By Will Johnson
WESTWOOD – For the second week in a row, miscues by the Westwood Panthers cost the team a game they could have easily won. Ill-timed penalties and a late first half turnover by the Panthers proved to be the difference in the game this week as they fell to the Elkhart Elks by a final score of 31-28.
Initially, it looked as if the Panthers would dominate the game from the defensive side of the ball. Elkhart opened the game with possession and immediately went backwards. The Elks started at their own 25, but a quarterback sack on third down by Westwood’s Bryson West and Red Horse Warren pushed the ball back to the 15 and forced a punt from Elkhart’s Jacob Walters.
The Panthers took over at their own 46 and methodically marched down the field behind the punishing runs of Warren, JD Clewis and Jesiah Axum. Westwood moved inside the Elkhart 10 yard line and faced a fourth and one situation, however, a six yard blast by Clewis picked up the first down. On the next play, Clewis finished the drive with a two yard plunge that gave the Panthers their first score of the game. The extra point was no good, but with 2:35 remaining in the first quarter, Westwood led by a score of 6-0.
A second consecutive three and out by Elkhart brought the quarter to an end and gave the ball back to Westwood. The Panthers were able to get to midfield after Walters’ second punt pinned them inside their own 20, but could not get any further and punted the ball back to the Elks.
Elkhart took possession at their own 20 and finally began to have some success on the ground. DJ Williams picked up 20 yards on the ground to move the ball to the 40 but a delay of game penalty pushed Elkhart back five yards. RB Johnathan Simmons and QB Hunter Bush were able to recapture the yardage lost to set up a third and manageable and on third down Bush hit Ethan Corson for six yards.
A second delay of game penalty pushed the Elks into a fourth and seven predicament, but AD/Head Coach Sam Wells went to his bag of tricks in an attempt to pick up the first down and keep the drive going. The Elks lined up in punt formation, but when the ball was hiked it was directed to up-back Jayden Kurtz who saw a wide open Corson in the middle of the field.
Corson made a fingertip catch and was able to pick up 15 yards and the first down before he was upended at the 32 yard line. Williams picked 30 yards on three carries, but an illegal procedure penalty and a mishandled snap moved the ball back to the 10. On second down and goal, however, Simmons was able to dance his way through the Westwood “D” and scored with 1:02 left in the half. Walters knocked the extra point through and it appeared as if the Elks would take a 7-6 lead into the locker room.
Fortune smiled on the Elks after the kickoff as the Panthers proved to be their own worst enemies. Following the kickoff, an injury to Westwood’s Axum forced a change at quarterback and on the first play from scrimmage, disaster struck as the Panthers fumbled the ball back to the Elks at their own 25 yard line.
On the very next play, Bush found Simmons behind the Panthers secondary and connected with him for a 25 yard scoring strike. Walters converted the PAT and in the span of 15 seconds, Elkhart went from down by six to up by eight, 14-6, as the first half came to a close.
After the break, the Elks pushed their lead out to 15 when Bush found CJ Whitaker on a post from 32 yards out for a score and after Walters nailed his third PAT, the Elks led 21-6.
Westwood came back on their next possession to tighten things up as they kept the ball on the ground and crossed the goal line on Warren’s two-yard dive. Riley Cernoch had taken over at quarterback for the injured Axum and managed to convert the try for two to make the score 21-14 with 5:12 remaining in the quarter.
On the ensuing possession, the Elks went back to the air. It appeared the Westwood defense had stymied the Elkhart offense, but an ill-timed pass interference penalty kept the Elks’ drive going. Two plays later, the Elks revisited the well as Bush hit Whitaker on the same post route – but only this time – it was a 44 yard TD. Warren kicked his fourth extra point of the game, and with time running down in the third quarter, the Elks led 28-14.
The Panthers were not going away quietly, however, and just before the start of the fourth quarter, Clewis managed to find pay dirt from 17 yards out to bring the lead back down to 8. The extra point attempt was no good.
As the game entered the final period of play, the Elks began to milk the clock. They began a sustained drive that brought the clock under eight minutes and at the 7:13 mark of the fourth quarter, Walters hit a 38 yard field goal to put the game out of reach.
The Panthers managed to cut the lead back to three with 2:51 left to play when Jaylon Owens plowed his way into the end zone and Warren converted the try for two.
Westwood had a one last chance to get the ball back as they used their timeouts wisely and forced the Elks into a difficult third and six situation. Unfortunately, an offsides penalty against the Panthers moved the ball up five yards and after Williams picked up two yards on third and one, the Elks were able to run out the clock and win the game by a final score of 31-28.
After the game Coach Wells discussed his team’s play. “This was huge. I think we had some big plays in the game that turned the tide in our favor. Obviously, Westwood never stopped and fought until the bitter end. That fake punt was huge in the first half to help get us going. Then, they turned it over and we scored again. That field goal in the fourth quarter to put us up by 11 was also big,” he said.
Asked specifically about Warren’s kicking ability, the coach remarked, “He’s definitely a weapon. We are fortunate to have the kicker that we do, as well as the rest of the kicking game.”
Will Johnson may be contacted via e-mail at email@example.com.