The Concordia Panthers did not allow an early deficit to deter them from taking the first step toward securing a playoff spot for the sixth consecutive season.
After falling behind Colby 12-0, the Panthers reeled off 22 consecutive points, and shut the Eagles down in the second half, on their way to a 22-12 victory in the Class 4A District 16 opener Friday night at Harold M. Clark Stadium.
Concordia, the defending District 16 champion, travels to Goodland for a district game on Friday night.
Goodland got past Clay Center 8-7 in the other District 16 game played Friday night.
“We just have to get ready to go play Goodland,” Concordia coach Tim Lambert said, “It (the win) gives more meaning maybe to the next two games.”
With Concordia turning the ball over three times in the first half, and struggling to get untracked offensively, Colby, now 0-7, put up the first two scores in the game to get out to the 12-0 lead.
The Panthers, with under 100 yards passing on the season, used a big pass play from Zach Kyle to Shea Crum in the second quarter to cut the deficit to 12-7.
Concordia (2-6) then tacked on three scores in the second half to rally for the win.
“We have never been disappointed in these kids’ effort. They have played to the end of games every game we have played,” Lambert said, “Through the course of the year they remained coachable.”
Colby’s first touchdown came after Matt Pieper recovered a Concordia fumble at the Trojans’ 32-yard line.
Quarterback Josh Matchell finished off a seven play drive with a 30-yard touchdown run with 5:33 to play in the first quarter.
Matchell rushed for 115 yards on 24 carries.
The extra point attempt was no good, and the Trojans led 6-0.
There were three turnovers, two by Concordia, on the next three offensive possessions.
Colby would stop the Panthers on a fourth down and six play at its own 42-yard line.
The Trojans then went 58 yards in eight plays, and Brady Holzmeister scored on a 4-yard run with 4:01 remaining in the first half.
Colby elected to go for two, but fumbled a handoff, and led 12-0.
“They made some plays and we missed some tackles,” Lambert said of getting behind early.
Concordia got the ball at its own 35-yard line after the ensuing kickoff went out of bounds, and needed just one play to score.
Kyle threw to a wide open Crum, and he went 65 yards for a touchdown with under four minutes to play in the first half.
Logan Higbee kicked the extra point, and the Panthers trailed just 12-7.
“It was a big play for us. A lot of teams will play us man, so their linebackers are responsible for our backs out of the backfield. We have got some plays to take advantage of that if we can execute them. That was one of those, and he ended up wide open,” Lambert said of the touchdown pass, “It gave us a boost in the arm. It was big for us.”
Concordia turned the ball over on the first play of the second half on a fumble.
The Panthers gave up one first down to Colby, but stopped the Trojans on a fourth down and seven.
“That was a big defensive stand,” Lambert said.
A nine-play Concordia drive stalled at the Colby 27-yard line, but the Panthers forced a punt.
Starting with good field position, the Panthers went 45 yards in seven plays.
Crum scored on an 11-yard run as time ran out in the third quarter.
Drake Hake ran in the two-point conversion to give Concordia a 15-12 advantage.
Colby moved from its own 29-yard line to the Concordia 28, but a pass from Matchell to Holzmeister on fourth down and nine was incomplete.
Hake, who finished with 163 yards rushing on 21 carries, picked up eight yards on a third down and two.
Two plays later, Hake broke a 53-yard touchdown run.
The extra point by Higbee extended Concordia’s lead to 22-12.
“He was close a couple of times earlier. He finally busted one,” Lambert said, “If you give him the ball enough he is going to make somebody miss sooner or later.”
Colby would fumble on its next possession, and Crum recovered at the Concordia 44-yard line with 3:51 to play.
The Panthers ran three plays before fumbling the ball back.
Concordia sealed the win when Higbee intercepted a Matchell pass in the end zone with 55 seconds on the clock.
Concordia finished with 327 yards of total offense, 237 rushing and 90 passing.
Crum, who had missed three games because of injury, carried 10 times for 40 yards.
Karter Steinle added 29 yards on 12 carries.
Colby ran 24 more offensive plays, and had 323 yards.
Andrew Taylor carried 15 times for 102 yards for the Trojans.
Hake and Gage Canfield had 11 tackles each for Concordia.
Skyler Hittle, who wasn’t expected to play because of a foot injury, and Colby Trost had 10 tackles each.