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Six seniors played their final football game in front of a home crowd during the first round of the state playoffs last Friday night, taking a tough loss to Pana, 14-7.
Those players – Levi Ulmer, Bryan Hosick, Blake Mills, Quenten Austin, Daniel Edwards and Anthony Fladeland – all played significant roles in allowing the Vandals to place third in the South Central Conference and earn the team’s first playoff berth since 2008.
“A lot of those guys have played since fifth grade,” Stout said. “They’ve shown great leadership, and those guys are just great.”
One goal for the seniors was to make the playoffs in honor of last season’s senior class, which missed out by one touchdown.
When next season starts, Stout believes the same thing will happen, only with that senior class making it a goal to win a playoff game.
The Vandals started Friday’s game with some excitement, despite fumbling away the ball on the second play of the game, because when Pana took its first snap, Hosick gobbled the ball back up to put the offense back on the field.
On Pana’s next offensive possession, Mills and junior Chase Woolsey recorded back-to-back sacks to push the Panthers back 11 yards.
“We were playing so hard,” Stout said. “We took some things away from them, and they took some things away from us.”
What Pana took, in the first quarter, was Vandalia’s ability to move the ball on offense.
In the regular-season matchup between the teams, Ulmer gained 151 yards on the ground and Vandalia led by two scores during the first half, but last Friday, Vandalia gained -8 yards in the first quarter and didn’t earn a first down until there was about 7:45 left in the second quarter.
“You’re not starting to panic,” Stout said. “Once we found out (Pana) was slanting hard to motion, we went to our third different blocking scheme up front and started picking up yards.”
That is a zone blocking scheme, and the team hasn’t been forced into it that often this season.
Pana got its first touchdown on the first play of the second quarter, with Nic Dilley forcing his way in on a second effort from 3 yards out.
Hosick broke through a tackle on the first play of Vandalia’s second drive of the quarter, to gain 14 yards and break into Pana territory, and Ulmer would later spin through a tackle for 17 more yards to give the Vandals a first down at the 7-yard line.
Pana’s defense was able to contain Vandalia on the next four plays, though, stopping the Vandals at the 1-yard line.
Woolsey recovered a fumble at the Pana 21-yard line on the first play of the second half, but the Vandals were unable to gain anything on offense.
On the next drive, junior Luke Smith earned a tackle for a loss of 5 yards, forcing Pana to punt and setting up what would be Vandalia’s lone touchdown of the game.
Needing just one yard for the first down, Ulmer burst through the middle of the field, breaking several tackles, then outrunning defenders on a 44-yard dash to the end zone.
“He’s relentless,” Stout said. “You have to play him perfect every time, and on the play he scored on, he was able to break a couple of tackles.”
Two plays later, Mills grabbed a fumble at the Pana 25-yard line, but for the second time in the game, the Vandals were stopped inside the 10-yard line, with Pana holding strong at the 5.
Dilley would add another score for the Panthers, with 5:23 left in the game, easily getting in from 7 yards out.
Pana would get the ball back with 4:44 left in the game, and the Panthers ran out the clock to win.
Despite the loss, it was still a special season for the Vandals, who were picked before the season by South Central Conference coaches to finish seventh.
That poll didn’t mean much to the Vandals, as the coaches and players knew they could make the playoffs.
“We knew coming in that we had the potential to do what we did,” Stout said. “We talked in the preseason that the preseason poll didn’t bother us.”
Rushing: Ulmer, 18-89, TD; Hosick, 8-21; Ryan Ambuehl, 4-19; Smith, 3-(-10)
Passing: Hosick, 0-5, INT
Defensive: Mills, 10 tackles, sack, fumble recovery; Jeff Lucken, two tackles for loss; Woolsey, 3 tackles, sack, fumble recovery; Hosick, 2 tackles, fumble recovery; Edwards, 3 tackles, sack, tackle for loss; Smith, 5 tackles, tackle for loss; Ulmer, 2 tackles, sack.