Round 4: Lena-Winslow vs Ridgeview-Lexington
The Panthers turn it on in the 2nd half to pull away from Mustangs to book 5th trip to the state finals
Lena - Entering the semifinals for the 7th time in 12 seasons, the Panthers booked their trip to state for the 5th time after pulling away from an 8-6 halftime lead for a 28-12 win.
Entering the game the Panthers were seen as the heavy favorite across the state, as most models showed the Panthers as 3-4 score favorites. The Mustangs had other ideas, hailing from a tough Heart Of Illinois Conference that has had its own share of state success over the past 8 years.
For the Mustangs, this was the best season they have ever had in their program history. For co-op Lexington, they have had a long history of success with 5 state runner-up trophies, including one in 2009 where they beat the Panthers on the very same field.
Both teams came out struggling, as penalties would send both of them backwards to open the game. Le-Win would be forced to punt, whereas Ridgeview was able to get across the 50 before the Panther defense rose up to force a turnover on downs at their own 36 yard line.
The Panthers would get things going behind some good runs by Marey Roby and Ethan Fye, the two guys who have carried the largest bulk of the attempts this season. Knocking on the door, it was Luke Benson who would put the Panthers on the board with a QB keeper. He would add the 2 point try on a bootleg run to give the Panthers an 8-0 lead with 10:57 to play in the 2nd quarter.
The Panthers would bend, but not break as the Mustangs picked up 65 yards when Alex Thomas connected with Ben Peacock to put them in Panther territory. A couple plays later, and a holding penalty, moved them back as the Panthers forced a turnover on downs.
That would be short lived, as Le-Win would be forced to punt with just over 6 minutes remaining in the half, as they pinned Ridgeview at their own 15 yard line.
Trying to go through the air after the run game was losing traction, Thomas found Jordan Reimer for 16 yards and Peacock for 9 yards. Trying to get another pass to Peacock, Benson would come up with the interception at the Panther 14 yard line. Just 3 plays later the Panthers were forced to punt. As the snap went over the head of Nick Inden into end zone, he picked up and found room to get the punt off.
Diverting disaster, the Panthers had to go on defense as Ridgeview took over at the Le-Win 25 yard line. On the very first play Cooper Coffman returned to the QB position and took an option off the right edge for a 20 yard gain. Coffman then rushed straight forward in a power formation for 4 yards. After a timeout, Coffman came out in the same formation and plunged for the yard and the score. The 2 point try failed as Le-Win clung to an 8-6 lead heading to halftime.
Coming out after half, it was Le-Win who would make a statement to start the 3rd quarter, getting big stops on the Mustangs, first a Kaden Farrell run for no gain, followed by a 2 yard gain. This led to a 3rd and 8 situation where Thomas found Peacock for 6 yards, but the Le-Win defense was all over him to stop him 2 yards short of the 1st down marker at the Mustang 25 yard line. This would force the Mustangs to punt.
The Panthers would begin their first series from the 50. Getting some runs from Roby, Eilders, and Fye, they would move the ball to the 29 yard line. Roby would get the next carry, and as he was hit and falling to the ground the ball fell out. Sam Pecoraro fell on it for the Panthers to keep them in possession. On the very next play Roby broke free up the middle for a 20 yard TD run. Benson would pass to Brody Mahon for the 2 point conversion to extend the Panther lead to 16-6 with 6:31 remaining in the 3rd quarter.
Ridgeview would come back out and try to get things going to no avail. Farrell would pick up just 2 yards and Thomas connected with Logan Friedmansky for a 4 yard gain to force a 4th and 4 from their own 36 yard line. Setting up in punt formation with Evan Antonio having 3 blockers in front of him, the Le-Win sideline knew right away that this was a fake punt situation and called it out. As the snap went to Antonio, the 3 lead blockers all ran forward to create a hole, but Antonio would only get 3 yards and turn the ball over on downs at the Mustang 39 yard line.
The Panthers would make this call hurt. They would go right back to the ground with Fye and Roby, chewing up clock at the same time. They would get to the 12 yard line and let the clock roll over into the 4th quarter, holding on to that 16-6 lead. It didn't take long before Benson ran a naked bootleg on the left side for a 7 yard TD run. The 2 point try failed, but Le-Win was able to take a sigh of relief going up 22-6 with 10:40 left in the 4th quarter.
The ensuing kickoff was a quick squib that Ridgeview fielded at the Le-Win 49 yard line. Farrell would run for a yard on 1st down and then Coffman would connect with Peacock for 10 yards and a 1st down. Then Coffman would throw 3 consecutive incomplete passes down field to set up 4th and 10 from the 38. He would find Peacock off the right side running a post route and once he had the ball he cut across the field to his left and picked up a downfield block as he scampered into the end zone. The 2 point try would fail, but the deficit was cut to 22-12 with 9:11 to play.
The Mustangs would kick it deep, relying on their defense to sustain field position. The defense turned it up as Le-Win could not move the ball, losing a yard on the drive and being forced to punt.
Taking over from their own 48 yard line, Coffman would take a QB keeper up the middle for 6 yards, but as he was hit he would put the ball on the ground and Jake Zeal was there to recover it for the Panthers at their own 45 yard line.
Ethan Fye would pick up a punishing 15 yard run to get the ball to the Mustang 40. Another 10 yard run followed by a 22 yard burst by Roby would move the Panthers to the 8 yard line. Gage Dunker would pick up 4 yards before Roby would go the final 5 yards for the score, chewing up 5:00 off the clock and sealing the game. The 2 point try failed, but Le-Win was up 28-12 with 0:57 remaining.
On the ensuing play, Coffman would throw a screen pass intended for Farrell, but Dunker was there for the interception. Benson would go into victory formation, take the snap cleanly, and kneel down to let the clock tick away as the Le-Win sidelines abrupted in excitement for another state title berth.
Ridgeview ends their season with an 8-5 record. On the day the Mustangs passed for 148 yards, while throwing 1 TD and 2 INT's. They would finish the day with 78 yards rushing, giving them a total of 226 yards on 43 plays. Kaden Farrell rushed for 40 yards on 16 attempts, while Carter Coffman picked up 44 yards on 6 attempts and went 2-6 passing for 48 yards. He had a rushing and passing TD on the day. Ben Peacock caught 5 passes for 139 yards and a TD.
The Panthers would throw for -4 yards, while rushing for 264 yards, giving them a total of 260 yards on 51 plays. Marey Roby led the way with 143 yards rushing with 2 TD's, while Luke Benson picked up 8 yards rushing with 2 TD's, and an INT on defense. He also contributed on both Panther 2 point conversions. Ethan Fye picked up 68 yards on the ground.
Le-Win (11-2) will advance to play Carrollton (12-1) in the Class 1A state championship on Friday at Huskie Stadium on the campus of NIU. Carrollton won 28-14 over Central A&M to advance to their 2nd state title game in 7 years. In the Hawks last trip to state they lost to Forreston 20-15 to end the 2014 season.