Strong second half sparks Panthers’ playoff win

by Greg Ceilley of The Review staff

COLE KIRCHMAN, Luxemburg-Casco running back, tries to elude Plymouth’s (left to right) Cody Hoffmann, Brad Trakel and Ben Albers in Friday’s football playoff opener. — Review photo by Greg Ceilley COLE KIRCHMAN, Luxemburg-Casco running back, tries to elude Plymouth’s (left to right) Cody Hoffmann, Brad Trakel and Ben Albers in Friday’s football playoff opener. — Review photo by Greg Ceilley PLYMOUTH — The Plymouth Panthers cranked up its ground attack and intensity in the second half to fuel a 28-0 trouncing of Luxemburg-Casco in a Division 3 football first-round state playoff game Friday night at Finke Field.

PHS, a No. 2 region seed, ran its record to 9-1 and winning streak to nine. The No. 7-seeded Spartans finished 5-5.

The Panthers will host No. 3-seeded Wisconsin Lutheran (Milwaukee) in the second round Friday at 7 p.m. The Vikings routed No. 6-seeded Kewaskum, 35-0, in first-round play Friday night.

PHS led only 7-0 at halftime, taking advantage of a muffed punt by the Spartans’ Austin Worachek which was recovered by Plymouth’s Dominic Bocchini at the Spartans’ 1-yard line. On second down, PHS tailback Brad Trakel scored a touchdown on a 1-yard plunge with 16 seconds left in the first quarter. Jack Heginbottom booted the first of his four successful PATs as PHS went up 7-0.

The Panthers could’ve had a bigger halftime lead but were unable to take advantage of a strong wind behind them in the first quarter and gave up the ball on downs at the L-C 27 late in the second period after driving 65 yards from their 8.

PHS took command of the game after receiving the secondhalf kickoff and marching 80 yards in 14 plays into the wind. The series was climaxed by quarterback Kollin Neils’ 1-yard sneak for a TD with 6:04 left in the third quarter which made it 14-0.

The key play in the possession was Neils’ 28-yard pass to wide receiver Zac Cain to the 11, with Cain making a leaping grab over the Spartan defender. The drive was kept alive early when L-C was called for an off-side penalty when PHS was going to punt which gave the Panthers a first down at its 31.

“Our kids played real well in the second half. That drive to start the second half was huge because it was into the wind and it used a lot of the clock,” said Panther head coach Dan Knaus.

“The running game opened up our play-action passing in the second half. They put a lot of guys in the box and were blitzing to try to stop the run, so we made adjustments at halftime and started to run mid-line options in which Kollin reads the defensive end. Kollin ran the option really well.

“We stepped up our intensity in the second half. I challenged our kids at halftime and told them we gotta won the one-on-one battles. We blocked better in the second half,” said Knaus.

The Panthers scored on their next two possessions to build a 28-0 lead. Fullback Tyler Willeford’s darted around the right end on a sweep for a 21-yard TD run with 2:37 remaining in the third period for a 21-0 advantage. The score capped off a six-play, 84- yard drive. Neils’ 43-yard scamper on a bootleg to the L-C 33 sparked the series.

Neils made it 28-0 when he raced 52 yards for a TD on a keeper off an option play with 9:18 left in the game. Neils rushed for a game-high 122 yards on 12 carries.

The Panthers relied more on their running game Friday night because of the strong wind. PHS racked up 231 yards rushing.

Plymouth’s defense was outstanding – holding L-C’s offense to only total 190 yards. Cole Kirchman, the Spartans’ lead rusher this season, was held to just 55 yards on 16 attempts.

“Our kids were disciplined on defense, stayed in their lanes and covered their guys,” said Knaus. “We really stopped their running game and forced them to pass more than they wanted to.”

“We played well,” said Willeford. “We came out intense in the second half on both sides of the ball.”

“We came out a little sluggish in the first half. We turned it up in the second half,” said Luke Held, PHS starting offensive/ defensive lineman. “We played smash-mouth football in the second half.”



L-C Ply
First downs.…...................12 16
Rushing Yards…...............87 231
Passing Yards.................103 112
Comp-Att-Int……......10-26-1 11-18-0
Punts-Averages..............4-38 3-53
Fumbles-Lost………...…..1-0 1-1
Score by Quarters
Luxemburg-Casco.....00 00–0
Plymouth….................7 0 14 7 – 28


Ply – Brad Trakel 1 run (Jack Heginbottom kick)

Ply – Kollin Neils 1 run (Heginbottom kick)

Ply – Tyler Willeford 21 run (Heginbottom kick)

Ply – Neils 52 run (Heginbottom kick)


Rushing – Luxemburg-Casco, Cole Kirchman 16-55. Plymouth, Kollin Neils 12-122, Brad Trakel 14-62, Tyler Willeford 6-40.

Passing – Luxemburg-Casco, Caleb Willems 10-26-1-103. Plymouth, Neils 11-18-0-112.

Receiving – Luxemburg-Casco, Danny Dorner 5-62. Plymouth, Zac Cain 6-82, Tyler Willeford 3-16.

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