A stunner at state for Central football team
The end came so suddenly, that it left most of the St. Croix Central football team and its fans stunned.
The Panthers never trailed in the 2018 WIAA Division 4 state championship, until the final 12 seconds of the game. Racine St. Catherine's quarterback Da'Shaun Brown scored with 12 seconds left, and then Brown ran in the two-point conversion as the Angels defeated St. Croix Central 8-7 for the 2018 state title.
This is the third straight season that St. Croix Central played in the Division 4 state championship game. The Panthers were state champions in 2016 but they were defeated in the state title game last year.
While both teams in Thursday's game brought in high-octane offenses, it was the defenses that kept coming up with the big plays for most of the game. That resulted in the first half ending without a point being scored. That was fortunate news for Central, which fumbled the ball away on the third play of the game. That gave St. Cat's the ball at the Central 49, but the Central defense allowed just one first down before getting the ball back.
The Panthers struggled on first down for much of the night. Coupled with poor field position, that made it tough for the offense to get drives going. Central coach Tony DiSalvo said St. Cat's deserves credit too, saying the state opponent was better than the Central coaches expected. St. Cat's was also well prepared for Central. DiSalvo said St. Cat's had scouts at every one of Central's playoff games leading up to the state title contest.
Central's defense stretched, but didn't break, for most of the game. Central only had the ball for eight offensive plays in the first quarter. The pressure was on the defense because of the incredible speed of Brown and St. Cat's halfback Isaiah Dodd. Brown made several acrobatic moves when it appeared the Panthers had him cornered.
DiSalvo said he considered St. Cat's the quickest team the Panthers have ever played against. He said it was difficult to prepare the Panthers for the speed that Brown and Dodd and the rest of the Angels possess.
"You can't simulate that kind of speed and athleticism. They were better up front than we anticipated and they were better defensively too," DiSalvo commented.
It was during the third quarter that Central's offense looked like the dominating ball control team it's been all season. The Panthers scored on a 15-play drive, with Keagen Berg burrowing into the end zone from 1-yard out for the touchdown. Unfortunately for the Panthers, on the 14th play of the drive, fullback Ryan Larson suffered a knee injury. Larson was able to play on defense later in the game, but he didn't return on offense. DiSalvo said the full extent of Larson's injury won't be known until sometime this week.
St. Cat's got the ball for the final time with 4:57 left in the game. The Angels drove 58 yards for the score, with Brown scoring from 3-yards out. Brown also scored on the two-point conversion, though the Central sideline was livid, believing that a holding penalty should have been called on the conversion.
Central finished the season with a 13-1 record, while St. Cat's finished at 14-0.
Advancing to state is difficult. Doing it in three straight seasons is a rare accomplishment. Kimberly in Division 1 is the only other team besides St. Croix Central that has played at the state championships each of the past three seasons.
"It's fitting that our (seniors) end their careers at Camp Randall," DiSalvo said. "I give our kids a lot of credit. Forty-two games in three seasons is a hell of an accomplishment."