CLIFTON -- Through three quarters, Paxton-Buckley-Loda was tied at 14-14 with the No. 2-ranked Class 2A team in Clifton Central.
The Comets then scored 15 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to run away with a 29-14 victory.
"We feel like we can compete with just about anybody, and I think we showed that this game," PBL head coach Josh Pritchard said. "We made too many mistakes, and I blew some play calls, and it just cost us. I didn't give our kids the best chance to win. I screwed up a lot of stuff, and I've got to sit back and think about what I can do to make things a lot better for our team so I can give us a chance to win more games."
After Jay Lemenager scored what would be the game-winning touchdown on a 23-yard run with 9:56 left in the game, PBL drove the ball toward midfield on its ensuing possession, but a deep pass thrown by Gunner Belt was intercepted by Chandler Burrow at the 15-yard line with 8:11 remaining.
It was the second of three interceptions thrown by Belt, and the third of four turnovers by the Panthers, including a lost fumble in the red zone late in the third quarter.
"It's not Gunner's fault," Pritchard said. "It's really my fault. I should have just stuck with what was working instead of trying to get cute, and I screwed the pooch on that one, and they capitalized, and they scored when it mattered."
The third-quarter fumble concluded an 11-play drive.
Anderson ran for five yards on the first play of that drive before the Comets were called for encroachment on second down. Anderson ran for six yards on the following play, and then for another first down on second-and-4, moving the ball to Clifton Central's 48-yard line.
Anderson then scampered for another eight yards before Belt ran for another first down, moving the ball to the 35-yard line. Caleb Toberman then tackled Belt for a loss of one yard before an incomplete pass on second down and a 1-yard screen pass to Drake Schrodt led to a fourth-and-10, on which Belt completed a pass to Drake Schrodt to move the chains.
From the 18-yard line, Anderson ran for four yards before Toberman recovered a bobbled snap on Clifton Central's own 19-yard line.
Burrow gained six yards on a screen pass reception and Lemenager was tackled by Clayton Robidoux on second down for a gain of two yards before Lemenager scampered for a first down to the Comets' own 35-yard line.
Graham ran for four yards on the final play of the third quarter. Lemenager ran for two yards on second down before completing a pass to Burrow on third-and-4 to move the ball to the PBL 45-yard line.
After an incomplete pass and a 3-yard run, Lemenager gained 19 yards on a third-down scamper. Lemenager ran for his game-winning touchdown on the ensuing play.
Prior to Burrow's interception, Diesburg received a pass on third-and-10 and Schrodt gained a first down via a 5-yard run on fourth-and-1.
The Comets' ensuing possession started with a 3-yard run by Garrett Graham before Lemenager scampered for 13 yards and a first down. On the next play, Lemenager completed a deep pass to Jacob Shoven for a gain of 45 yards, moving the ball to PBL's 14-yard line.
Graham scampered for 13 yards to move the ball to the 1-yard line, but a goal-line stand ensued as the PBL defense stopped Graham twice for no gain before Anderson tackled Lemenager for a loss of three yards on third down and Lemenager threw an incomplete pass intended for Caden Perry, giving the Panthers the ball back on their own 4-yard line with 3:26 remaining in the game.
"We feel like we played pretty good defense," Pritchard said.
Belt ran for five yards and Anderson gained three yards on second down Belt scampered for a first down, moving the ball to PBL's own 15-yard line.
Belt threw an incomplete pass intended for Schrodt before completing a pass to Schrodt for no gain on second down. After a dropped pass by Gavin Coplea on third-and-10, Belt slipped in the backfield on fourth down as he was rushed by Clifton Central's Logan Beherns, resulting in a turnover on downs at the PBL 2-yard line with 1:06 left in the game.
Six seconds later, Shoven scored a touchdown on a sweep to the left side, extending the Comets' lead to 29-14.
"I don't know why punched one in, but they did. We had to still stop them," Pritchard said. "They played better than us, and I got out-coached by a hall of fame coach."
With a 14-6 lead in the second quarter, Clifton Central drove into the red zone after PBL quarterback Gunner Belt was intercepted by Jacob Shoven, but the Panther defense forced the Comets to turn the ball over on downs.
On the first play of PBL's ensuing possession, Hunter Anderson ran for an 87-yard touchdown to tie the game at 14-14 with 3:20 remaining in the first half.
Following Shoven's interception, he gained 21 yards on a reverse run to the right side before Graham ran for 15 yards on the next play. Lemenager then ran for one yards before throwing an incomplete pass on second-and-9.
