Hobbled Panthers fall to Winona after close half

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One couldn’t help but notice the line of young men in white Panther jerseys collected on the sideline before the start of Alba-Golden’s game against Winona. There were six of them.

A variety of crutches, braces and slings was obvious among them. The players were joined by two more who came out of the locker room with the team.  The Panthers took to the field without #1 Matt Rogers, #2 Ethan Ferrer, #4 Kason Trimble, #12 Thai Peterson, #33 Boedy Baker, #51 Ryan Jackson, #62 Ethan Thorn and #65 Matt Crowell.

The rash of injuries is simply an unfortunate consequence of high school football. It is a game, and should never debilitate the young athletes who play it. Unfortunately, on occasion it does.  

The impact of losing one quarter of your roster to injury can be significant. The Alba-Golden Panthers had to deal with that adversity in Winona last Friday. The Wildcats shut the Panthers out, 42-0, in a game of two halves.

The Panthers certainly had the mental edge as they took the field. The first half was in most respects a draw. Both defenses determined the manner to handle the opposing offenses was to attack. Alba-Golden gained 65 yards from scrimmage in the first half, while the Wildcats mustered only 80. Blitzes and gap defense dominated the first half. 

Bookending the first half of quality defense were two Winona scores. The first was the return of a punt after the Panthers’ first series of the game. Winona stand-out Quin Johnson opened the scoring by sprinting directly to the right sideline and taking the return for a score.

The second score came with only seconds left in the half after Winona’s only drive of the first half. They went 69 yards to score aided by a third-down horse collar penalty.  Johnson took the ball in from the 2-yard line after a 27-yard quarterback scramble.    

The Panthers moved the ball thrice in the first half. On their second possession they advanced to the Wildcat 12-yard line, behind a 47-yard scamper around right end by Jon Chadwick. The scoring opportunity was squandered however with a holding penalty, two negative running plays and a failed fourth down conversion. 

Alba-Golden picked up three first downs in the ensuing drive thanks to some hard running up the middle by Austin Hartley.  The drive stalled just inside Wildcat territory. 

After forcing a Wildcat punt, Alba-Golden was again on the move powered by the running of Hartley. They turned the ball over on downs at the Wildcat 31-yard line by mere inches. It was a turning point of the game.

With the late touchdown, Winona went into the break leading 14-0, but were only able to scratch out five first downs against the Panthers defense in the half.  For the Panthers, defensive stand-outs included: Tim Mitchell, Jacob Dailey, Michael Gaskill, Shawn Gaskill, Jon Chadwick, and Hunter Wright.  

Once the second half commenced, the field position flipped to Winona’s favor and stayed there for the duration of the game.  Winona kept the Panthers hemmed up in their own territory most of the second half. Two Wildcat touchdowns on very short fields (one following a fumble at the 4-yard line, and one after having scored a safety) extended the Wildcat lead. 

Winona added two scores in the fourth quarter as fatigue set in. Team speed and quickness benefitted the home side in the closing minutes. 

No doubt, the season has not yet unfolded as the Panthers and their fans had anticipated.  The early season scrimmages which saw a team march up and down the field seems a long time ago. There can, however, be no doubt about the heart of this team.  This season is far from done.

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