Barbara Lawlor, Nederland. At last. For the past two years, the Nederland Panther football players have been breaking their hearts over a 24-game losing streak. But they never lost their will to win. Last Saturday, they put the losses behind them when they vanquished the West Grand Mustangs 42-12, feeling the joy of being on the winning side of a big score.
After the game, lead rusher for the day Jaron Dillon said it was probably the most fun he’s had in his life. Nothing but smiles left the field for the after-game huddle.
At first, it looked like it was going to be another bad day for Ned. The Panthers received the kick and although Jaron Dillon carried the ball to three first downs, the Panthers were forced to punt. West Grand had the ball on their own 21 yard line and completed a pass that ended in a touchdown, shadows of past games. Nederland kept them from making the two-point conversion and began their own run.
Panther defense put a stop to any Mustang drive and deep in the first period Jaron Dillon rammed his way into West Grand territory. A pass interference call against the Mustangs put Nederland on the Mustang 20-yard line. The Panthers grabbed the opportunity and Dillon made the touchdown. Quarterback Michael Wood ran the ball into the end zone and the Panthers took an 8-6 lead. Celebration time in the home bleachers.
Nederland was on fire. The defense didn’t give an inch: Noah Ridnell was in on key tackles and senior Ike Thibedeau went for a sack. West Grand punted and in the beginning of the second quarter, the Panthers went on an 80-yard drive to the goal, with help from a pass from Wood to Thibedeau.
After the score, Dillon ran the ball into the end zone for two more points and Ned was up 16-6. The home team was winning and coach Aaron Jones asked the team if they were having fun. He didn’t need an answer.
Again the Mustangs couldn’t move the ball and Nederland took over on the West Grand 33. A holding penalty set them back, but Nederland went for the first down from the Mustang 17 and couldn’t make it. Within three plays West Grand fumbled the ball and Panther Miles Pancoast recovered it, putting the Panthers in great field position.
Wood completed a touchdown pass to Thibedeau and then ran the ball in for two points, but a penalty forced the Panthers to do it again. And they did. Wood passed the ball to Thibedeau who caught it in the end zone, making it 24-6 going into the half.
The Mustangs next series ended in a safety, giving Nederland two more points. In the next series the Panthers moved the ball downfield via Ridnell and Dillon, and another Wood to Thibedeau pass gave them another touchdown. A pass to Quinn Kuechenmeister gave them two points on the conversion, bringing the score to 34-6. The Panthers dominated the rest of the third quarter, with Conor Demo making great defensive tackles and Dillon carrying the ball.
Coach Aaron Jones brought in the second team and congratulated his starters on a terrific game. Kellen Sequeira took over at quarterback and a newcomer from Texas, Christian McClain, demonstrated his speed and agility rushing nine times for 78 yards and putting the ball at the three yard line for Kenny Shankey to run in. The conversion was made by Sequeira.
Sophomore Trig Campbell added to the touchdown with an interception. The final score was 42-12 and the Panther fans stormed the field.
Coach Jones, grinning from ear to ear, said “We put it together and everyone made a play. I couldn’t be more happy for the guys and breaking the losing streak. We are beginning a new streak. We have a lot of games on our schedule that we are going to win. It feels great to walk off the field knowing we haven’t disappointed the players, the parents and the community.”
The Panthers will play Vail at Vail this Friday, September 12, at 7 p.m.
Stats for Saturday, September 6:
8-6, 16-0, 10-0, 8-6
Passing: Wood, 9 of 14 for 91 yards
Receiving: Thibedeau, 5 for 73, 2 touchdowns; Trig Campbell, 1 for 5; Quinn Kuechenmeister, 3 for 13
Rushing: Jaron Dillon, 19 for 153; Kellen Sequeira, 7 for 36; Mike Wood, 11 for 78; Noah Ridnell, 2 for 22; Kenny Shankey, 3 for 10, 1 touchdown; Christian McClain, 9 for78.
Tackles: Jaron Dillon, 2; Noah Ridnell, 6; Mike Wood, 5; Conor Demo, 6; Ike Thibedeau, 3; Miles Pancoast, 4, 1 sack, 1 fumble recovery; Ben Jurisich, 1; Kellen Sequeira, 4; Skylar Pichon, 1 sack; Keyghan Otten, 1, 2 fumble recoveries; Ian Dunham, 1, 1 sack