For the first time in six seasons the Concordia Panthers will not be a part of the Class 4A football playoffs.
Needing a win over Clay Center to advance to the postseason, the Panthers turned the ball over four times in falling 20-0 to the Tigers Thursday night at Harold M. Clark Stadium.
Clay Center (6-3) captured second place in District 16, and will be on the road for the first round of the playoffs on Tuesday night.
Goodland, a 35-0 winner over Colby, claimed the district title by going 3-0.
Concordia, which had won three straight district championships and had advanced to the playoffs five years in a row, limited Clay Center to just 120 yards of offense and seven first downs but couldn’t take advantage of the defensive performance.
“Turnovers, penalties at the wrong times,” Concordia coach Tim Lambert said of the keys to the Panthers’ loss, “I thought our defense played one of the best games of the season, and really our offense didn’t play poorly. We moved the ball, we had more first downs than they did. Unfortunately we turned the ball over too many times.”
The Panthers finished up 2-7 overall and 1-5 in the North Central Kansas League.
Clay Center’s Ricky Huse returned the opening kickoff to the Concordia 45-yard line.
“Special teams really hurt us. We gave up a long return on the opening kickoff,” Lambert said.
Converting once on fourth down, the Tigers took 10 plays to go 45 yards, and quarterback Kody Gregory scored on a 6-yard run with 6:58 to play in the first quarter.
The extra point gave Clay Center a 7-0 lead.
Concordia was forced to punt on its first possession of the game, but the defense forced a three and out by Clay Center.
The Tigers were able to recover a muffed punt at the Concordia 22-yard line.
Concordia had a chance to get the ball back, but was unable to recover a fumbled pitch.
One play later, Gregory threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to Danny Ellis to extend the lead to 14-0.
Concordia put together a 15-play drive and moved from its own 35-yard line deep inside Clay Center territory.
Drake Hake, who finished with 142 yards on 25 carries, carried nine times for 42 yards during the drive.
On a fourth down and four play, Ethan Bechard completed a 7-yard pass to Shea Crum that would have given the Panthers a first down inside the Clay Center five, but the play was wiped out by a holding penalty.
“We are just not good enough to overcome those right now so all of our mistakes are magnified,” Lambert said.
It was fourth down and 14, and Lambert opted for a 37-yard field goal attempt by Logan Higbee that was wide.
Concordia forced a Clay Center punt, and got the ball back on its own 38-yard line with 1:07 to play in the first half.
A long pass from Bechard to Hake was intercepted by Isaac Mugler, and the Tigers ran out the clock.
Concordia’s first drive of the second half was halted by a holding penalty, but Clay Center then blocked a punt and got the ball on the Panther 16-yard line.
The Panthers stopped the Tigers short on fourth down and 10.
Concordia then moved the ball to the Clay Center 39-yard line, but Bechard was able to pick up just two yards on a fourth down and four.
The two teams exchanged punts, and Ian Roteman returned a Concordia punt to the Panther 16-yard line.
Concordia again came up with a defensive stop, and Baylee Easterburg missed a 23-yard field goal attempt.
“We stopped them three or four times when they got the ball inside our 40. They only had seven first downs and 120 yards,” Lambert said.
A Bechard fumble gave the ball back to Clay Center inside Concordia territory, but the defense forced punt.
Backed up to its own 2-yard line, the Panthers got an 11-yard run by Bechard and an 8-yard run by Hake.
Huse then intercepted a Bechard pass and returned it for a touchdown that made it 20-0 with 1:57 remaining in the game.
Concordia finished with 195 yards of total offense.
Bechard carried the ball 15 times for 52 yards.
Gregory led Clay Center with 52 yards on 15 carries. He completed two of four passes for 18 yards and a touchdown.
Kyle Marks had 16 tackles for the Concordia defense.
Colby Trost finished with 15 tackles, and Gage Canfield had 11.