Panthers show heart, come up short


The Pomperaug Panthers fell to the Brookfield Bobcats 45-22 at home Friday night. The Bobcats were a tall order for the Panthers. Coming into the game, they held a record of 6-1. Their only loss had been at the hands of undefeated Newtown the week before. The Panthers were coming off a lopsided loss to Bethel, and their record stood at 3-4.

Wasting no time, Brookfield got the ball first to begin the game. It took the Bobcats just under 4 minutes to score the game’s first touchdown. After a play highlighted by a long 35-yard pass completion and 9-yard touchdown run from Bobby Drysdale, the Bobcats led 7-0.

The Pomperaug offense scored a season-high 29 points 2 weeks ago versus Holy Cross, but had stumbled last week in Bethel. This week, the Panthers opening drive caused more headaches for the home team. The Panthers suffered a crucial loss-of-down penalty as they attempted to punt it away to Brookfield. Instead of backing the Bobcats up, Pomperaug gave up the ball just 10 yards from the end zone.

A significant bright spot in the game was the Panthers’ defense. After giving up a quick opening-drive touchdown, they began to buckle down. The Bobcats ran three consecutive running plays, gaining a total of zero yards against the stingy Pomperaug defense. On the fourth down, Brookfield banged through a 27-yard field goal, upping their lead to 10-0. However, this was uplifting for the Panthers. The defense came up with a crucial stop and kept the extra four points off the board.

The Pomperaug offense began to move the ball on their next drive. Senior quarterback Wade Prajer used his legs to help move the ball, while running back Mike Foschi handled the ball on the ground. Pomperaug was able to push the ball out around the 50-yard line before being forced to punt. Panthers’ punter Sean Daily boomed the punt deep, pinning the Bobcats’ offense at their own 7-yard line. But Daily wasn’t finished; he flipped to playing defense and two plays later intercepted the ball at the 16-yard line.

A penalty on Brookfield then moved the Panthers inside the 10. The Panther offense looked as if they might stall out another drive. It was fourth and goal and the Panthers remained 10 yards from a score. Prajer then dropped back on the next play, lofting a high pass to the corner of the end zone for Jimmy Christiano, who pulled it down for the score. The Panthers were back in the game, trailing just 10-7 with 10 minutes left in the half.

Pomperaug’s momentum was short lived. A long 33-yard run down to the 11-yard line set up the Bobcats, and Drysdale continued to be a thorn in the Panthers’ side. He pounded his way into the end zone, extending the Bobcats lead to 17-7. For the second straight week, the Panthers elected to run a two-quarterback offense. Both Prajer and Joseph Lacava rotated snaps behind center. This was to no avail, however, as the Panthers failed to score again in the first half.

Just before halftime, the Bobcats drove on the Panthers once more. Drysdale scored yet another touchdown, with just 1:43 remaining in the half. This one really hurt the Panthers, who had forced a fourth and goal only to see Drysdale fight his way in again. The score was 24-7 going into halftime.

Rain began to fall heavily as the second half began, making the football much harder to hang onto and the field slippery and wet. Lacava threw a 12-yard strike in Pomperaug’s first drive of the second half, but they found themselves punting the ball away just three plays later.

The Pomperaug defense was hanging tough, trying desperately to keep them within striking distance. “Our defense was solid tonight. I was happy with that more than anything else tonight,” said Panthers Head Coach James Reed.

The Panthers’ defense was indeed solid, as they forced a huge fourth down on the ensuing Bobcat drive. However, penalties derailed the Panthers’ chances. After stopping the Bobcats, the Panthers were flagged on an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, giving the Bobcats the first down. The Bobcats, one of the state’s top teams, turned their second chance into points as good teams will do.

A few plays later, Drysdale found the end zone again for his fourth touchdown on the night. Brookfield was in command, leading 31-7. And the third quarter came to a close with the Pomperaug offense still unable to get anything going and the Panthers still trailing 31-7.

“I need to watch the film from this one. I need to see if we are indeed incurring as many penalties as are being called,” a clearly frustrated Reed said.

In the fourth quarter, it seemed the Panthers’ defense wasn’t going to budge anymore, but the Bobcats struck for a 45-yard touchdown run, upping their lead to a game high 38-7. There was just 3:45 left in the game, but it was far from over.

The Panthers’ spirit and determination shone through despite the one-sided score. Prajer ran hard on the first two plays of the next Pomperaug drive. Foschi then broke a 67-yard run into the end zone, clipping the lead to 24. The score was 38-14.

On the following kickoff, Brookfield fumbled the ball and the Panthers fell on top of it. The Panthers found themselves at the Brookfield 19-yard line. Jake Hardwell ran 15 yards down to the four. Prajer kept it himself on the next play, diving into the end zone. After a successful two-point conversion, the Panthers were closing in on Brookfield with the score at 38-22. However, Brookfield dashed any hopes the Panthers had for an amazing comeback. It took just two plays, and Brookfield was back in the end zone on a 65-yard run, sealing the deal. Time ran out on the Panthers, and they suffered their second straight loss.

Despite the loss, Reed was extremely happy with Prajer. “Wade made such a difference. He made our defense much more physical,” he said. Prajer had not played on the defense side of the ball in any of the first seven games for Pomperaug.

Reed stressed his team needs to give a full effort throughout the game. “There are lulls. We need to fight through the lulls in the second and third quarters. We’re gangbusters out the gate and we play our hearts out in the fourth, but we’ve got to fight through the lulls in the middle of the game,” he said

The Panthers’ record fell to 3-5 with the loss Friday night while the Bobcats improved to 7-1. The Panthers can’t afford to dwell on this loss; they played one of the better teams in the state hard and have a winnable game next week. They will travel to Masuk High School Friday, Nov. 7, to take on a 5-3 tea


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