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Panthers’ heartbreaker

by David Tesitor
ORDWAY- The John Mall Panthers lost a heartbreaker, 19-14, against conference foe Crowley County in a game marked by an end-of-the-game melee by the Crowley County fans. (See related story).
The game began with starting quarterback Clayton Berger exiting the contest on the Panthers’ first drive with an injury to his foot. It was not known at presstime if he will be able to play on Friday.
Reserve quarterback Brandon Vigil came in the game for the injured Berger and did not disappoint the Panther faithful who made the trip. Vigil led the Panthers’ initial drive, culminating with a 5- yard Dylan Tenorio run for the score. The point after failed and the Panthers took the early lead at the nine-minute mark. The defense took over on both sides of the ball as the quarter ended, giving John Mall a 6-0 lead.
The Panther offense took over again midway through the second. Facing a third and fifteen, Vigil dropped back to pass, hitting MichaelRyan Griego inside the 5. Facing a third and goal, the Panthers fell short inches from the goal. On fourth and inches, a bad hand-off turned the ball over on downs as the Chargers’ goal line stance held the Panthers scoreless.
Crowley’s best offensive surge of the half came from the running of Ty Pfeiff and Niko Sheldon, but the strong Panther defense held the Chargers’ momentum at midfield. With less than two minutes remaining, a Tenorio run to the 30-yard line ended after a late hit out of bounds, pushing Tenorio into a retaining wall. The 15-yard penalty gave the Cats enough time to strike. John Mall gained another first down but could not capitalize on the score. The half ended with John Mall leading 6-0.
The second half saw more offense as the Pfeiff and Sheldon connection began to explode. The Panther defense had trouble containing the Chargers’ play action as Crowley’s first successful 77-yard drive of the game ended with a Sheldon 5-yard score. The point after was good and Crowley took the lead. On the ensuing kick-off, Jacob Wiggins returned the ball for a score. The two-point conversion was good and the Cats were again on top, 14-7.
Through the fourth quarter, the defense could not stop Pfeiff, and the Chargers scored twice in the last quarter. Their last score came with 1:25 remaining in the game, giving the Panthers one more chance to score. The Panthers’ last drive stalled as time ran out.
The Panthers’ two goal line drives would have made the difference, but there was another questionable call on the field and flags fell in favor of the Chargers. Concerning the way his team played Berger said, “we had a hard time containing Pfeiff in the second half. We missed a lot of tackles.”
He did have positive things to say about the team and Brandon Vigil’s performance, “he gave us a chance to win.” Vigil had little time under center this season prior to last Friday’s game. He performed with poise and expertise.
With the loss, John Mall can finish no worse than third in the league. They may be selected to participate in post-season play, pending decisions of the CHSAA playoff committee.
The Panthers will close out the regular season tonight at Rye. John Mall has not beaten the Thunderbolts since 1984. Berger said, “This is a big game for us and we will treat it just like any other.” Kickoff is 7 pm.

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