After Burrow ran for one yard, Lemenager then threw another incomplete pass on fourth down.
The Panthers gained a 6-0 lead in the first quarter via a 3-yard run by Drake Schrodt with 5:16 left in the first quarter.
The PBL defense forced a three-and-out after Clifton Central started its opening possession on its own 8-yard line. Graham ran for six yards before Lemenager threw an incomplete pass and Coplea tackled Shoven short of the first-down marker on a screen pass.
After PBL took over on the Comets' 49-yard line, Schrodt gained eight yards via a screen pass before gaining a first down via a run, moving the ball to the 37-yard line. Anderson ran for another eight yards before Belt plunged for another two yards and a first down.
Schrodt ran for four yards before Belt scampered for seven yards to move the ball to the 16-yard line. Belt then ran for seven yards before Toberman tackled Belt for a 1-yard loss on second down.
On third-and-4, Schrodt ran for a first down, moving the ball to the 6-yard line. Schrodt then had two 3-yard runs, including his 3-yard touchdown.
After Perry caught a pass for four yards on the first play of Clifton Central's ensuing possession. After Dalton Busboom tackled Graham for no gain on second down, Shoven ran for nine yards on a jet sweep to the left side.
Perry caught another pass for 14-yards before Burrow ran for two yards from PBL's 33-yard line. Graham was tackled by Jarred Gronsky after catching a screen pass for three yards before Burrow caught a pass from Lemenager for a 28-yard touchdown that tied the game at 6-6 with 1:54 left in the first quarter.
Two 3-yard runs by Belt started PBL's ensuing possession before Anderson ran for five yards on third-and-4. Belt then overthrew Schrodt, with Burrow in coverage, on first down before a screen pass to Schrodt resulted in three yards.
A fumble on a option pitch to the left side to Anderson resulted in a loss of six yards before PBL was forced to punt.
"They're obviously really good on defense, and they've got some darn good athletes on the outside," Pritchard said.
After regaining possession on PBL's 49-yard line, Draven Scroggins and Busboom pressured Lemenager to throw an incomplete pass before Gronsky broke up a pass intended for Burrow on second down.
After Burrow ran for nine yards on a run to the right side, Lemenager scampered for 38 yards on fourth-and-1. Two 1-yard runs by Graham put the ball in the end zone for a go-ahead touchdown with 6:43 left in the second quarter.
Belt ran for 15 yards on PBL's next possession before Schrodt ran for two yards prior to Shoven's pick.
Following Anderson's touchdown run, the Comets were called for a false start from their own 35-yard line before Lemenager recovered his own fumble on Clifton Central's 26-yard line. Lemenager threw an incomplete pass on second down before running for 14 yards on third-and-19, forcing the Comets to punt.
The Panthers ran three plays, running the clock out on the final possession of the first half.
After Diesburg returned the second-half kickoff to PBL's own 40-yard line, the Panthers went three-and-out as Belt ran for three yards on first down.
Graham tackled Schrodt for a loss of four yards on second down before Belt threw an incomplete pass on third down, forcing PBL (5-2, 3-1 Sangamon Valley Conference) to punt.
After the Comets (7-0, 4-0) took over on their own 22-yard line, Lemenager ran for five yards and Graham plunged for four yards before Lemenager scampered for 33 yards on third-and-1. After Graham ran for two yards, a Lemenager fumble on second down was recovered by Anderson.
On the Panthers' final drive of the game, Belt ran for three yards from PBL's own 38-yard line and threw an incomplete pass on second down. Schrodt gained two yards via a screen pass on third down before Coplea caught a pass on fourth down for a first down.
On the next play -- and final play of the game -- Belt threw an interception to Lemenager.
With the win, the Comets gained sole possession of the SVC lead. They can clinch a share of the title with a win next Friday over Iroquois West (1-6, 0-4).
Meanwhile, PBL can clinch a playoff spot with a win at home over Watseka (5-2, 2-2).
"I'll get our kids focused, and hopefully, I'll put a better game plan together so that we can be ready for Watseka," Pritchard said. "We still have a chance for a home playoff game, so that's our goal now."
Clifton Central 29, PBL 14
PBL 6 8 0 0 -- 14
CC 6 8 0 15 -- 29
P -- Schrodt 3 run (run failed)
C -- Burrow 28 pass from Lemenager (kick failed)
C -- Graham 1 run (Graham run)
P -- Anderson 87 run (Schrodt pass from Belt)
C -- Lemenager 23 run (Lemenager run)
C -- Shoven 2 run (Burrow kick)