CHARITON — Creston/O-M successfully opened the 2013 season with a 50-20 victory over Chariton Friday night.
After falling behind 7-0 in the first quarter on a 65-yard punt return, the Panthers scored 40 unanswered points to take a 40-7 lead early in the fourth period.
With liberal substituting in the fourth quarter, the Panthers allowed two long touchdown passes to all-state tight end candidate T.J. Hockenson. Creston/O-M’s second unit also scored, on a 59-yard pass play from Alex Nielsen to Gavin Leith, and Conner Pals finished a productive night with a 27-yard field goal.
Pals also scored two TDs — one rushing and one on a pass reception from Brandon Phipps — and had a starting role in the defensive secondary. Nielsen also had a passing reception touchdown, in addition to a TD on his only throw, and started at defensive safety.
Chariton coach Curt Smyser said the Panthers’ depth made a big difference on a sweltering night. It was 95 degrees with no wind at kickoff, after the Panther freshmen defeated Chariton 35-0 in triple-digit temperatures. Eight-minute quarters and frequent breaks were part of that contest. It was still 92 at halftime of the varsity game.
Chariton had the early edge, driving into Creston/O-M territory on an 11-play ball-control drive before stalling on the opening possession, and then scoring first on a 65-yard punt return by Stephen McCurdy.
The teams traded turnovers in successive possessions in the second period, which ended with the Panthers holding a 13-7 halftime lead. A 20-point third quarter stretched the advantage to 33-7. Hockenson, a 6-5, 185-pound sophomore, scored twice in the fourth period while finishing with 180 yards on six catches.
Converted guard Adam Baker had a big night in the Panther backfield, rushing for 159 yards and a 3-yard touchdown. Pals also had a 25-yard TD scamper.
Phipps was 8-of-12 passing for 94 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. Bryce Briley had a 34-yard scoring catch, Nielsen’s TD reception was 13 yards and Pals was open on a play-action toss for an 8-yard score.
“It was a good start for us,” said Creston/O-M coach Brian Morrison. “Everybody got a chance to play, and our kids deserved that because they’ve worked hard the past three weeks and throughout the summer.”
Morrison said the record-setting late August heat wave was a concern going into the game. Hydration was stressed all week, and player rotations were planned to give breaks. However, players like Baker, Trevor Frain, Seth Maitlen and Tayler Pettit toiled on both sides much of the night with few rests.
“Our conditioning was good,” Morrison said. “We didn’t have kids cramp up. I wanted kids to play hard. We were rotating seven guys on the offensive line and six on the defensive line. You build depth with 74 kids out, and that helps.”
The original offensive plan was to alternate Baker and Frain at fullback and tailback, with Pals working in at tailback. It soon became apparent that Baker was a force at the feature back position, with Frain as his lead blocker out of the backfield.
“We were just trying to figure out who is better at where,” offensive coordinator Darrell Frain said. “Right now we’re a little bit better with Trevor blocking at H back. If that works, we’ll just leave him there and let Baker and Pals switch off at F back and keep them fresh. We pound the ball and get some play-action (passing) out of it for big plays. We were able to do that tonight.”
Defensively, Jesse Rathe had an interception for the Panthers and Frain, the Panthers’ all-state linebacker, had 12 total tackles, including three solo stops. Senior quarterback Christian Bengston was knocked out of the game, literally, on a crunching hit by Frain in the third quarter as he rolled out and released a pass.
Trainers said Bengston was completely knocked out for a time, and suffered obvious concussion symptoms upon regaining consciousness. He was taken off the field by a transport vehicle for observation at a local medical facility. Junior Quin Storm played quarterback the rest of the way for the Chargers, finishing with 224 passing yards.
But on his first series, Storm fumbled and Panther cornerback Maxx Walters scooped up the ball for a 28-yard return to make it 26-7.
Morrison, also the team’s defensive coordinator, felt it was a solid debut, except for some big plays allowed in the fourth quarter.
“On that punt return we had him three times, and I thought we got blocked in the back all three times, honestly,” Morrison said. “We played our basic defense tonight. Kids flew around and played hard. There were some early wrinkles by them we hadn’t seen, and we adjusted well on the fly.”
Chariton coach Curt Smyser, hopeful for an improved season after consecutive 1-8 campaigns, gave credit to the Panthers for their play after the Chargers’ success moving the ball in the opening minutes.
“You know what, they just played better than us up front,” Smyser said. “They had more kids to sub than we did, and the weather sucks tonight. They are a good football team up front. Losing our senior leader (Bengston) with nine minutes to go in the third quarter affected us the rest of the way. He’s a good two-way player for us.”
Casey Tanner, former Panther lineman who now coaches the offensive and defensive lines on Morrison’s staff, likes the team’s power-running combination and its ability to open up passing opportunities for Phipps and a large corps of capable receivers.
“Guys like Baker and Pettit never run out of gas,” Tanner said. “Baker never gives up when he’s running with the ball. Our guards get on their blocks enough that guys aren’t going to be able to reach out and arm-tackle Baker or Frain.”
Nine different players carried the ball for Creston/O-M in the game, and seven different receivers had at least one catch. Nielsen, who garnered all-district punting honors a year ago, averaged 41.7 yards on three punts.
The Panthers are at home Friday against Clarinda, a 7-3 loser to Atlantic in the opener.