Coming into the semifinals, the north bracket featured the #1 state ranked Lena-Winslow Panthers on the road at the #3 state ranked Annawan-Wethersfield Titans. Both teams would enter the game 12-0, but only one would leave with a trip to Huskie Stadium at NIU for the state title game on November 29th.
Two different styles existed between the two teams, but two things were common - both scored 38 points plus per game while holding their opponents to under 10 points per game. The difference between the two: entering the game the Titans had some close games within 2 scores, including a 4 point win against NUIC South opponent Forreston, 30-26 in round 2. On the other side of the ball, the Panthers closest game was a 30 point win over NUIC North foe Stockton in week 5.
To start the game, the Panthers would kick off with Max Amendt kicking the ball deep to have AW start at their own 25 yard line. Titan quarterback Coltin Quagliano would hit 2 quick passes to Isaac Shaw that would net 13 yards. Then he connected with Kale Nelson for 7 yard. Reece Gripp ripped off a 37 yard run before being brought down in Le-Win territory. That would set up the eventual 9 yard touchdown pass from Quagliano to Nelson to give AW an early 6-0 lead with 7:35 to play in the 1st quarter.
The Panthers would waste no time to respond, as the first carry went to Sean Ormiston for 5 yards, and then Isaiah Bruce broke an off tackle run to the right and there was nobody to catch him as he took it 61 yards for the score. After the two point try was good, Le-Win held an 8-6 lead with 6:40 left in the 1st quarter.
It would quickly unravel for the Titans from there, as they were forced to punt on their next drive. The Panthers would start at the AW 48 yard line, where Ormiston, Bruce, and Marey Roby would all get rushing attempts to move the ball to the 24 yard line. That is when quarterback Luke Benson dropped back and found Kade Chrisman on a perfect flag route to the right pylon for a 24 yard touchdown pass. This would push the Le-Win lead to 16-6 with 2:42 left in the 1st quarter.
On the ensuing drive, the Titans would move the ball through the air again this time with Quagliano connecting with Nelson for 13 yards, then Gripp for 22 yards and 7 yards. Quagliano would pick up 11 yards on the ground himself. Eventually the drive would halt at the Panther 19 yard line.
Le-Win would take that opportunity to feed their work horse, Ormiston. He would take a carry to the left off tackle, pick up a block on the edge, and get past the defense. A defender caught him, and as we have come used to seeing he tip toed and spun his way out of it before finally being dragged down from behind after a 58 yard gain. He would pick up another 11 yards, and then Bruce would take a dive to the left behind the guard and tackle for a 12 yard touchdown run. This extra point try failed, but Le-Win was up 22-6 with 7:49 until halftime.
On the next offensive play for the Titans, Roby would come up with an interception and a convoy down the left sideline. He would eventually be taken down at the Titan 13 yard line that set up a series of run plays and was capitalized by Ormiston getting his 61st career touchdown run to put the Panthers up 30-6 with 7:19 to go until the half.
Le-Win would have 2 more opportunities to score, but penalties would eventually stall their fifth possession and force them to punt, and their 6th possession would end with another penalty that forced them to take a knee and take the game to half with a 30-6 advantage.
Opening up the 2nd half, Le-Win would receive the ball. A quick pick up in the defense stuffed the Panther running attack on 3 straight plays and forced them to punt. The Titans would begin to wake up from here. Quagliano would connect with Julian Samuels for 12 yards, then would connect with Shaw for 3 yards, followed by a 22 yard connection. Soon after that, Gripp would get the Titans on the board with a 4 yard touchdown run. This would pull the score to 30-12 with 6:38 to play in the 3rd quarter.
Le-Win's next drive would push them to the AW 44 yard line before turning the ball over on downs. On the very next play Alec Bennett would pick off Quagliano and give the Panthers the ball back. This would result in another turnover on downs, this time at the Le-Win 44 yard line. Quagliano would go back to the air with connections to Samuels and Kelley for 10 yards. Quagliano would then throw to Kelley again, this time for a 16 yard gain. Setting up at the 4 yard line, Quagliano would find Nelson for a 4 yard touchdown pass with 10:41 left in the game to bring the score to 30-18 in favor of Le-Win.
