Stand and deliver: Panthers put up fourth-down roadblock to fend off Warriors in WIVC clash
CAMP POINT, Ill. — All of the game’s scoring occurred in the first half.
All of the suspense materialized during a frantic final five minutes of the fourth quarter.
The Central football team escaped its home opener Friday night with a 30-22 victory over Hardin Calhoun in a Western Illinois Valley Conference crossover game.
The Panthers, ranked third in Class 1A, stopped the Warriors within an eyelash of the goal line on a fourth-down rush with about 4 ½ minutes to play, then ran out the remainder of the clock with the help of some timely bursts from running backs Drew Paben and Elijah Genenbacher.
“Honestly, on that fourth-down play I was trying to think about what the best defense would be to try and stop (Calhoun’s) two-point conversion,” Central coach Brad Dixon said. “I just figured they were going to score the touchdown.”
But the Panthers’ defense, which had been riddled at times during a wide-open first half that saw both ground-oriented schools combine for seven touchdowns, stood its ground.
At the heart of that denial were Kadin Niekamp, a sophomore lineman, and Genenbacher, a junior linebacker.
Niekamp, who is just 15 years old and coming off a freshman season that saw him rank second in tackles on a Central team that reached the state championship game, said he was proud of the defensive unit’s ability to rebound from a rocky first half.
“There is no better feeling in the world (after making that goal-line stand),” said the 6-foot, 195-pound Niekamp who matched fellow defensive lineman Reese Wilkey with a game-leading 11 tackles.
“We knew Calhoun is supposed to have a great team this year, but we were able to stop them,” Genenbacher said.
Genenbacher is an active 6-foot-1, 205-pounder who has a knack for being in the right place at the right time.
“Elijah makes us go on defense, and is like all of our kids — he never makes excuses,” Dixon said.
Genenbacher is also a valuable resource on offense. He was one of seven Central players to carry the ball, accenting his night with a 29-yard run late in the game that helped the Panthers run out the clock. Moments earlier, fellow running back Drew Paben cut loose with a 40-yard ramble on a third-down run around left end.
Central, whose WIVC home is in the North Division, improved its winning streak against Calhoun to five in a row. Calhoun is a WIVC South member. Central is 8-1 against Calhoun since the Panthers joined the WIVC in 2012.
Central’s victory stretched its number of consecutive home victories to 12 and upped its regular-season win streak to 16.
Central found itself down 14-6 after the first quarter, but rattled off 24 straight points during the first 10 1/2 minutes of the second period to take a 30-14 lead.
Calhoun scored what turned out to be the final touchdown of the game with 2 minutes, 50 seconds left before intermission when Chris Stanley rambled 68 yards for a score. Stanley had scored earlier in the half on a three-yard run. Calhoun quarterback Miles Lorton ran 35 yards for the Warriors’ other first-half touchdown.
“Calhoun threw a lot of stuff at us,” Dixon said. “We just tried to work through it.”
Central’s Conner Griffin scored a pair of touchdowns on a 28-yard run and a 49-yard reception from quarterback Nick Moore. Paben reached the end zone on a 9-yard dash and Genenbacher bulled across the goal line from 1 yard away.
Paben had a trio of two-point conversions, one by run and two via pass from Moore.
Central has scored in 80 consecutive games and has only been shut out twice during Dixon’s 12 years as coach.
Paben (107) and Genenbacher (66) combined for 173 of Central’s 305 yards rushing. Stanley ran for 97 of Calhoun’s 263 yards on the ground.
Miss Clipping Out Stories to Save for Later?
Click the Purchase Story button below to order a print of this story. We will print it for you on matte photo paper to keep forever.