FARMINGTON -- After his team defeated Farmington Central 27-7 in the second round of the Class 3A playoffs, Paxton-Buckley-Loda head coach Josh Pritchard said to his team, "Even a bus can't slow us down."
The Panthers left Paxton at 12:45 p.m. for a game originally scheduled to kick off at 5 p.m., but the opening kickoff was delayed 45 minutes due to PBL's team bus breaking down in the middle of its 100-plus mile journey on Towanda Barnes Road in Bloomington.
It took more than 45 minutes to get a rental bus from First Student in Normal, but the team used it as an opportunity to to stretch their legs -- and practice some plays in a nearby cornfield.
"We thought it was maybe a blessing in disguise," Pritchard said. "It was nice to get our blood flowing. We told our kids we don't care when the lights come on. We're going to play football, and that's what they did."
The Panthers took a 14-0 lead into halftime despite concerns from PBL senior Hunter Anderson.
"I was getting a little nervous. I thought we were going to come out of focus and put up an awful first half, but they showed me completely wrong," Anderson said. "They got focused really quick and they made sure we got business done tonight."
"That was a little fun, a little team bonding, and we didn't let it slow us down," Schrodt added.
It had been a while
With the win over Farmington Central (8-3), PBL (9-2) is going to the state quarterfinals for the first time since 1998.
"There are so many feelings going through me," PBL senior Drake Schrodt said after the game.
The Panthers are in the playoffs for the sixth straight year, and played in the second round for the fourth time in five years. Anderson's older brother, Jordan, was a senior captain for the 2014 PBL team that started the playoff streak.
"I don't even know how to put it in words. It's such an amazing feeling," Anderson said. "This team is my family. I don't know what I'd do without them."
For Pritchard, the second-round win came one week after gaining his first career playoff win as a head coach.
"I'm super proud of these kids. I know they're excited, and they should be," Pritchard said. "These kids talk about wanting to go farther than any other team in the last few years. We felt like if we got a decent draw, then we had a chance to get to certain places. We physically got after Farmington. I'm super excited to be in the quarterfinals, especially in my first year."
The Panthers went 75 yards in 12 plays on their opening drive, capped by a 1-yard touchdown by Drake Schrodt that gave PBL a 6-0 lead with 5:07 left in the first quarter.
Farmington Central had the first possession of the game, starting from its own 33-yard line.
After Dridyn Lewis gained four yards on a running play on the first play from scrimmage, Blake Springer went for 14 yards on a sweep to the right side, moving the ball to PBL's 49-yard line.
Springer ran for two yards on the next play before Lewis gained four yards on second down and was stopped for a loss of one yard on third-and-four.
From there, the Farmers punted to PBL's 25-yard line.
"I think we kind of celebrated that they punted on fourth-and-short," Pritchard said. "They were kind of rolling there.
Anderson started PBL's ensuing drive with a 6-yard run before Schrodt gained a first down on a running play. Following an incomplete pass and an offsides penalty on Farmington Central, Schrodt ran for two yards on second-and-5.
The Panthers were called for a false start on third down, but an Anderson run, combined with a facemask penalty by the Farmers, moved the ball to Farmington Central's 24-yard line.
Three runs by Belt combined to produce 11 yards and gave the Panthers another first down on the 13-yard line. After Anderson scampered for 12 yards, Schrodt plunged the ball into the end zone on first-and-goal.
With the Farmers starting a junior -- Josh McMillan -- at quarterback and Corbin Rutledge -- a sophomore -- as the team's leading receiver with 27 receptions for 706 yards and six touchdowns going into Saturday's game, Pritchard said he wanted to put the pressure on Farmington Central.
"We told them we want to play (with the lead) because we know we can grind out the clock," Pritchard said. "We felt like they'll start panicking a little bit and start chucking the ball."
The Panthers gained all 75 of their yards on the drive via the run as they went into halftime with 158 rushing yards while starting quarterback went 2-for-4 passing for 24 yards in the first half.
"When we did try to throw the ball down the field, they were on us," Pritchard said. "They've got a really good defensive line, and they were all over us, so we just wanted to grind out a victory, and once we got a lead, we knew that our run game's been able to do that. We've got an animal at running back and an offensive line that just wants to hit people. It's awesome."
