Everything rides on next Friday’s game at Westby for the St. Croix Central football team.
Central is now 2-4 in the Middle Border Conference standings. Central coach John Tackmann said the current WIAA algorithm shows that nearly every team that finishes with a 3-4 record within its conference will make the WIAA playoffs. Central will complete its regular season next Friday with a game at Westby. This is Central’s crossover game against a Coulee Conference team and it will count toward the conference standings.
Central ended its home schedule Friday night against MBC leading Ellsworth. Central put up a diligent battle in the first half, trailing at halftime in the matchup of the MBC’s two Panther programs, 20-7. Ellsworth broke three long touchdowns in the second half to make the final score 43-7. Ellsworth secured a share of the MBC title with the win, standing at 6-0.
Central’s Panthers played Friday’s game without starting quarterback Ethan Boettcher who was sidelined with a rib injury. That moved sophomore Caden Wester into the starting lineup. He was one of three sophomores who started in Central’s backfield Friday, along with Eli Ponath and Sam Fischer, with junior A.J. Holmgren starting at fullback.
Ellsworth has one of the most explosive offenses in the state and Central kept the Ellsworth attack contained for much of the night. Ellsworth then scored on three big plays in a six-minute span midway through the first half to lead 20-0. Central responded by putting together a few big plays to cut the margin to 20-7.
The first of those big plays was a 44-yard keeper by Wester. Wester then connected with tight end Connor Nilssen on a 21-yard pass and an eight-yard pass to Fischer that took the ball near the Ellsworth goal line. Holmgren dove over the pile to score the Central touchdown.
Central threatened again in the closing seconds of the half, but a Central pass was intercepted in the end zone on the final play of the half.
Central played well defensively to start the second half, but couldn’t find the offensive spark again. Central came up with two fourth down stops on Ellsworth’s first two possessions of the third quarter. Central couldn’t hold back Ellsworth’s attack forever. Ellsworth senior Max Grand broke away for a 34-yard score late in the third quarter. Ellsworth’s Ashten Quade broke free on a 43-yard sweep for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter. Shortly later, Quade scored the game’s final touchdown on a 65-yard punt return.
Tackmann came away from the game pleased with his team’s performance. He said the game had the feel of a Level 3 or Level 4 playoff game, which is something only a few of the current Central players have experienced.
“We’ll learn from it,” Tackmann said of the loss. “There’s a lot of growth that took place.”