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Panthers seeking return trip to postseason

Playoff push

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(Alex T. Paschal/apaschal@saukvalley.com)
Erie-Prophetstown quarterback Ethan Howard fires a pass during a Class 3A playoff game against Newman last year at Roscoe Eades Stadium. The Panthers lost the game but qualified for the playoffs for the first time since 2002.

ERIE – Last year, Erie-Prophetstown tasted the playoffs for the first time in 10 years. This year the Panthers want seconds.

In 2012, EP was led by all-stater Zach Inskeep, who rushed for 1,125 yards and 17 touchdowns, and was second on the team with 91 tackles.

The Panthers went 5-5 last season. They were 5-4 in the Three Rivers Conference, finishing fifth. They lost their Class 3A first-round playoff matchup with conference foe Newman, 21-6.

How will EP replace Inskeep, who sixth-year head coach Chuck Milem called, "The best player I've ever coached."

"You can't just replace Zach Inskeep," said senior quarterback/defensive end Ethan Howard, who enters his third year as the starting QB. "It's a team thing. We can't individually replace certain people, but we've got the guys who can step in."

A healthy Howard will be one of those guys. Banged up for much of last season, Howard passed for 595 yards and rushed for 327. Among others who will be relied upon to pick up Inskeep's slack are senior halfbacks Chris Bauer and Nick Williams.

Last season, Williams rushed for 422 yards and was the team's leading receiver with 257 yards. Bauer is also the team's top cornerback, according to Milem.

"I think it will be harder for the defenses, because we have multiple weapons," Bauer said.

Bauer, Howard and Milem all sang the praises of the Panthers' offensive line, which is led by 3-year starter Owen McConnell, the right guard; left guard Kenneth Cole; and center Kyle Coleman.

"Every team has good skill kids, but to me it's what do you have up front?" Milem said. "Our conference is so physical, but those three guys that are coming back up front are pretty impressive. They will make us competitive."

While they broke the playoff ice last year, the Panthers want more.

"It definitely was a big step for our program, and I think we're going to build off that success and get better," Bauer said. "Now we know what it feels like."

"We're starting a tradition," Howard said. "We're going to be better than last year. It makes us work harder, because teams aren't going to overlook us anymore. Now, we're going to get everybody's best. We like that challenge. We're ready for it."

Upward trend?

• The Panthers won more than three games for the first time since 2003 with their five wins last season. They made the playoffs for the first time in a decade, a quantum leap from a one-win campaign in 2011. EP must replace leading tackler Cody Beyer (112).

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