Pana pulls away from Maroa-Forsyth to advance to IHSA football quarterfinals
PANA — For more than two quarters, Pana had difficulties moving the football against the Maroa-Forsyth defense.
But the No. 2 Panthers (11-0) found the right formula in the fourth quarter to pull away and beat No. 7 Maroa-Forsyth (8-3) 29-7 in the second round of the Class 2A playoffs at Brummett Field on Saturday.
Pana advances to face No. 6 Nashville (10-1) at 1 p.m. next Saturday. Nashville beat Bismarck-Henning-Rossville-Alvin 33-26 on Saturday.
“I’ve known (Maroa-Forsyth) coach (Josh) Jostes for a long time. He’s just one of those coaches you just want to try to be like, and so I told him before the game it was an absolute honor to be able to coach against him,” Pana coach Trevor Higgins said. “I knew we were in for a dog fight and I was just hoping that our guys could hang on and continue to fight all the way to the end.”
On third-and-10 from the Panthers’ own 36, quarterback Max Lynch found Ace Armstrong for a 15-yard gain then lead blocker Evan Swisher was called upon for a 5-yard run. Two plays later, Austin Henschen ran the ball into the red zone with a 25-yard pickup, then took it again down to the 2. That set up a 2-yard touchdown run by Lynch before Carter Beyers scored on the two-point conversion for a 22-7 lead with 6 minutes, 44 seconds left.
Pana advanced to the quarterfinals in consecutive postseasons. In the 2019 quarterfinals — there was no postseason for the 2020-21 school year — Nashville ended Pana’s season with a 41-19 Class 2A quarterfinal win.
Pana is looking to advance to the semifinals for the first time in school history. The Panthers are 0-4 in third-round games.
While the Panthers’ offense struggled, the Pana defense was solid and held the Trojans to 255 yards of total offense. Brenden Schoonover picked off Maroa-Forsyth sophomore quarterback Kaiden Maurer twice.
Schoonover also caught five passes for 73 yards and a touchdown.
“I just got to the ball,” Schoonover said. “Man (defense) was working really well and we went to the cover 2 a lot. If we contain their run game and make them pass, we love making people pass. Basically, contain the middle, let them throw out and see what we can do.”
Maroa-Forsyth's first big mistake came on the first possession. The Trojans’ running back, senior Cade Culp, ran for a 9-yard pickup to the Trojans’ 36 on the first snap. On the next play, Maurer let it fly but the player who had the best chance to catch it was Schoonover — and he did.
“We had a big play on first down, and I wanted to take a shot,” Jostes said. “We wanted to try and get momentum — or at least in my mind, that was what I was trying to do. We knew 15 (Schoonover) was a dude for them and we threw two balls at him and he picked two of them off.
“I wish I had that one back; instead of taking the momentum, we kind of gave it to them.”
Schoonover’s return gave Pana the ball at the Trojans’ 35. Six plays later, Henschen carried in for a 1-yard TD run and a 6-0 lead after the extra-point attempt was cleanly blocked.
The teams traded the next five punts before Schoonover caught a 63-yard touchdown on a one-play scoring drive. Monte Weddle ran in the two-point conversion for a 14-0 lead.
Schoonover intercepted Maurer once more just before halftime.
Pana’s first drive of the second half ended in an interception. But three plays later, Maurer lost a fumble to give the ball right back to the Panthers.
“They’re really fast, they’re physical and I thought they were bigger than they looked like on film,” Jostes said. “We’re tiny, and I thought this team was going to be someone our size and ultimately they handled us in the box all day.
“Pana’s a heck of a ballclub. Coach Higgins does a great job, and they’re going to be a tough out for somebody.”
Contact Ryan Mahan: 857-246-9756, email@example.com, Twitter.com/RyanMahanSJR.