PAXTON — Paxton-Buckley-Loda jumped out to an early lead and never looked back en route to a 46-6 win in the first round of the Class 3A playoffs over Chicago Carver.
It is the fourth time in five years that PBL (8-2) has reached the second round, and the first career playoff win for first-year head coach Josh Pritchard.
“It feels good to be in the second round. I tip my hat to these kids,” Pritchard said. “They’ve done everything I’ve asked them to do. All I do is call the play, and they go out and execute, and I appreciate it.”
The Panthers scored 30 unanswered points in the first quarter.
“I think that’s the quickest start we’ve had all year," Pritchard said. “We did what we wanted to do against them. It was a super-physical game, and I can’t be more proud of these kids to do exactly what I asked them to do all week.”
One week after overcoming a 21-6 halftime deficit against Dwight, it was their desire to come out firing in the first half of Saturday’s playoff game.
“That’s something that our coach really emphasized before the game,” PBL senior quarterback Gunner Belt said. “We knew we’ve been looked at as a second-half team. He just wanted to emphasize that we want to win every quarter, so we had to come out fired up and get on them early to try and end the game as soon as possible.”
The fast start followed a week of practice that Pritchard said was, for the most part, of good quality, while Carver (6-3) had only three days of practice as it waited for the Chicago Teachers Union and Chicago Public Schools to end their strike.
The CTU and CPS came to a tentative agreement on Thursday, and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and the CTU agreed to make up five of the days missed during the union's strike, opening CPS schools would be open the Friday prior to Saturday's game. The CPS also allowed the football teams to practice on Wednesday and Thursday during the strike, avoiding the need for CPS football teams to have to forfeit under the IHSA's bylaws, which require a football team to have three practices before playing a game if the team hasn’t practiced in seven days.
In the meantime, PBL had a "business as usual" approach to its week of practice, according to Pritchard.
“We practiced hard all week. We had one practice that wasn’t very good, but I think the kids came back the very next day super-focused," Pritchard said. "They knew it wasn’t a great practice."
Hunter Anderson ran for a 60-yard touchdown on the first play from scrimmage to give PBL an 8-0 lead after Gunner Belt ran the two-point conversion attempt into the end zone.
“I got through that first level, and then I just saw the hole open up. At that point, I decided in my head that I can’t go down,” Anderson said. “I’ve got to keep the energy that’s flowing around in this place. The atmosphere today was great. On that first play, I just said that I have to keep going and try to get as many yards as I can.”
After the PBL defense forced a three-and-out, the Panthers started their ensuing drive on Carver's 33-yard line. Anderson ran for a loss of two yards, Belt ran for five yards and PBL was called for a false-start penalty before Anderson ran for 12 yards on third-and-12 to give the Panthers a first down.
Schrodt then ran for three yards before Drew Diesburg made a reception to move the ball to the 5-yard line.
Schrodt ran for a touchdown on a direct snap, but it was called back via a block-in-the-back penalty. After Carver was called for an encroachment on first-and-goal from the 14-yard line, Anderson was untouched on a 9-yard touchdown screen pass with 7:03 left in the opening quarter, the first of two screen passes thrown by Belt for a score. Belt ran the ball in for a two-point conversion to make the score 16-0.
“My hat’s off to the line. They did a phenomenal job," Anderson said. "The receivers did a phenomenal job of blocking. Even when I wasn’t touching the ball — when I was cramping up trying to fix my leg — my teammates just picked it up and scored. Overall, it’s an all-team effort. Nothing, especially in football, is based on one person.”
Following another Carver three-and-out, PBL took the ball on Carver's 49-yard line.
Schrodt ran for 17 yards on the first play of the drive before Jarred Gronsky gained 11 yards via a reception. Anderson ran for three yards before Belt scored on an 18-yard run with 3:14 remaining in the first quarter.
