The Centralia varsity football team wasn't exactly rolling into last Friday's Class 2, District 6, home game against Van-Far 6 with a whole lot of momentum.
That's because the Panthers had lost four in-a-row after starting the season with five-straight victories, so when the first quarter ended in a scoreless tie the Indians had every right to feel optimistic about their chances to pull off an upset. Then reality came crashing down in the form of a 24-point second quarter for Centralia that quickly grew to a 31-0 lead in the third before finally coming to a close with Van-Far6 losing 45-6.
"A few weeks ago we lost two really good running backs, Trey Miller and Jacob Garner. Garner did come back and play some defense for us against Centralia, but he had a fractured ankle," said Van-Far6 head coach Kevin Baldwin. "He's a senior trying to play on a fractured ankle. He just couldn't make the cuts he needed to make. We lost our two starting running backs when we played Wright City (on Sept. 15). We've been without those guys ever since and it definitely effected our running game."
One big problem for the Indians was the Panthers refusal to fall victim to their two-quarterback system of Parker Wallace and Eric Hombs. Instead, Van-Far6 ran for a negative 10 yards and threw for just 126 for a total of 116.
"It's one thing to lose one running back, but to lose both of our starters was pretty rough. So, we tried the passing game to mix it up a bit. We're just not a very good passing team," Baldwin said. "We're a better running team than a passing team when we're healthy. You do what you have to do with what you've got. When we lost our two running backs, Parker Wallace started sharing a lot of time at that position. So, his stats won't be as good as you'd think because he played multiple positions."
Marshaling this offensive parade for Centralia was quarterback Clayton Simkins at 11-for-16 for 99 yards and a score, Trey Owens ran for 83 yards and three touchdowns on 17 carries and Simkins and Kaiden Davenport combined to run for 135 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries. Nick Wheaton also pulled down two catches for 54 yards and a score, Guy Moran and Gus Stidham came together to rush for 43 yards on four attempts and Nick Wheaton had four carries for 17 yards.
"Centralia has always been a real good rushing team. They're very strong up-front. They're not bigger than most teams, and they weren't bigger than us. We had a couple linemen that matched up well against them, but across the board they were just stronger than we were," said Baldwin. "Centralia's running backs run hard and hit the holes aggressively. They've got a good program going because year to year the kids move up and perform as expected."
Stidham also took center-stage on defense for the Panthers by making a team-high nine tackles, Chris Hicks charted six defensive stops and Grafton Litrell had five tackles. Caden Vanskike added four tackles, including a sack, as well, and Simkins and Camron Jennings chipped in with three defensive stops each.
"Because Centralia's new head coach (Jim Newsted) had been there a number of years as an assistant, the program stayed the same when he took over (for longtime head coach Erle Bennett), "It's a good program," Baldwin said. "
Special teams was another story all together as Luke Hunter made 5-of-5 extra points, Stidham punted three times for 100 yards and Owens posted a 46-yard kickoff return. Wheaton also ran a kickoff back for 19 yards.
"From the running back position Wallace made a nice completion to Josh Hodde. Wallace is an all-around athlete," said Baldwin. "We had been running a toss sweep and had a little bit of success, but not a lot because Centralia's linebackers were rushing up-field pretty fast. Finally, in the fourth quarter, we set it up like it was a toss sweep and ran a halfback pass out of that with Wallace throwing to Coltin Jensen for our only score."
For the game the Panthers, 6-4 overall, racked up 281 rushing yards and 98 passing yards for 379 total yards and next play at Palmyra on Oct. 27 at 7 p.m. in the district semifinals. During the regular season on Sept. 29 Centralia lost at Palmyra 35-0.
"The positives for us are that I felt like we played really well, at times, defensively. We held them scoreless in the first quarter," Baldwin said. "I thought that was something we could build off of. Our defensive line probably had one of its better games. Unfortunately, we still gave up too many points and we couldn't score."