Panthers squeak by Wildcats

Buckeye Local has now played 232 games since its season opener in 1990 and of the 20 games that the Panthers have battled with Edison, very few have been runaways.

Despite holding a 24-6 lead at the intermission, the Panthers needed two stellar defensive stops in the final minutes to hold off a gallant Wildcat bid and pull out an exciting 30-26 win at Memorial Stadium in Yorkville Friday night.

With the win, coach Phil Pest’s Panthers moved above the .500 mark with a 3-2 record. Tough-luck losers at Bellaire last Saturday, Buckeye will try to improve on the record on Friday when they play host to Martins Ferry in the Panthers’ Homecoming tilt. The win also pushed the Panther lead to 14-6 in the series with the Wildcats.

Edison, winners over Weir in week three and one-point victims at Union Local last week, dropped to 1-4 on the season under coach Mike McKenzie. The Wildcats will be in action on Friday hosting a very good Harrison Central team in Richmond.

“It feel really good to be 3-2 at the midway point in the season, but we got some tough ones coming up starting with Martins Ferry next week,” Pest said after the hard-earned win. “None of them are easy.”

“I’ve got to give Edison a great deal of credit,” Pest added. “They did not give up. Every time we made a big play, they bounced right back. And their quarterback (Nolan Marcus) is a very good player.”

Pest was also passing out accolades to his own team, especially his quarterback, Nathan Kirk.

“Nate did a great job in the first half. He struggled a bit in the second half, but he still had a great game tonight,” Pest said. “That kickoff return by (Caleb) Agnew was big for us as well. “

“Our defense came up big late in the game. I’m really proud of our defense. They made the stops at the end when we really needed them.”

With Buckeye leading by four and Edison getting two opportunities in the final five minutes to possibly push across a game-winner, the Panthers defense made some key stops to thwart both Wildcat chances.

With 2:47 left i the contest, Shane Board pounced on a Buckeye fumble at their own 23. Edison, behind Marcus and Chris Graziani pushed the ball to the Panther 46 with 1:37 on the clock. On a third and four, Panther freshman standout Dylan Dokes broke through the Edison front to stop the Wildcat runner for a loss. On the following fourth down play, Brian Zeroski and Lucas Ostijich bottled up Marcus stopping him two yards shy of the first down.

“I thought we executed very well in the second half, but we didn’t play with confidence, that true confidence that we have telling our kids about in the first half,” McKenzie remarked after the tough loss.

“In the second half, we were able to make plays after they made a big play. Our kids didn’t hang their heads down,” the Wildcat coach added. “In the first half, we weren’t disciplined and that allowed them to get that lead on us.”

Buckeye jumped out to an 8-0 lead on its first possession. Opening with a 24-yard Kirk to Devan Pyciak pass, Kirk followed that two plays later with an eight-yarder to Austin Marshall. Standout receiver Shane Duncan broke open the drive with an electrifying catch and run that covered 47 yards and set up Andy Stock’s eight-yard scoring run with 8:31 on the clock. Marshall ran in the two-pointer.

Late in the first, Edison mounted its first scoring drive that featured back-to-back 13-yard runs by Granziani and a 35-yard run by Josh Pasek.

With 10:43 on the second quarter clock, Marcus capped the drive with a 15-yard pass to Rich Springer. The PAT failed.

Buckeye bounced back, again using the passing game to bolster the drive, with a 74-yard drive. A 24-yard run by Kirk and a 32-yard pass from Kirk to Duncan sparked the drive that culminated in a six-yard scoring pass from Kirk to Dakota Flaherty with 6:01 left. Stock added the two-pointer.

With 1:08 left in the half, Duncan picked off a Wildcat pass giving the hosts possession at the 42. Stock swept the right side and galloped 33 yards with the help of a Wildcat flag, Buckeye was sitting on the four. Kirk then tossed to Duncan for another score at the 0:50 mark. Kirk’s pass to Flaherty for the PAT gave them a 24-6 lead.

Edison needed just three plays to cut the margin to open the second half. With 11:02 on the third quarter clock, Graziani broke free on a 34-yard scoring run to cut the gap to 24-12.

Late in the third, Marcus threw 26 yards to Devan Tennant and 31 yards to Chris Virtue to set up a three-yard scoring run by Marcus with 0:50 on the board to cut the margin to 24-18.

Caleb Agnew gathered in the ensuing kickoff at his 20 and followed the sideline on a thrilling 80-yard return for the score. With the missed PAT, Buckeye held a 30-18 lead.

Edison closed out the scoring with 10:22 left in the fourth on a one-yard run by Marcus. Graziani added the two-pointer.