“It was just a great team effort all around," Belt said. "We came out fired up. Our offensive line made great blocks, and, between me and our running backs, we just ran the ball really hard.”
The Panthers forced Carver to turn the ball over on downs at midfield before Anderson scampered for 37 yards on the first play of PBL's ensuing possession. After Anderson gained one yard on first-and-10 from the 12-yard line, Schrodt scampered for an 11-yard touchdown with 7.1 seconds remainign in the first quarter, and a pass from Belt to Colton Coy resulted in a two-point conversion that extended PBL's lead to 30-0.
The Panthers took over on their own 5-yard line on their next possession.
After Carver was called for an encroachment penalty, Anderson gained 26 yards on a first-and-5 run. Belt ran for five yards on first down before completing a pass to Gronsky on second-and-5 to move the ball to PBL's own 48-yard line.
Belt was stopped for a loss of two yards on first down before Carver was called for an encroachment penalty. Schrodt then gained 12 yards via a screen pass to the right side, moving the ball to Carver's 35-yard line.
Anderson ran for three yards on first down and 11 yards on second-and-7. Belt than ran for four yards before completing a pass to Schrodt that was called back via offsetting penalties.
After an incomplete pass, Schrodt scored on a 17-yard screen pass, again to the right side, with 3:44 left in the second quarter.
“We’ve used the screen quite a bit this year. I think that’s probably the most open he’s been, too. It was a great job by our kids of getting out in the open field,” Pritchard said. “The quarterback sold it well, and then obviously, he’s just got to make the catch and walk into the end zone, and that’s what he did.”
Prior to Carver's ensuing possession, the Challengers picked up only two first downs. In between Belt's and Schrodt's rushing touchdowns, Devin Walton was stopped short of the first-down marker on a fourth-and-1 on a quarterback sneak.
Two plays prior, Jonathan Benson was tackled by Anderson and Wyatt Hollen on a second-and-4 for a loss of three yards.
After Michael Cole Jr. ran for five yards on the first play of Carver's next possession, Schrodt tackled Walton for a loss of six yards before Fernando Aguirre caught a pass for a first down on Carver's 33-yard line. Alex Rueck knocked down a Walton pass attempt before Cole Jr. gained six yards on a sweep right and was stopped for no gain on third-and-4.
After Carver was called for a delay of game on fourth down, the Challengers punted.
Carver's ensuing possession started on its own 36-yard line before Jonathan Benson caught a pass for 11 yards. Cole Jr. ran for no gain before Aguirre caught a pass to move the ball to PBL's 37-yard line.
Benson then caught a screen pass for 18 yards to move the ball to the red zone. Cole was tackled by Anderson for a loss of two yards before Aguirre dropped a second-and-12 pass. After Carver was called for a false start, Wyatt Hollen sacked quarterback Devin Walton for a loss of eight yards on third-and-17.
An incomplete pass forced Carver to turn the ball over on downs with 1:35 left in the second quarter.
The Panthers’ starting defense pitched a shutout as Carver scored its lone touchdown during running-clock time in the fourth quarter.
“Our defense flew around. We made the stops we needed to,” Pritchard said. “Our defense got the three-and-outs, especially early in the game.”
On its final possession of the second quarter, PBL started on its own 35-yard line. Anderson ran for nine yards before an incomplete pass on second down.
Carver was called for an encroachment penalty on third-and-1 before Anderson ran for eight yards. An incomplete pass was followed by a Belt run for the first down that moved the ball to the Challengers' 37-yard line.
Screen passes to Anderson and Coy each resulted in a loss of yards on second-and-10 and third-and-11, respectively, before time ran out in the second quarter.
After Clayton Robidoux recovered a squib kick on the second-half kickoff, giving PBL the ball on Carver's 34-yard line, Belt ran for 20 yards on a third-and-2 before Anderson scored again on a 5-yard run with 10:38 left in the third quarter and Landon Wilson kicked a 46-yard field goal.