The Farmers went three-and-out on their ensuing possession, as Springer was tackled by the PBL defense for a loss of two yards on a screen pass reception on third-and-5.
After regaining the ball on its own 19-yard line, PBL produced 13 plays on the drive, starting with a 4-yard run by Anderson. Jarred Gronsky went for nine yards on a sweep to the right side on second down.
Belt ran for eight yards on the next play before Anderson gained 17 yards on second-and-2 on a run play. Schrodt gained another 13 yards on a screen pass reception to the right side.
After three runs by Anderson resulted in a combined seven yards, Belt scampered for 16 yards on fourth-and-3, moving the ball to Farmington Central's 9-yard line.
Two runs by Schrodt and a direct-snap run by Gavin Coplea on second down combined to gain five yards before Belt was tackled by the Farmers' Eric Wiedemann for no gain on fourth-and-goal, forcing PBL to turn the ball over on downs on the Farmers' 4-yard line.
Two plays later, however, PBL got the ball back on Farmington Central's 9-yard line via a fumble recovery on a backwards screen pass. Two plays later, Schrodt went 10 yards on a screen pass from Gunner Belt to extend the Panthers' lead to 14-0 with 9:02 left in the second quarter.
"We drove down when it mattered and scored when it mattered," Schrodt said.
On their ensuing possession -- and the last full drive they would get for the first half -- McMillan started the drive with a 4-yard run. Two plays later, Springer ran to PBL's 47-yard line on third-and-3.
After being called for a false start, Farmington Central committed a holding penalty on the following play, resulting in a first-and-33. McMillan ran for three yards on first down before Lewis gained 10 yards via a screen pass and Lewis ran for nine yards on third down.
On fourth-and-11, however, McMillan threw an incomplete pass, giving PBL the ball back on its own 49-yard line.
"We stopped them on defense, and that was a good feeling," Anderson said. "They're a good football team, probably one of the best we've seen all year."
Anderson ran for a yard on the first play of PBL's ensuing drive before Belt ran for eight yards on second down. Schrodt then took a direct snap and ran for three yards to move the ball to Farmington Central's 39-yard line.
Anderson then ran for seven yards before Belt scampered eight yards to move the ball to the 24-yard line. From there, however, Anderson was stopped for a loss of one yard on first down before Belt was sacked by Jaden Rutledge on second-and-11.
Anderson ran for 10 yards on third-and-21 before timeout was called by PBL with 20.8 seconds remaining in the first half. On fourth down, Belt threw an incomplete pass intended for Schrodt in the end zone.
As a result, the Farmers' defense forced PBL to turn the ball over on downs on Farmington Central's 25-yard line with less than 20 seconds left in the first half.
An intentional grounding penalty by the Farmers followed before a rushing attempt by Lewis ended the first half.
The Panthers had 36 offensive plays in the first half, compared to 24 for the Farmers.
"We really controlled the ball this game, and hopefully, we can do the same next week," Schrodt said.
Making a statement
On PBL's first possession of the second half, Anderson scampered 37 yards to score a touchdown with 10:06 left in the third quarter.
"We said we needed to score coming out on that first possession, which we did, which is phenomenal," Pritchard said.
Anderson went into the game as the Panthers' leading rusher with 1,196 yards, on what Pritchard estimated on 11 yards per carry.
"Hunter Anderson's an absolute animal. Earlier in the year, we did not give him the ball," Pritchard said. "We want to give the ball to our dudes, and our dude just made a lot of plays. He continuously makes me super proud of him, and I'm sure the rest of the community's proud of him, too."
Anderson also blocked a punt in the fourth quarter. He then scooped up the ball and returned it five yards for a touchdown that extended the Panthers' lead to 27-7 with 9:11 remaining in the game.
"I'm going to give my hat to Kayden Snelling because if he didn't move that wing out, I wouldn't have had a shot," Anderson said. "I'm going to give the credit to him. After I blocked it, I said I've got to make a play, and I got in."
