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Champs’ comeback falls short in playoff thriller

By WILL CARTER ~ Sports Writer
Posted 11/8/22

HOHENWALD — Heading into halftime, it seemed like the Lewis County Panthers were gearing up for a formidable win over the Cascade Champions in round one of the TSSAA playoffs, but the Champions …

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Champs’ comeback falls short in playoff thriller


HOHENWALD — Heading into halftime, it seemed like the Lewis County Panthers were gearing up for a formidable win over the Cascade Champions in round one of the TSSAA playoffs, but the Champions clawed back in the second half to make it a one possession game before their efforts stalled on their final drive of the game for a 32-24 loss to the Panthers.
“It’s kind of been the story of our season,” Cascade head coach Jake Tyre said.
“We shot ourselves in the foot in the first half and made some mistakes. I challenged them at halftime to come out and play our brand of football and they did that.”
“You can’t ask for a better effort from a team.”
Lewis County (10-1) jumped out quickly on the Champions (6-5) with a 2:48 opening drive that resulted in a 10-yard touchdown pass from Brycen McDonald to Dyer Barnes that made it 8-0 after Domonic Seiber’s successful two-point conversion.
After punting on their first drive of the game, the Champions found themselves with their backs against the wall again as the Panthers threatened to score.
Cascade needed a momentum-changing play and they got just that when senior Blake Olive scooped up a Panthers’ fumble and returned it all the way to the end zone for a touchdown.
However, a holding penalty on the return negated the score.
After struggling to move the ball offensively, they punted the ball back to Lewis County who quickly turned it into points on a 63-yard pass from McDonald to Bentley Kelsey just a minute into the second quarter to make it 16-0 after the two-point conversion.
Shortly after, Cascade found was in trouble again when a punt snap flew over Hayden Dowell’s head and into the back of the end zone for a safety and two more points went on the scoreboard for the Panthers with eight and a half minutes left in the second quarter.
Neither squad could move the ball very much for the remainder of the half, and Cascade headed to the locker room down 18-0.
Cascade responded to Tyre’s challenge at halftime by opening the second half with a four minute and 15 second touchdown drive that ended with a 12-yard dash from senior Connor Huie.
Sawyer Lovvorn converted the two-point play to make it 18-8.
But the Panthers answered back just over a minute later with a 73 yard connection from McDonald to Kelsey for their second of the game to bring it to 26-8 after the two-point conversion.
On the following drive, Cascade leaned on their workhorse again and it paid off as Huie powered his way to a three-yard score with a minute remaining in the third quarter.
Xamarion Dixon converted the two-point play for a 26-16 game.
After forcing a Lewis County punt on the next drive, the Champions needed to score quickly if they wanted to increase their odds of pulling off the comeback.
They did just that a few plays later as senior Chance Brown broke a few tackles before racing to the end zone from 55 yards out with 11:24 remaining in the game to bring it to a two-point contest at 26-24 after Dixon’s conversion.
Brown totaled 105 yards on 11 carries for the Champions.
“When you’re down 18-0 as a running team, you have to make big things happen and they did,” Tyre said.
“I’ve coached for a long time, and I can say that this team put it all out there tonight. We were good enough to get here, just didn’t play like we needed to in the first half.”
Three minutes later, McDonald continued to flex his muscle as he threw for his fourth touchdown of the game and his second to Dyer Barnes.
With it being an eight point game after the touchdown, a point after would have made it a two-possession game, but the Panthers elected to go for two.
Cascade hunkered down and made the important stop to keep their hopes alive.
“It was fun to watch,” Tyre said. “The guys took it on themselves to not roll over and continue to get beat.”
But the Champions were forced to punt on their next drive as the offense struggled to move the ball.
With a little over seven minutes remaining in the game, the Panthers showed no signs of letting up as they continued to move the ball in chunks on the Champions’ defense.
It was all but over when Seiber found a hole in Cascade’s defense with the end zone in sight just under the five minute mark, but senior Taylor Dowell made a heroic play by forcing a fumble from behind to give the Champions one more chance to tie the game up.
After picking up one first down, Cascade stalled to a fourth-and-three in what would potentially be their last offensive play of the game, but Dixon and Dowell connected on a five yard pass to keep the drive alive.
Time started to become a concern for the Champions with the clock ticking to under a minute with 25 yards to score.
After Dixon scrambled on a third-and-eight to bring up fourth-and-three, they were down to one more play again with 20 seconds remaining.
Dixon took the snap, looked right, then left, scrambled left, and lofted the ball into the end zone to Hayden Dowell who was quickly surrounded by Panther defenders and the ball fell incomplete to end the comeback and the game as Lewis County kneeled out the remaining seconds.
“The only way it would have been better is if we won at the end,” Tyre said.
“We just ran out of time and ran out of yards. It’s like life, it throws a lot at you and you have to overcome it.”
Cascade reached the playoffs for the third-consecutive year, but ultimately fell short for the third straight year.
It has now been a decade since the Champions have won a playoff game, dating back to the 2012 season when they defeated Watertown 24-21 in the first round.
While the result wasn’t what they envisioned, Tyre is proud of his team for fighting back into not only this game, but the entire season.
“They could have quit when we were 2-3, but they didn’t give up,” Tyre said.
“We played four of the best five weeks of football I've seen in a long time. We just have to build off of this and keep working.”
“Every team lays another block of foundation for the next one, so we just have to keep building.”

Cascade 0 0 16 8 — 24
Lewis Co. 8 10 8 6 — 32

First Quarter
LC —Dyer Barnes 10 pass from Brycen McDonald, (Seiber 2 pt.), 9:12.

Second Quarter
LC — Bentley Kelsey 63 pass from McDonald, (Kelsey 2 pt.), 11:05.
LC — Safety, 8:30.

Third Quarter
C — Connor Huie 12 run, (Lovvorn 2 pt.), 7:45.
LC — Kelsey 73 pass from McDonald, (Seiber 2 pt.), 6:30.
C — Huie 3 run, (Dixon 2 pt.), 1:00.

Fourth Quarter
C — Chance Brown 55 run, (Dixon 2 pt.) 11:24.
LC — Barnes 10 pass from McDonald, (2 pt. failed), 8:10.


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