With the Titan defense now holding Ormiston at bay, Le-Win flipped gears and went to Bruce, and he answered in a big way. Getting the ball to the right on a lead, he would break through the line, break through a shirt grabbing tackle, and 55 yards later he was finally brought down. A few plays later Ormiston collected his 2nd touchdown, and 62nd of his career. This would extend the Panther lead to 36-18 with 6:24 left in the game.
On their next possession, it was back to the air again, as the Titans found something to pick on that they liked on the left side of the Panther defense. Quagliano connected with Samuels for 32 yards, followed by a 16 yard connection with Nelson. Pass receptions by Kelley and Shaw set up the touchdown pass to Samuels from 8 yards out. This pulled AW within 12, with Le-Win leading 36-24 with 4:32 left in the game.
Recovering the onside kick attempt, Le-Win set up at their own 47 yard line. Bruce would get the carry off right tackle and broke a tackle again, only this time he wouldn't be caught as he rolled down the right sideline for a 53 yard score to put Le-Win up 44-24 with 4:20 left in the game to put the final dagger into the Titan hopes. They would add one more score, as on the next drive Quagliano found Kelley for 53 yards, and then he would get another completion followed by a completion to Samuels. This would set up the 3rd touchdown reception by Nelson from 9 yards out. It would bring the score to 44-30 in favor of Le-Win with 2:47 to play.
Le-Win would punt with 48 seconds left, but 3 straight incompletions by Quagliano and a 5 yard run by Shaw would turn the ball over on downs and bring the Panthers onto the field for a victory formation snap with a 44-30 final.
Holding the Titans to 147 yards total at the half, AW would out gain the Panthers 420-416 on the day, but they would never close the gap any closer than 2 scores in the game. The Titans would finish with 95 yards rushing and 325 yards passing, while Le-Win would finish with 50 yards passing and 366 yards rushing on the day.
Leading the way for the Panthers was Isaiah Bruce, as he rushed the ball 16 times for 230 yards and 3 touchdowns, and had a reception for 26 yards. Sean Ormiston would run the ball 18 times for 101 yards and 2 touchdowns, while Marey Roby pitched in with 31 yards rushing. Luke Benson was 2-4 passing for 50 yards and 1 touchdown, while Kade Chrisman had 24 yards receiving with 1 touchdown catch.
For the Titans, Coltin Quagliano was 31-50 passing for 325 yards with 4 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. His leading target was Julian Samuels, who hauled in 8 passes for 100 yards and 1 touchdown. Brady Kelley would add 6 receptions for 87 yards, while Kale Nelson hauled in 6 passes for 53 yards and 3 touchdowns. Reece Gripp had 77 yards on the ground on 14 attempts and 35 yards receiving.
With the loss, the Annawan-Wethersfield Titans will finish the season with a 12-1 mark, with the 12 wins setting a co-op record for wins in a season. Only graduating 4 seniors, watch out for the Titans in 2020 as they will be loaded for another deep playoff run.
With the win, Lena-Winslow will advance to their 4th state title game in 10 seasons. They will face Moweaqua Central A&M (13-0) who was a 35-21 winner over Athens in the South part of the bracket. This game will pit the #1 ranked Panthers against the #2 ranked Raiders for the title. The game will be played at Huskie Stadium at Northern Illinois University on Friday, November 29th. Kickoff will be at 10 am. Le-Win will be the home team, wearing their all blacks and their fans will sit in the west grandstand. Central A&M will wear white tops with grey pants and their fans will be in the east grandstand.
The last time Central A&M and Lena-Winslow met was back in 2001, where Central A&M beat the Panthers 44-29 in the second round on their way to their last title game appearance. It happened to be the last year for 1-32 seeding as well.