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Chargers Top Pana To Advance To Semifinals

Tough defense, efficient offense, and a couple of big special teams plays were the formula Illini West used this past Saturday to beat the visiting Pana Panthers 54-16 in a 3-A football quarterfinal match-up at Carthage's Fuzz Berges Field.

Charger quarterback Zane Schmudlach scored three touchdowns on only four rushing attempts and threw a touchdown pass on his only pass attempt to spearhead the IW offensive attack against a highly-touted Pana defense. Pana came into the game having given up only 49 points in nine regular season games and 70 total for the season. The Chargers would put up 40 before the first half ended to shock the Panthers and their fans on this cold November afternoon.

Meanwhile the Charger defense pitched a shutout for three quarters, before Pana finally got a couple of late touchdowns against the IW reserves. The Panthers ground attack was ground to a virtual halt by the fired up Charger defense. The Pana passing attack didn't fare much better.

Getting the ball rolling for Illini West were the special teams after a defensive stop by the Chargers forced a Pana punt from deep in their own territory, an errant Panther snap caused the Pana punter to be tackled in his own end zone for a safety and a 2-0 Charger lead.

On the ensuing Pana kick-off, Charger senior halfback Ser Whitaker took a reverse hand-off, and raced down the east side 63 yards to a score. Whitaker also added the successful 2-point conversion run for a 10-0 Charger lead midway through the first quarter.

The Charger defense got the ball back shortly after when it forced the Panthers to come up short on a 4th and two from just across midfield. IW took advantage with a drive featuring several runs by fullback Kyle Huss. QB Zane Schmudlach capped the drive with the first of his three touchdown runs, a 1-yard plunge over the offensive left side. Another successful Whitaker conversion run put IW on top by an 18-0 score.

The next Charger score came in more exciting fashion when Illini West regained possession following another Pana punt. This time Schmudlach would take to the air and hit Whitaker on a 57-yard scoring strike down the east sideline into the north endzone. This time the conversion run failed, but the Chargers now led 24-0 at the start of the 2nd period.

IW's next score came in equally dramatic style when Schmudlach ran an option play to the left behind good blocks by tight end Colin Beals, tackle Brian Lafferty, and guard Jack Carlisle. After a fake to his fullback, the IW signal caller attacked the left side of Pana's defense, gave a nifty pitch fake to freeze the Panther defense, and then raced 63 yards to another Charger score. Schmudlach then found senior tight end Dylan Pieper in the far right corner of the north endzone for a successful 2-point conversion and a 32-0 IW lead.

The Chargers and Schmudlach would post one more score just before the half ended. This time the Charger QB ran option right behind nice blocking from the tight end Dylan Pieper, tackle Dylan Van Fleet, and guard Mason Beals. Schmudlach raced through the opening created and dashed the final 5 yards into the endzone with only 10 seconds left on the first half clock. This time Schmudlach hit tight end Chris Holtsclaw in the opposite corner of the endzone for the conversion stretching the Charger lead to 40-0 and setting the continuous clock in motion for the 2nd half.

The Charger reserves came on in the second half and soon found the end zone, after Trey Ourth recovered the IW kick-off to start the third period. Back-up QB Cole Carson dove in from one-yard out to make the score 46-0 in favor of the host Chargers.

Pana finally salvaged a bit of pride with a couple of fourth quarter scores to draw to 46-16. The Chargers then threw a final punch when junior halfback Kyle Miller took a hand-off on a sweep right, cut back against the defensive pursuit, and then outran everyone for a 54-yard touchdown. Sophomore halfback Alex Appel tacked on the 2-point conversion run to set the final score at 54-16 Illini West.

The Charger offense amassed 344 total yards on only 40 total plays. They gained 287 yards on the ground and Schmudlach completed his only pass for an additional 57 yards. Fullback Kyle Huss had 9 carries for 79 yards to top the IW ground attack. Zane Schmudlach added 77 yards on 4 carries, while Miller had 60 yards on two carries. Also carrying the ball for the Chargers were Drake Schmudlach (50 yards), Ser Whitaker (31 yards), Clay Huston (19 yards), Cole Carson, and Conner Beals.

The Illini West defense held down the Pana offense while the outcome was still in doubt, and the Panthers finished with 170 total yards. The Charger defense was sparked by an 8 tackle performance by senior defensive back Kevin Bray. Senior linebacker Jack Carlisle had 7 tackles, including one for loss. Senior linebacker Brandon Gehle finished with 5 total stops, while junior defensive end Kayden Guyman had 4 tackles, including the stop of the punter for the safety.

Also on the Charger tackle chart were Chris Beaver (4 tackles), Brian Lafferty (3 tackles), Connor Beals (3), Cody Carson (3), Jack Bastert (3), and Ethan Lillard (3). Chipping in with 2 tackles each were Trey Bartlett, Steven Miller, Drake Schmudlach, Hayden Fox, Kyle Miller, Sonny Little, and Coulton Wascher. Others accounting for stops by the IW defense were Jacob Jacoby, Ser Whitaker, Dylan Van Fleet, Kirby Fecht and Kyle Palmer.

The Chargers now advance to the semifinal round of the IHSA Class 3-A play-offs. They are set to host Mount Carmel this Saturday afternoon at Fuzz Berges Field in Carthage. The kick-off is set for 1:00 p.m. The Golden Aces come in at 11-1 and are coming off a 34-0 shutout win over DuQuoin in the quarterfinals. They feature a mix of pass and option run and will be a tough pairing for the host Chargers.