Anderson would finish the game with 180 yards on 12 carries while the Panthers gained almost 350 total yards on offense in the first half.
“Our run game has been going pretty well, especially toward the end of the year. We’ve gotten it going. Our linemen want to block. I told people when I took this job that I wanted to be a physical football team and run the football first, and we wanted to throw it, too,” Pritchard said. “We’ve been able to run the football when we wanted to essentially, especially today. We hope it can continue in the playoffs because we know with the cold weather and the wind, (the weather’s) only going to get worse.”
Anderson had a big day on the ground despite a strained calf that he had since "week five or six," he says.
“With our trainers and the excellent staff that they have, I’ve been trying to keep playing every week and keep it going," Anderson said.
On Carver's first offensive play from scrimmage of the second half, a fumbled handoff was recovered by PBL's Draven Scroggins, giving the Panthers the ball back at the Challengers' 30-yard line.
With Mason Bruns taking over at quarter, and with a running clock in effect due to PBL's 40-0 lead, Zac Jayne ran for 11 yards on third-and-9. Following an encroachment penalty by Carver, two runs by Jayne and a 1-yard run by Bruns on third-and-2, Landon Wilson -- who made an extra point following Anderson's third-quarter touchdown -- made a 25-yard field goal with 3:57 left in the third quarter.
Carver scored its lone touchdown via a 14-yard pass from Devin Walton to Fernando Aguirre with 11:52 left in the fourth quarter.
The Challengers started the scoring drive on their own 29-yard line. Cole Jr. ran on fourth-and-4 to PBL's 42-yard line.
Benson ran for nine yards before Cole ran for 19 yards on third-and-1 two plays later. Aguirre scored on the next play.
“We’re going to go back to work because our goal is not to give up points ever. We’ve got to work with those kids because you never know when they’re going to get in the ballgame," Pritchard said. "We’ve got to talk about finishing the game and making sure we don’t give up any points at all.”
Dalton Busboom recovered the ensuing onside kick for PBL at midfield.
Kayden Snelling caught a pass for nine yards on third-and-10 before Bruns gained a first down via a quarterback sneak. Three plays later, Snelling caught a pass for nine yards on third-and-11.
On the ensuing fourth-and-2, Jayne gained a first down on an option to the right side. Snelling caught another pass on second-and-12 to move the ball to the 10-yard line, but Carver's Devon Jarmon recovered a fumble on the next play, giving the Challengers the ball back on their own 12-yard line.
Following an incomplete pass, Cole ran for 12 yards on second-and-10 and caught a pass for another 12 yards. The drive ended, however, via an interception by PBL's Aiden Johnson.
The Panthers will play in at Farmington (8-2), which beat Seneca 28-14 in its first-round game on Saturday, at 5 p.m. next Saturday. PBL beat Sangamon Valley Conference foe Seneca 22-18 in week four.
“That’s going to be an even tougher opponent, especially on the road after a two-hour drive,” Pritchard said. “Hopefully, we get our kids focused and have a good game plan to go get a win.”
A win would give PBL its first trip to the state quarterfinals since 1998.
“The second round is nice, but I want to go as far as we can,” Anderson said. “I think that’s our team goal. We haven’t been past the second round in a long time. I think, overall, that’s what our goal is." We know Farmington’s going to be a tough team. We know we have to step it up and play our best team.”
“We just want to move past (the second round) and get to that next level," Belt added.
PBL 46, Chicago Carver 6
Carver 0 0 0 6 — 6
PBL 30 6 10 0 — 46
P -- Anderson 60 run (Belt run)
P -- Anderson 9 pass from Belt (Belt run)
P -- Belt 18 run (pass failed)
P -- Schrodt 11 run (Coy pass from Belt)
P -- Schrodt 17 pass from Belt (pass failed)
P – Anderson 5 run (Wilson kick)
P – Wilson 25 FG
C – Aguirre 14 pass from Walton (run failed)