Effective Panthers continue to play with confidence, pick up another WIVC North victory

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MENDON, Ill. — There is a quiet effectiveness about the Camp Point Central football team.

And it’s obvious. The Panthers go about their duty on game nights with a business-like approach, and they fully expect to win. Most of the time, they do just that.

“We go into every game confident,” said Nick Moore, the Panthers’ senior quarterback and a three-year starter. “We always feel we are the better team. Our closeness is a key, I think. We all have a kind of bond.”

Saturday night was another example of the Panthers’ ability to control a game.

Central, ranked No. 4 among the state’s Class 1A programs, scored early and often en route to an eventual 44-6 Western Illinois Valley Conference North Division victory over Unity-Payson.

Central is now 4-0, including a 2-0 in the WIVC North following its 10th straight league win dating to midway through the 2021 season. Unity fell to 1-3 overall and 1-1 in WIVC North play.

Central scored three touchdowns in a seven-minute span during the first quarter. The Panthers were never seriously threatened, thanks to their usual lockdown defense, suffocating ground game and the sure-fire strikes from Moore at quarterback.

Moore’s continued development across his career has given the Panthers’ potent offense an even higher degree of explosiveness. His 29-yard scoring pass in the first quarter to Jack Thompson was his sixth of the season and upped his career total to 19. The only Central quarterback with more during Brad Dixon’s 12-plus years as coach was Eric Jones, who had 23 from 2016-18.

“Nick is a great weapon for us, and he’s been very effective,” Dixon said. “Nick is much more accurate this year. He’s completed 14 passes this season, and six have been for touchdowns.”

Moore’s continued improvement has forced opposing defenses to treat Central’s passing game with a higher degree of respect, which in turn has freed up other elements of the Panthers’ playbook.

“Every year we kind of morph into a new version of ourselves. We just have to keep getting better,” said Dixon, who is now 115-25 as Panthers coach. 

Among coaches across the Muddy River Sports region, Dixon’s winning percentage (.821) is second to only legendary Jim Unruh of Carthage-Illini West, who was 256-45 (.850) in a career that spanned 1986-2010.

Central stormed to a 22-0 margin by the end of the first quarter via a 1-yard blast by Elijah Genenbacher, a 53-yard run from Drew Paben and the pass from Moore to Thompson.

Genenbacher’s second touchdown (a 2-yard run) moved the Panthers to a 30-0 advantage at intermission. Joseph Friday closed out the Central scoring with second-half TD runs of 5 and 4 yards. Friday’s second score was the 600th touchdown during Dixon’s tenure as coach.

“We played hard, all four quarters,” said Mason Miller, a two-way performer who is an outside linebacker on defense and tight end on offense.

Unity-Payson coach Matt Woodworth said a plethora of early mistakes on both sides of the ball proved costly.

“You just can’t do that against a team like Central,” he said.

Central has now won seven in a row against Unity and owns a 10-2 series advantage since both schools have been members of the WIVC North.

Central netted 261 yards on the ground, slightly under its 271.3 average. The Panthers had eight different players run the ball, led by Drew Paben’s 84 yards. He leads Central rushers with 358 yards and a 12.8 average per carry.

Central limited Unity to 12 net rushing yards and 132 through the air, 37 coming in the waning moments of the game when quarterback Connor Howell and receiver Johnny Keefe teamed up for a touchdown.

Unity’s late touchdown not only cost Central its ninth defensive shutout in its last 18 games, but was a source of pride for Woodworth. Woodworth felt Howell’s confidence grew as the game progressed.

“That (last TD) was important for us,” Woodworth said. “We had our backup quarterback in, and he had gone about a month without even having taken a rep. He went into the game cold.”

Howell was forced into the game in the first quarter when starting quarterback Sawyer Allen sustained a hand injury. Howell ended with 11 completions in 24 attempts.

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