MINERSVILLE – Last night, Panther Valley simply ran out of time.
After allowing Minersville to take a 20-15 lead with 1:28 remaining in the game, the Panthers season boiled down to one final drive.
Just four weeks prior, Panther Valley secured its only win of the season (a 24-21 victory over Marian) with a come-from-behind victory that culminated on a four-yard touchdown run with just 31 seconds remaining.
Last night, the Panthers' hopes that history would repeat itself came up four yards short as time expired on their season.
With a 20-15 victory, Minersville finishes the year with a 3-7 record, while the Panthers conclude a tumultuous 1-9 campaign.
After taking over at their own 37 yard line, quarterback Nick McArdle hooked up with Josh Vega for 15 yards and added two completions of 18 yards and 13 yards to tight end Brock Mitchell. Following McArdle's 3-yard scamper and an incomplete pass, the Panthers faced a fourth-and-seven from the Minersville 14 yard line with 12 seconds left. McArdle rolled to the right and connected with Mitchell at the 10 yard line, who then lateraled to Rich Smith with some daylight in front of him. However, Smith was tackled at the four yard line as time expired. It should be noted that even if Smith did reach the end zone, the score would have been negated by an offensive holding penalty.
"Our kids have been through a lot of adversity this season, but they never quit. Tonight they battled right down to the final play and we just came up a little short," stated Panther Valley head coach Frank Damian. "This team has been knocked down a lot this year, but they've always got right back up and that's the thing I'm most proud of."
Damian should be just as proud of the way the Panthers controlled the first half.
Panther Valley ran 41 offensive plays for 156 yards, while Minersville could manage just 89 yards on 18 plays. Minersville quarterback and leading rusher Cole Weachock was held to just one carry for five yards as the Panthers took an 8-0 halftime lead on a one-yard touchdown plunge by Brock Mitchell with 43-seconds left in the second quarter.
That lead was short-lived as Minersville cut the deficit to 8-6 with a four-yard touchdown run by Billy Powanda to start the second half. The Panthers fumbled on their next possession and Weachock capitalized with a 17-yard touchdown run to put the Battlin' Miners ahead 14-8.
"The second half has been our Achilles heel all year," added Damian. "Minersville's big up front and they started to wear us down as the game went on."
However, Panther Valley needed only 32 seconds to take the lead right back, as Josh Vega broke through the Minersville defense on a 50-yard jaunt to pay dirt. Vega converted the PAT to give the Panthers a 15-14 lead.
Minersville had a chance to regain the lead but kicker Shayne Schafer's 31-yard field goal attempt was wide right with 3:02 remaining on the clock.
With a chance to run out the clock, Panther Valley fumbled the ball back to Minersville on a questionable call, where it appeared Josh Vega's forward progress was stopped.
Three plays later, Weachock found the end zone for a second time, as he broke out of two tackles for the game-winning 12-yard touchdown run. Weachock ran 19 times for 157 yards in the second half and ended the night with 162 rushing yards.
"Weachock is the kid that makes their team go," concluded Damian. "We stopped him in the first half, but he's a great athlete and if you don't contain him for all four quarters, he's eventually going to make you pay for it."