PHOTO: A hit by Monticello’s T.J. Decker (58) jars the ball loose in the Oct. 18 home game against West Liberty. (Photo courtesy of Dianna Rucker, Rucker Photography)
By Pete Temple, Express Sports Editor
The scoreboard at Dean Nelson Field doesn’t include out-of-town scores, but if it had, the Monticello Panther football team might have been forgiven for checking it frequently.
They would have learned that it is official: With Cascade’s victory over Center Point-Urbana, Monticello has clinched its first post-season berth since 1991.
The top four teams in each district reach the playoffs. The CP-U loss means the worst the Panthers could do in the Class 2A, District 4 standings is finish in a three-way tie for third with CP-U and Mount Vernon. And since Monticello defeated both of those teams, the Panthers own that tie-breaker.
Monticello could also clinch the third place spot either by beating Northeast Friday, Oct. 25 at Goose Lake, or if Mount Vernon loses to Center Point-Urbana.
“The guys have just been hungry to succeed,” Monticello coach Jon Kyte said. “They believe in the system, and they have gone out there and played hard every game.”
Monticello will begin post-season play Wednesday, Oct. 30, on the road. The opponent will be either Waukon or New Hampton. Those two teams play Oct. 25 to decide the top two spots in that district, so Monticello, if it finishes third, will travel to play the loser of that game.
Almost forgotten in the excitement was that the Panthers had a game to play Friday, Oct. 18, a Senior Night battle with non-district foe West Liberty.
Monticello surged to a 27-3 lead, then held off the visiting Comets for a 27-17 victory. While that game had no bearing on the district standings, it did guarantee that Monticello will finish with its first winning regular season since 2010.
“There was a lot of motivation going into this game,” Kyte said. “Our guys lost to them last year, and it was Senior Night. It didn’t matter for the district standings, but it was good for just getting ready for that playoff opponent.”
The Panthers were able to throw a few wrinkles into the game, including three fake punts, two of which were successful; and a successful onside kick.
“That’s all stuff our first round opponent will have to prepare for now,” Kyte said.
West Liberty struck first, driving from its 16-yard line to the Monticello 18 before settling for a 35-yard field goal by Raudel Fierro.
The Panthers answered with a field goal of their own, a 25-yard kick by Peyton Paddock, late in the first quarter.
Early in the second period, West Liberty was forced to punt, and the Panthers took over on their 31-yard line. On the first play from scrimmage, Cody Jamison completed a pass to Jarrett Easton that went for a 69-yard touchdown, and Paddock’s extra point kick gave Monticello a 10-3 lead.
Paddock later added to the lead, booting a long field goal later in the quarter. Monticello led 13-3 at halftime. It wasn’t immediately clear if it was a 50 or 51-yard kick; but at the very least, Paddock tied the school record of 50 yards set by Marcus Prull in 2008.
The Panthers appeared to put the game away in the second half. First, Monticello took advantage of a short West Liberty punt, getting the ball on the Comets’ 29-yard line. Four plays later, Greg Kraus scored on a six-yard run, and the point-after by Paddock put Monticello ahead 20-3.
Monticello then recovered an onside kick and got the ball on their own 46. The Panthers were unable to score on that possession, but an interception and 22-yard return by Easton on the first play of the fourth quarter set up another touchdown.
On the first play of that possession, Paddock broke away for a 53-yard scoring run, then kicked the extra point to put his team ahead 27-3.
West Liberty fought back, scoring on an 11-yard run by Brett Becker. After the teams traded turnovers, including an interception by Monticello’s Adam Turnis, the Comets drove 43 yards in nine plays to score again.
“They’re a playoff team, and they gave a resilient effort,” Kyte said of the Comets.
The Comets then recovered an onside kick, but the Panthers sealed the win with an interception by Tyler Johnson.
Easton finished with 95 receiving yards, and led the team in tackles with seven. Jamison completed seven of 14 passes for 124 yards.
Regular season finale
The Panthers will close the regular season with a game at Northeast of Goose Lake Friday, Oct. 25, then come back five days later for the first playoff game.
W. Liberty 3 0 0 14 – 17
Monticello 3 10 7 7 – 27
WL - Fierro 35 field goal.
Monti – Paddock 25 field goal.
Monti – Easton 69 pass from Jamison (Paddock kick).
Monti – Paddock 50 field goal.
Monti – Kraus 6 run.
Monti – Paddock 53 run (Paddock kick).
WL - Becker 11 run (Guardado pass from Becker).
WL - Miller 5 pass from Becker (kick failed).
First downs 20 17
Rushing yards 88 221
Passing yards 202 124
Total yards 290 345
Comp.-att.-int. 20-37-3 7-15-2
Fumbles-lost 1-1 0-0
Penalties-yards 2-10 5-45
Rushing – Jamison 17-73, Kraus 12-53, Paddock 2-52, Felton 10-46, Aitchison 1-2, Easton 1 (-5).
Passing – Jamison 7-14-124-1-2, Felton 0-1-0-0-0.
Receiving – Easton 2-95, Williams 1-17, Felton 2-11, Johnson 1-5, Kraus 1 (-4).
Fumble recoveries – Easton.
Interceptions - Easton, Johnson, Turnis.
Tackles – Easton 7, Pike 5.5, Craig 5.5, Kraus 5, Johnson 5, Felton 5, Decker 4, Aitchison 4, Jamison 4, Fuhrmeister 3, Paddock 2.5, Holtz 2.5, Eckhardt 1, Turnis 1.
Sacks - Pike 1, Craig 1, Felton 1, Fuhrmeister 0.5, Holtz 0.5.
Tackles-for-loss - Pike 3.5, Craig 2, Holtz 2, Felton 1, Decker 1, Fuhrmeister 1, Paddock 0.5.