Fairbanks’ Tyler Beem (8) picks up yardage against Northeastern. The Panthers won, 38-10.
(Journal-Tribune photo by Mac Cordell)
It’s about how you finish. That’s the message Fairbanks head football coach Patrick Cotter and his staff are trying to teach the Panther football team.
With a 38-10 win at Ohio Heritage Conference foe Northeastern on Friday, the Panthers improved to 4-3 on the season and moved into the tenth spot in the region, unofficially just two spots out of the playoffs.
However, they know they will need to finish strong if they hope to make the postseason.
With the win, Cotter said he is “excited” to play 6-1 West Liberty this coming Friday.
“We need to get ready and look at the little things,” Cotter said. “We need to look at the film. There is no such thing as a perfect game and we need to fix our mistakes.”
For the Panthers, Friday’s victory was pretty close to perfection.
“We started a little slow, but we were able to make adjustments and we did what we needed to do,” Cotter said.
The coach was correct about the slow start. His team opened the game with the ball, but on the third play, quarterback Jacob Nicol’s pass to Braeden Fairchild was tipped and Jet Josh Hague dove, grabbing the ball out of the air.
Northeastern, however, could not convert on the short field and the teams traded possessions.
With 7:19 to play in the first quarter, the Jets took over and marched 61 yards on 13 plays. Cody Wal booted a 30-yard field goal with 28 seconds in the quarter to give his team a 3-0 lead.
The ensuing kickoff bounced out of bounds. With the option of taking the ball at his own 35-yard line or forcing the Jets to re-kick, Cotter wanted another shot to return the kick.
“It was no decision,” Cotter said. “Our special teams are as good as we have had here in a long time. I don’t see a reason to ever take the ball out of our special teams’ hands.”
The decision proved to be the correct one. On the re-kick, Panther Beau Sloan took the bouncing ball near the 25-yard line and made his way across the field and through the defense before heading down the visitor’s sideline and to the end zone.
Megan Olson’s kick gave her team a 7-3 advantage with 14 seconds remaining in the quarter.
Olson scored the only points of the second quarter. With 1:03 to play in the half, the Panthers took possession at their own 40.
Nicol completed a series of quick passes and with five seconds remaining, Cotter called a timeout to send his senior kicker into the game. Olson booted the 33-yard kick to give the visitors from Union County a 10-3 lead.
“We came out of halftime juiced,” Cotter said.
The Panthers scored on each of their second half possessions.
Nicol opened the half’s scoring when he connected with Brian Higenbotham on a 33-yard slant pattern in the middle of the field.
The touchdown gave Fairbanks a 17-3 lead with just three minutes gone by in the half.
Another scoring pass, this one was an 11-yard pass from Nicol to Tyler Beem, who jumped over his defender to grab the ball in the back corner of the end zone.
The touchdowns, paired with Olson’s extra points, gave the Red and White a 24-3 lead with 3:54 to play in the quarter.
The Clark County team used an 11-play, penalty-riddled drive to cut into Fairbanks’ lead.
The Panther defense had played well, but a contact to the head penalty, paired with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Cotter, gave the Jets a first down inside the 10-yard line.
Even so, it took the Jets five plays (a defensive holding penalty gave the home squad an automatic first down) to score on a one-yard Nic Brown run.
The next Panther drive was a master’s course in math and football. The drive featured several flags that coupled together to create a third and 40 scenario.
A play later, the Panthers found themselves in punt formation. The long snap rolled through the legs of punter Mason Cushman. He managed to corral the ball, dodge a pair of would-be tacklers and begin to run, looking for room to move.
Cushman was able to shake loose and get his foot weakly into a punt that barely cleared the ground before flailing out of bounds.
A Northeastern defender, however, hit Cushman as he was running and kicking. The penalty, while not enough to even get the Panthers back to the original line of scrimmage, gave them an automatic first down.
With new life, Nicol used the next play to complete a long fly pass to Beem, who caught the ball and kept running before being brought down at the Jet 10.
Two plays later, Nicol sprinted right and found enough room to squeeze into the end zone.
With 5:14 to play, Nicol added another touchdown run, this one from five yards out. Olson’s kick gave her team a 38-10 advantage and closed the game’s scoring.
The Panthers got the final possession with seconds remaining in the game, but Cotter had his team take a knee to seal the victory.
“We played well on offense, but our defense really stepped up to play tonight,” Cotter said.
He explained that his game plan was to keep pressure on the Jets, contain the ends and force plays back into the middle of the field.
“Billy Reed Bodey and Dakota Key held the middle for us really well,” Cotter said, adding that a rotation of ends kept the Jets from ever being able to turn the corner.
“We didn’t allow them to breathe,” Cotter said. “That’s what we have to do. We have to keep coming, keep running to the football, keep pressure on the offenses.”
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