The Farmers fight back
Following Anderson third-quarter touchdown, Farmington Central was called for false start on the first play of its ensuing drive. McMillan ran for two yards on first-and-15 before throwing an incomplete pass on second down intended for Jaden Rutledge, with PBL's Colton Coy on the coverage.
On third-and-13, Coy tackled Dalton Powell on a screen pass, forcing the Farmers to punt on fourth-and-10 to PBL's 38-yard line.
Belt ran for nine yards on the first play of the Panthers' next drive. Two plays later, Belt ran for a first down on third-and-1, moving the ball to Farmington Central's 48-yard line.
Anderson gained 24 yards on a screen pass to the left side, but Belt was stopped for a loss of one yard on the ensuing first-down run. Belt then ran for four yards on second down before Coplea was stopped for no gain on a sweep to the right side.
On fourth-and-7, Belt threw to Drew Diesburg in the end zone, but the pass fell incomplete, giving the Farmers the ball back on their own 21-yard line.
Corbin Rutledge caught a pass on the next play for a gain of 22 yards. Three plays later, another reception by Corbin Rutledge, combined with a personal-foul penalty by PBL, moved the ball to the Panthers' 23-yard line.
Corbin Rutledge then caught another pass, and PBL committed another personal-foul penalty, to move the ball to the 6-yard line.
Following a false-start penalty and an incomplete pass on first-and-goal, Springer reached the end zone on a sweep to the left side, cutting the Farmers' deficit to 21-7 with 1:31 left in the third quarter.
After PBL took over on its own 30-yard line, Anderson ran for 10 yards. After gaining four yards on the next play, Anderson was tackled by Farmington Central's Broe Shymansky on second down.
Anderson ran for one yard on third-and-9 before PBL punted the ball into the end zone for a touchback, giving the Farmers the ball back on their own 20-yard line with 10:29 left in the fourth quarter.
Sealing the deal
Coy tackled Springer for no gain on a screen pass on first down before Alex Rueck deflected a second-down pass attempt behind the line of scrimmage.
Clayton Robidoux tackled Lewis for a loss of two yards on screen pass on third-and-10 prior to Anderson's blocked punt return for a touchdown.
On the first play of Farmington Central's ensuing possession, Diesburg recorded his sixth interception of the season and returned it to the Farmers' 27-yard line.
The Panthers went three-and-out and punted to Farmington Central's own 10-yard line.
After the Farmers were called for a false start on first down, Rueck deflected another pass behind the line of scrimmage on first-and-15. Powell caught a pass for nine yards before Farmington Central was called for a holding penalty on a reception by Jaden Rutledge.
Kayden Snelling and Wyatt Hollen then sacked McMillan on third-and-15, forcing the Farmers to punt to their 38-yard line.
After Schrodt caught a pass for nine yards, PBL was called for a holding penalty on second-and-1. Belt was stopped for a loss of four yards on second-and-10 before Anderson was tackled for a loss of three yards on third-and-14, forcing the Panthers to punt to Farmington Central's 20-yard line with 2:03 remaining in the game.
Springer ran for nine yards before plunging for a first down, moving the ball to the Farmers' own 30-yard line. Powell caught a pass for another 10 yards, but on the next play, Gronsky recorded his fourth interception of the season with 37.8 seconds left in the game.
From there, PBL kneeled out the clock to end the contest.
The fifth-seeded Panthers will once again be on the road for the quarterfinals as they travel to face top-seeded Princeton (10-1).
"I know those kids are super excited, and we want to continue and, hopefully, get to the semifinals next week," Pritchard said.
If PBL can pull off a win over Princeton, it will be in the semifinals for the first time since 1995.
"The road doesn't stop. We have to keep moving," Anderson said. "We have to keep going toward our goals."
PBL 27, Farmington 7
PBL 6 8 7 6 -- 27
FARM 0 0 7 0 -- 7
P -- Schrodt 1 run (run failed)
P -- Schrodt 10 pass from Belt (Coplea pass from Belt)
P -- Anderson 37 run (Wilson kick)
F -- Springer 11 run (Gronewald kick)
P -- Anderson 5 blocked punt return (kick failed)