By MIKE HOLDER
PALESTINE — The Westwood Panthers and the Elkhart Elks squared off Friday with a playoff spot on the line, and that spot was grasped tightly by the latter, who saw its second district win of the season with a score of 55-21 over the Panthers.
“We were concerned about Westwood being a big rivalry for both sides and after two tough losses in district were also worried about how our kids were going to start the game,” Elkhart coach Sam Wells said. “We had a good week of practice in preparation for the game but as coaches you always have concerns.”
Elkhart won the toss and elected to receive but it didn’t take long to find out how the Elks were going to play. Three plays after the opening kickoff, Jeffrey Wilson bounded into the end zone from 55 yards and Elkhart led 7-0 with just 10:26 to play.
Westwood was able to move the ball to midfield out of its own territory but could not finish the drive and was forced to punt. Elkhart could not manage a first down on their possession and punted the ball back to Westwood where the Panthers set up at their own 36-yard line.
The Panthers marched 66 yards to the 1-yard line highlighted by a fourth down fake punt of 28 yards by Steven Green. After a 5-yard penalty Westwood was at the six on third down but running back Steven Green fumbled and Elkhart recovered at their own 14 yard line.
“Getting inside the opponent’s 5-yard line has been a bur up under our saddle for too many weeks and we need to find a way to finish those drives,” Westwood coach Roger Mays said.
The Elks marched the next 86 yards in five plays and Jeffrey Wilson again finished the drive with a 19-yard run to make the score 14-0 with five seconds gone in the second quarter.
The Panthers next possession was stopped by the Elkhart defense as a Ryan Cernoch pass was intercepted by an Elk defender who set the Elks up at their own 35 yard line. Elkhart scored shortly after on an Austin Sheridan touchdown pass of 46 yards to Jackson Adair to bring the score to 21-0.
Westwood was able to cut into Elkhart’s lead on its next possession with a 7-play drive finished off by a DJ Hicks 53-yard run. Hicks finished the night for the Panthers as their leading rusher with 11 carries for 95 yards.
Elkhart finished the scoring just before halftime with a 2-yard run by Wilson. Wilson was the leading rusher for the Elks with 285 yards on 20 carries. As a team, the Elks rushed for 442 yards. The score was 28-7 with Westwood receiving the kickoff after halftime.
The Panthers came out with fire in their eyes and marched 62 yards in nine plays to cut the score to 28-14 with 7:41 left in the third quarter.
Elkhart was able to answer the bell in three plays as Wilson ran it in from 35 yards out to make the score 35-14. On the ensuing short kickoff the Elks were able to recover the kick as it eluded the Panther receivers. Wilson repeated his last touchdown with another 35-yard run to stretch the Elkhart margin to 26 points.
The Panthers were still not done scoring as the offense marched 63 yards in 10 plays to make the score 40-21 with four seconds gone in the fourth quarter. DJ Hicks covered the last four yards for the Panthers to finish their scoring for the night.
Elkhart was able two add two more touchdowns in the fourth quarter to bring the final score to 55-21.
“Our offensive line played extremely well tonight opening up holes for the running backs and Austin Sheridan did a great job in his first start at quarterback for the Elks,” Wells said.