ERIE – It fought valiantly, but Erie-Prophetstown could not overcome playing without its 3-year starting quarterback.
With senior QB Ethan Howard sidelined with a knee injury suffered in the first round, the Panthers battled. But they came up short in a 24-14 loss to Stillman Valley in a Class 3A second-round matchup in ferocious wind at Wayne Hein Field at Erie Middle School.
Sophomore Jordan Chandler, who appears bound for a brilliant high school career, tried to fill Howard’s shoes. But with its former halfback at quarterback, Erie-Prophetstown’s option attack was unable to run on all cylinders.
“Me and [Chandler] only had a week to practice to try to get what me and Ethan had for 10 games,” said fullback Nick Williams, who had 24 carries for 135 yards to surpass 2,000 yards for the season. “Jordan stepped up. He’s a great quarterback and a great runner. I’m proud of how he performed.”
“It hurt not having our starting quarterback out there,” said halfback Chris Bauer, who had 77 yards on nine carries. “He would have helped a lot, but our backup did great. We just made a few errors, and they made a couple big plays.”
Bauer got the Panthers (8-3) off and running. EP began the opening possession at its own 20. Seven running plays later, five by Williams and two by Bauer, the Panthers had a fourth-and-7 from the Stillman Valley 47.
They went for it. Bauer got it, and a lot more, busting loose for a touchdown. Williams added the two-point conversion, and EP led 8-0 with 7:24 left in the first quarter.
A botched Stillman Valley punt resulted in the Panthers tackling Cardinals punter Marcus Bower at the Stillman Valley 31.
Erie-Prophetstown was unable to cash in, however, as Chandler fumbled the ball away three plays later at the Cardinals’ 20.
Stillman Valley (9-2) rolled the dice to come up with its first touchdown. On fourth-and-3 from their own 19, the Cardinals went for it. Tristan Elliott burst through EP’s short-yardage defense and bolted 81 yards for a touchdown. Logan Alberts’ two-point run made it 8-8 with 7:29 left in the first half.
Late in the first half, mistakes cost EP dearly.
The Panthers’ Dylan Binion returned the ensuing kickoff 27 yards to midfield. But three plays later, an errant Chandler pitch resulted in another fumble, and the Cardinals recovered at their 37.
With just 1:05 until halftime, Stillman Valley started at its own 25. Elliott broke free again, bursting 43 yards to the Panthers’ 32. A late hit out of bounds tacked on 15 more yards to the 17.
The Cardinals reached the 12 before lining up for a field goal on fourth-and-5. But, the Panthers jumped offsides, giving Stillman first-and-goal at the 7. Two plays later, 6-foot-2, 230-pound fullback Zac Hare scored a 2-yard touchdown with just 6.7 seconds left. Elliott’s two-point run made it 16-8.
Stillman Valley turned the ball over on downs at its own 29 on the first possession of the second half. Again, EP could not convert, losing 5 yards on three plays before punting.
The Cardinals fumbled the ball away at the Panthers’ 46 with 6:03 left in the third quarter. This time, EP made it count. A pair of 14-yard runs by Williams set up a 1-yard plunge by Chandler.
But, the two-point run attempt by Williams was stuffed, and the Panthers trailed 16-14 with 1.1 seconds left in the third quarter.
Stillman Valley answered, putting the game away with a 74-yard TD drive. A 36-yard run by Elliott highlighted the march, which was capped by a 1-yard TD by Hare. Alberts’ two-point run made it 24-14 with 7:07 to play.
“It was kind of that find-a-way-to-win playoff performance,” Cardinals coach Mike Lalor said. “It wasn’t real pretty, but when we had to make plays, we made plays. We also had a couple big breaks go our way.”
Williams wound up with 2,094 yards on the season.
“I never in my life expected to run fullback and eclipse 2,000 yards in a season,” said Williams, who ran for 422 as a halfback last season. “It feels amazing. I can’t even explain it. It’s awesome.”
Would it have been a different game with Howard?
“Yes, but I don’t want to take anything away from Jordan,” EP coach Chuck Miem said. “I don’t put any blame there. But Ethan makes a difference. There’s no doubt.”