Football: Panthers stand tall in loss to Erie
Although they lost, the Panthers can hold their battle-scarred heads high after putting up a tremendous fight in last Friday’s home game against Erie, one of the state’s top teams.
The game ended in a 41-7 loss for the Panthers. However, their performance was a far cry from last year’s first-ever meeting with the Tigers who romped to a 52-0 victory.
“We lost on the scoreboard, but the game was a learning success,” coach Marc Loberg said. “It was probably the best four quarters of football that we’ve played so far this season. It was great to see our kids play with that kind of intensity.”
Erie, which has an 85-player program and fields linemen weighing in excess of 300 pounds, opened Friday’s game by immediately asserting their power. After taking the opening kickoff at their 25-yard line, their quarterback threw a couple of long passes that took the Tigers deep into Panther territory. In two final plays, Erie muscled its way into the end zone.
Middle Park responded immediately and surprised Erie’s defenders by moving the ball steadily in a series of rushes by quarterback Mike Schmidt and fullback Zane Bickler. The drive continued to gain ground, making its way to the Tigers’ 42-yard line.
It was there that a switch to a passing attempt ended badly in an interception.
Erie bludgeoned their way back across the field as the second quarter began. Middle Park’s defenders tried to fend off the inevitable, but the Tigers scored again and earned their second extra-point kick.
The Panthers’ next possession tried to gather some steam but was cut short by a fumble at their 40-yard line. Quickly taking advantage, the Tigers powered their way back into the end zone.
Trailing 21-0 at halftime, Middle Park’s players were not about to give up. The Panther defense put up a good fight that stopped Erie during the first part of the third quarter. But a short punt by Middle Park gave Erie a midfield position that quickly netted the Tigers their fourth TD on a long passing play.
After that score, Middle Park’s offense finally got rolling. Taking the kickoff at their 20-yard line, the Panthers battered their way forward on rushes by Schmidt and Alex Morrow. At the 30-yard line, Schmidt shot a pass to Bickler for a 15-yard gain and then followed it with another quarterback carry to the 50-yard line.
Having gained midfield, the Panthers kept their momentum going with a three-yard rush by Morrow, followed by a seven-yard pass to Bickler. Schmidt opted to carry on the next play that gained five more yards. Another pass to Sprague gained another five yards.
With the goal line in their sights, Middle Park’s offense refused to let up the pressure. Schmidt battered his way forward in two more carries and then shot a short pass to Morrow.
Just after the start of the fourth quarter and within five yards on the end zone, the Panther linemen plowed forward to the one-yard line with Schmidt carrying. In the final play, Schmidt made a leaping dive over the defenders to score.
To top off the successful drive, Middle Park’s Jordan Ricketts made a beautiful kick through the goalposts to earn an extra point for the Panthers.
But their Herculean effort to make that touchdown, plus the battering they sustained for over three quarters, had finally taken its toll on the Panthers. The exhausted Middle Park players were unable to stop the Tigers who drove in two more touchdowns in the final 3-1/2 minutes of the game.
“We just ran out of gas in those final minutes of the fourth quarter,” Loberg said.
Despite the lopsided loss, Middle Park achieved a moral victory of sorts.
“In last year’s game, it was a blowout by halftime,” Loberg said. “This year, our defense held Erie to the second fewest points in any of their league games. Last year, we punted 10 times to Erie but only once in Friday’s game.
“And Mike Schmidt had the second most rushing yards versus Erie’s defense this season. Our kids really stepped up in this game and showed a lot of improvement.”
In addition to praising Schmidt, Loberg also commended several other players.
“Chad Sprague made some great blocks and catches against Erie,” he said. “Rodney Garrett had an awesome game, making 97 percent of his blocks and really anchoring our offensive line. And Ben Shipman had a solid game at corner with seven tackles.”
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Local commercial rafting companies remain unsure if or for how long they’ll be able to guide trips this summer down the traditional 6-mile portion of the Blue River north of Silverthorne.