PANA — Oakwood’s game plan for Saturday’s second-round playoff game with Pana was simple.
The Comets wanted to meticulously move the football down the field with with their wing-t offense and basically keep the ball away from the Panthers, who had averaged 43.9 points per game and nine times this year Pana scored more than 36 points.
Everything was going according to plan on the game’s opening drive for Oakwood as the Comets drove the ball to Pana 15 with nine rushing and one pass play.
But, Oakwood failed in one key area — the Comets failed to score.
That turned into really big problem on six of Oakwood’s first six possessions, while Pana scored on seven of eight on its way to a 47-20 victory in an IHSA Class 2A second-round playoff game.
“We did exactly what we wanted to do coming out,’’ Oakwood coach Al Craig said. “We controlled the clock, we almost ate up the entire first quarter. We drove it all the way down the field. At worst, you think you will come away with them having the ball inside their own 10-yard line.’’
Instead, Pana senior Bryce Edmiston, who did a little bit of everything on Saturday, intercepted a Rhett Harrison pass at the 2 yard line and he returned it all the way to midfield. Two plays later, Edmiston was catching a swing pass from Panther quarterback Johan Lauff and racing down the far sideline for a 45-yard touchdown.
“We made some mistakes early and they took advantage of them,’’ said Harrison, who was 4-of-9 passing for 78 yards and a score. “We wanted to come out and set the tone with that opening drive.
“We had them on their heels, but we just didn’t get the ball in the end zone. You have to score points on this team when you drive the ball like we did against them early.’’
The Comets (8-3) was able to answer that initial score by the Panthers (10-1) with a 12-play, 57-yard drive capped by a 1-yard touchdown run by Colby Smiley that cut their deficit to 8-6 with nine minutes left in the first half.
“I still felt pretty good because we had two drives where we moved the ball,’’ Craig said. “But, that’s when, we started falling deeper and deeper into a hole.
“We could have started out ahead, but instead, they get the turnover and a touchdown. That was a 14-point swing right there.’’
Once again, it only took Pana two plays to put another touchdown on the board. This time it was a 59-yard pass from Lauff to Cameron Owens, giving the Panthers a 15-6 advantage.
This time around, Oakwood wasn’t able to answer and when Pana’s Laine Czailkowski blocked the punt of Joe Lashuay, after he bobbled the snap, the Panthers recovered at the Comets 9 yard line.
Two plays later, Wes Dixon, a 6-foot-1, 260-pound lineman, got the first of his three 1-yard touchdowns and the Panthers were rolling into the quarterfinals.
“We talked about special teams being a factor in this game, and sure enough, we get a punt blocked,’’ Craig said. “We talked about not turning the ball over, and sure enough we had the interception on the first drive.
“We just kept digging ourselves into a deeper and deeper hole.’’
Pana’s first six plays from scrimmage went for 127 yards and accounted for 22 points.
“They have a very explosive offense and that’s why we needed to score more points earlier in the game,’’ said Oakwood senior lineman Jose Nunez. “I just don’t think we came out with enough energy and we just didn’t do our jobs.’’
The Panthers only possession of its first eight that didn’t result in a touchdown came just a few yards short.
With the final seconds ticking off the clock in the first half, Lauff connected with Edmiston on a 60-yard pass but he was tackled at the 3 as the clock hit 0:00.
Oakwood was able to score twice in the fourth quarter as Harrison connected with Josh Young on a 61-yard touchdown pass and Smiley, who had 130 rushing yards, scored on a 8-yard run.
“I think our kids came ready to play,’’ Craig said. “We weren’t just happy to be here. We were here to win, but so was Pana.’’
The senior class for the Comets not only snapped a 31-year drought on playoff wins with a 20-0 triumph last week over Nokomis, but they were also on three playoff teams in four years.
“It was a great season and it was a great four years,’’ Harrison said. “It was special to be a part of the team that got Oakwood a playoff victory.’’
Craig is hopeful that the Comets have turned the corner and can start building off this success.
“We have dressed our freshmen these past two weeks, so they got to experience this,’’ he said. “Our sophomores have been here the last two years.
“We are starting to get kids that are growing up in a culture of winning.’’
Pana will play Nashville, a 28-14 winner over Bismarck-Henning/Rossville-Alvin, in the quarterfinals next Saturday.