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Panther gridders advance over Wabash

Survive and advance.

That’s exactly what Prairie Heights did last Friday night at Hubert Cline Field in the opening round of the Class 2A football state playoffs. The Panthers defeated a winless, but extremely scrappy, Wabash squad, 15-7 to earn the program’s first post-season victory since 2002.

“This is a defining moment for our program,” said Panther coach Vince Royer. “We kept shooting ourselves in the foot, but instead of letting down, our kids answered back each time. That shows the tremendous amount of growth this team has made.”

Wabash, which hadn’t led at halftime in any game this season, took a 7-6 advantage into the intermission Friday night thanks to a 96-yard kickoff return by Luke Proctor late in the first quarter. Prairie Heights mounted a couple of deep drives into Apache territory during the second period, but both ended on fourth-down incompletions.

Prairie Heights took the second-half kickoff and marched swiftly to the Wabash 21, only to see the drive fizzle out there. However, the change of field position soon paid off for the Panthers, as Zach Shepard tackled Apache quarterback Chase Dirig in the end zone for a safety, putting the hosts back on top, 8-7 with 7:46 left in the third period.

Fielding the ensuing Wabash kick near midfield, Prairie Heights wasted little time in padding its lead. After Kyler West’s 18-yard pass to Shepard moved the ball to the 31, David Rodriguez scampered down the far sideline to paydirt. Corey Johnson’s PAT boot extended the Panther cushion to eight.

Wabash threatened the Heights goalline three times in the second half, each thwarted by the stout Panther defense. Interceptions by Levi Tuckerman and Johnson stopped two of the Apache attacks. Alex Bentley’s fumble recovery at the PH 23 halted the other.

“That was a team that came to play hard and win,” said Royer of Wabash, which ends the campaign 0-10. “It’s all you could want in a sectional game.”

The 5-5 Panthers travel to 7-3 Woodlan this Friday night for second-round action. The Warriors, who beat Central Noble (57-26) in their tourney opener, already own a 32-7 triumph over Prairie Heights this season.

“We’ll need to block better and tackle better on defense than we did in the first game (against Woodlan),” said Royer. Our kids will have to play fierce, something they are very capable of doing.”

GAME SUMMARY

Prairie Heights 15

Wabash 7

Scoring by quarters

      WA    7    0    0    0    -7

      PH     6    0    8    0   -15

First Quarter

PH—Bobby Blum 17-yard run, kick wide

WA—Luke Proctor 96-yard kickoff return, Owen Yeadon kick

Second Quarter

No scoring

Third Quarter

PH—Zach Shepard tackles Wabash quarterback in end zone for safety

PH—David Rodriguez 31-yard run, Corey Johnson kick

Fourth Quarter

No scoring