third quarter. Larson scrambled away, running for a 19-yard touchdown that erased the Panthers’ chances of making a comeback.

Central did answer with its best drive of the night, marching 73 yards. The touchdown will likely go down as one of the most improbable plays of the season. Panther quarterback Ethan Boettcher was under a heavy rush and was flushed to his left. He heaved a pass to the end zone, when a B-W defender got both his hands on the pass. The ball deflected backward, where Panther receiver Connor Nilssen had the concentration to hang onto the ball for a 29-yard touchdown.

B-W added two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to extend the final margin to 35-14.

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