Panthers crush Jets for Homecoming triumph

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Gatlin Luke (right) of Fairbanks breaks up a Northeastern pass Friday evening. The Panthers rolled to a 51-10 victory during their Homecoming game.
(Journal-Tribune photo by Tim Miller)
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Fairbanks High School head football coach Patrick Cotter couldn’t help but be pleased after Friday’s 51-10 Homecoming victory over Northeastern.
What he was perhaps happiest about, however, was how his team reacted after facing its only real bit of adversity.
Fairbanks was stopped on downs during the initial possession of the night.
The Jets took advantage of a short field at the Panther 29-yard-line and got three points out of the deal on Connor Obee’s 41-yard field goal.
The Panthers (5-2) did not allow that to bother them.
They marched 80 yards on five plays to put the go-ahead points on the board with Mason Cushman’s 20-yard run.
The extra point failed, but FHS held a 6-3 lead and would not relinquish the upper hand the rest of the way.
“We responded after that bit of adversity and then we soared,” said Cotter. “After that initial lull, we did a lot of good things tonight.”
The Panthers stopped the Jets on their next possession when Tyler Beem pounced on the first of his two fumble recoveries.
Quarterback Jacob Nicol hit a couple of key passes to Will Cochrane and Cushman to move the ball down to the Northeastern 17.
Nicol picked up three yards on the next play. After that, he took the snap and collided with Braeden Fairchild, who had gone in motion.
Nicol shook that off and weaved his way through the Northeastern defense for the touchdown.
Cade Ziegler’s conversion gave FHS a 13-3 lead with 4:44 left to play in the opening period.
The Jets performed the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes’ version of offense with a 1-2-3-kick.
The punt was fielded by Gatlin Luke, who soon was off to the races.
Luke raced down the right sideline and didn’t stop until he had crossed into the end zone 55 yards away.
Ziegler’s extra point widened Fairbanks’ lead to 20-3 with a little more than two minutes remaining in the quarter.
The Jets responded with their lone touchdown of the night.
On just the second snap of the possession, quarterback Mac Davis faded back into the pocket and launched a rocket.
David Queen beat FHS’ single coverage, snared the ball and finished the 67-yard play in the end zone.
Obee booted the PAT, pulling the visitors to within 20-10.
It was the Panthers’ turn for the home-run ball when Nicol rifled a 43-yard scoring strike to Wyatt Damron.
That play came with 37.9 ticks on the first-period clock.
Ziegler’s extra point carried the Panthers into the second quarter with a 27-10 lead.
Northeastern mounted a serious drive as action moved into the ensuing period.
The Jets were aided when the Panthers were whistled for roughing the passer, but hurt themselves with a delay of game infraction.
Fairbanks dodged a bullet when Justin Wulff jumped on Northeastern’s second fumble of the night.
That turnover led to the Panthers’ next touchdown.
Nicol connected on passes to Beem and Damron as FHS moved into Jet territory.
Cushman finished the series with a 39-yard scoring run.
Ziegler’s extra point pushed the Panthers out to a 34-10 margin.
The Jets’ bad luck continued as Fairbanks next scored with its defensive unit.
Beem forced a fumble at the Northeastern 24-yard-line.
The ball bounced and slithered until he scooped it up inside the 20 and raced untouched into the end zone.
Ziegler’s extra point gave the Panthers a 41-10 lead with a little more than five minutes left until the break.
Both teams ended the half with punts.
As FHS held a lead of more than 30 points, the clock continued to run once the third quarter began.
Fairbanks made sure the timer maintained its relentless quest by tacking on a touchdown during the period.
Charlie Scheiderer’s four-yard run and Ziegler’s conversion sent the Panthers into the fourth stanza with a 48-10 lead.
Ziegler added a 29-yard field goal with 4:44 left in the game to end the scoring.
“Our defense made a lot of key stops tonight,” said Cotter. “After that, our offense took the ball and ran with it.”
The Jets were held to 156 total yards, of which 45 came on the ground.
The Panthers (who will travel to West Liberty-Salem on Friday) ran for 288 yards and passed for 197.
“The guys are understanding our identity,” said Cotter. “We’re at the point where we can run the ball whenever we want to and pass it whenever we want to.
“That makes us unpredictable and it keeps other teams off-balance.”
Cotter said that versatility will be vital as his team enters the final three weeks of the regular season.
“We have three tough games ahead of us (including at Triad and at home against state-ranked Mechanicsburg),” he said. “We are going to have to use our entire arsenal in those games.”



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