BRIMFIELD TWP.: The Norton Panthers and Kent Roosevelt Rough Riders stand alone atop the Portage Trail Conference-Metro Division following the Panthers’ 47-21 road victory over Field on Friday night.
The Panthers (7-1, 4-0 PTC) are tied with the Rough Riders with two games remaining, including a showdown at Kent in the final week of the season that could likely determine the champion of the conference.
“It’s a great feeling,” Norton running back Jake Fling said. “We haven’t had this good of a record in a while. We’ve got to keep taking it game by game. Springfield has been playing well lately and then we’ve got Kent.”
Fling, one of the area’s top running backs, has been giving defenses fits all season. The Falcons (2-6, 2-2) knew what they were in for, but were still unable to contain Fling. He carried the ball 20 times for 188 yards and three rushing touchdowns.
“He’s great,” Field coach Matt Furino said. “He might be the best running back we’ve faced this year. And that fullback doesn’t stink either. They just made us look bad tonight, really.”
The fullback Furino speaks of is senior Jimmy Keys, listed at 5-foot-8, 235 pounds, who bulldozed his way to 42 yards and a touchdown on six carries.
The Falcons had opportunities early on to take control, set up by their special teams.
Michael Cobham took the opening kickoff 55 yards to the Panthers’ 35-yard line, but the Falcons only went backward in a three-and-out before punting.
After forcing a Panthers punt, the Falcons put together a 12-play drive capped by a 2-yard touchdown run by quarterback Preston Semlar on a play-action bootleg. That gave Field a 7-0 lead.
The Panthers quickly answered. A 48-yard run by quarterback Brandon Cuda set up Fling’s first touchdown run of the game.
Again the Falcons took the ensuing kickoff back 55 yards, this time by Cory Simpson. But again, they couldn’t capitalize on their good field position after a lost fumble.
“It seems like we’re just having a hard time putting it all together,” Furino said. “When we do one thing right, something else happens. They showed why they’re 7-1.”
From that point on, it was pretty much all Panthers and Fling, who threw a 15-yard touchdown pass to his quarterback on a flea-flicker play at the end of the first half to cap a 26-point second quarter and make it 26-7 at halftime.
“We were working on it all week,” Fling said.
“It was a fun play. I’ve never thrown a pass in a game before.”
The Panthers increased their lead to 40-7 in the third quarter.
With Semlar struggling, the Falcons made a switch at quarterback to senior Caleb Wohlwend in the fourth quarter. He led the Falcons to a touchdown, and finished 6-of-10 passing for 79 yards and an interception.
“Caleb came in tonight and gave us a spark,” Furino said. “He really did do a good job in the second half and that will be something we’ll have to look at this week.”
The Panthers, who were 3-11 in the PTC the past two seasons, are in uncharted territory as they sit undefeated with two games left. They are taking nothing for granted.
“We’ve still got a long way to go,” Tanksley said.
“Roosevelt rightfully owns the top spot in the league. They’ve been there for the last seven, eight years. It’s going to be a big game but we’ve got to get by Springfield first.”