Panthers’ season ends with playoff loss


Fairbanks quarterback Jacob Nicol (right) hands the ball off to Mason Cushman Friday evening at Fort Frye. The Panthers fell, 34-14, during the Division VI playoff game.
(Journal-Tribune photo by Sam Dillon)
When it comes to high school football playoff time, coaches will pull out all the stops in order to keep opponents off-balance and secure a victory.
The Fort Frye coaching staff did just that Friday evening when the Cadets defeated Fairbanks, 34-14, during a Division VI regional quarterfinal contest.
Fort Frye has been a run-heavy team out of the Wing T for much of the regular season.
While the Cadets amassed 237 yards on the ground, it was their passing game that caught the Panthers (who finished the season at 7-4) off-guard.
“They threw the ball more than we expected,” said FHS head coach Patrick Cotter, “and it was those backside wheel routes that we hadn’t seen previously in films.”
Cadet quarterback Tate Engle had a stellar game as he completed 16-of-25 passes for 237 yards. Of Fort Frye’s five touchdowns, four came from Engle’s arm.
The game, which was played on Fort Frye’s home field, was a tale of two halves.
The Panthers kept right up with the unbeaten Cadets as they got several defensive stops during the first half.
The teams exchanged punts after the first three series.
Fairbanks’ second punt of the night left the Cadets on their own 31-yard-line.
Engle, Tyler Fisher and Brian Adkins shared the running chores during the series.
However, the drive included a couple of passes by Engle.
The final one was a 49-yard strike to Brady Schilling that produced Fort Frye’s first score.
The two-point conversion failed, leaving the home team up 6-0.
Both squads again swapped punts as the quick-moving first quarter was coming to a close.
The Panthers got possession after the Cadets’ punt with 42 ticks on the timer.
FHS started at its own 20-yard-line and advanced into opposing territory thanks in part to a pair of passes from quarterback Jacob Nicol to receiver Tyler Beem.
Nicol began the second quarter by scooting down to the Cadet 24.
He picked up 15 more yards on a pass to Mason Cushman and later wrapped up the drive with a five-yard burst into the end zone.
Mason Smith booted the extra point and with 10:39 left until halftime, Fairbanks led 7-6.
The normally potent Cadet offense, which went into the game averaging 40 points per outing, sputtered over its next two possessions.
The Panthers couldn’t get anything going either as Nicol suffered the first of his two interceptions.
FHS’ defense held on downs and the Panthers appeared to be mounting a scoring drive.
A trio of passes from Nicol to Beem got the ball all the way down to the Fort Frye six-yard-line.
Nicol again went back to pass and spotted a receiver in the end zone.
His pass, however, was picked off, snuffing out the threat.
Fort Frye took advantage of the turnover and made essentially a 14-point turnaround.
The Cadets marched 80 yards in nine plays. The drive was capped by Engle’s 11-yard pass to Adkins with three seconds left on the clock.
Engle added a two-point conversion pass to Schilling that sent the home team into the turn with a 14-7 lead.
“We played very strong during the first half,” said Cotter.
The second half was an entirely different story.
The Cadets took the third-quarter kickoff and went 71 yards in seven plays for their next TD.
The series was successful despite the fact that Engle was thrown for a loss by Panther Sam Rengert once the Cadets got down to the FHS nine-yard-line.
That didn’t matter as Tyler Fisher ran the jet sweep for an 11-yard touchdown.
The extra point failed, but Fort Frye had climbed to a 20-7 advantage.
Fairbanks began its next series near midfield, but had to punt after just three plays.
The Cadets were whistled for holding on the return and were forced to start at their own 15.
The home team soon found itself in a punting situation.
The Cadets, though, got new life when FHS was called for encroachment. That gave Fort Frye a fresh set of downs.
Engle engineered another scoring drive, which was capped by a 23-yard pass to Schilling.
The two-point conversion again failed, but with 3:48 left in the third quarter, the Cadets had built a 26-7 lead.
The Panthers showed they still had some fight left in them.
They came back with a scoring drive of their own.
Nicol connected with Beem on a 27-yard touchdown pass with 2:27 left in the quarter.
Smith’s extra point narrowed FHS’ gap to 26-14.
The Cadets scored their final touchdown on their first series of the fourth period.
Engle once again went airborne and hit Adkins with a 12-yard scoring pass.
FHS was called for roughing-the-passer on the play and the infraction was assessed on the ensuing kickoff.
Engle ended the scoring for the night when his two-point conversion pushed the Cadets out to a 34-14 advantage.
Fairbanks had the ball twice more down the stretch, but could not make much headway against the home team’s defense.
The Cadets regained possession with 2:38 to play. They snapped the ball three times before going into victory formation to end the contest.
FHS had respectable offensive numbers in the air as Nicol threw for 245 yards.
The ground game, which showed much improvement throughout the course of the season, managed just 68 yards.
“Our second-half defense kept bending and Fort Frye found a couple of gaps,” said Cotter. “That’s a good football team that is going to win more games.
“However, our guys are not walking off this field as losers,” he said.

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