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Panthers upend Knights for playoff victory

By BOB DAVIDSON

Special to The Hays Daily News

SALINA --  Sacred Heart's defense put the brakes on Phillipsburg's steamroller offense in the second half of their Class 3A playoff game Tuesday night.

Unfortunately for the Knights, too much damage had been done the first half.

Phillipsburg built a 27-7 halftime lead -- the last touchdown coming 9 seconds before the break -- and the Panthers held off Sacred Heart's second-half rally in notching a 27-20 first-round victory at Martin Stadium.

The loss ends Sacred Heart's season, leaves the Knights with a final 8-2 record and was the final game for the 19 seniors on the Knights' roster.

The contest also may have been the final chapter in the long history of Martin Stadium, which is scheduled for demolition sometime this fall so Kansas Wesleyan can begin construction on a proposed $7.5 million facility.

Phillipsburg (9-1) will play defending champion Scott City in a regional contest Saturday in Phillipsburg.

Sacred Heart scored on its first play from scrimmage when Trevor Webb went 56 yards up the middle untouched.

The rest of the half, though, belonged to the Panthers and their multi-pronged option running game.

Phillipsburg answered Webb's touchdown with scoring runs of 83 and 63 yards by Hunter Kohler just 2 minutes, 42 seconds apart in the first quarter. In the second quarter, Michael Dusin scored from the 14 and Riley Juenemann hit Sam Sage with a 5-yard touchdown pass just before halftime, capping the Knights' big first half.

"We lost coverage, the guy scrambled around," Sacred Heart coach Bruce Graber said of Juenemann's pass to Sage after scrambling out of trouble. "We had a hard time getting any (quarterback) pressure in the first half. I've got to look at the film but I thought we physically got handled in both lines. It got away from us in the first half."

Phillispburg coach J.B. Covington was pleased with his team's defensive work the first half.

"They hit us on that first play and after that we buckled down pretty well and executed what we were wanting to do defensively," he said. "It's tough to defend them, they're a good offense."

The Panthers were certainly good offensively themselves, led by Kohler who finished with 110 yards on 15 carries. Grant Wickham had 74 yards on 12 carries and Dusin 45 yards on 12 carries.

But Sacred Heart managed to slow the Panthers the final 24 minutes and got its offense untracked.

The Knights took the second half kickoff and drove 76 yards on 10 plays, Clayton Wetter going the final 4 yards for the score, making it 27-14 with 6:55 left in the quarter.

Sacred Heart made it interesting when Wuthnow scrambled out of a jam and threw a 33-yard touchdown pass to Matt McKee with 6:00 left in the game. The extra point kick failed, though, and it was 27-20.

But the Knights' offense didn't touch the ball again as Phillipsburg ran out the clock on 13 running plays, gaining three first downs in the process.

"We played the same personnel, played the same defense (the second half)," Graber said. "We could not get them to understand assignment football (the first half). When you play option football, you've got to play assignment football and we were not hitting anybody. We just did a bad job playing defense.

"We handled the line of scrimmage much better (the second half) but you dig yourself a hole, it's kind of hard to get out of sometimes."

Covington said his squad backed off the gas pedal in the second half.

"We got a little tentative there and were kind of conservative offensively," he said. "But we felt like we were playing well enough defensively that if we controlled the ball a little bit and took some time off the clock we'd have a chance to win."

Webb had 101 yards rushing on 12 carries for Sacred Heart while Wuthnow had 68 on 14 carries and Wetter 35 yards on nine carries.

Despite the loss, Graber was pleased with his team's determination against a quality opponent.

"Our kids obviously didn't quit and kept trying to work their way back into the game," he said. "(Phillipsburg) is a good football team, they're so athletic. Every skill kid they have can run."