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Central drops see-saw heartbreaker to Lions

Panthers go toe-to-toe with Cottage Grove before falling

Central junior running back Wesley Riddell scores one of his two touchdowns during the Panthers' Class 4A quarterfinal playoff Friday at Cottage Grove. Riddell rushed for 94 yards and had 12 tackles.

Photo by Eugene Johnson/for the Itemizer-Observer

Central junior running back Wesley Riddell scores one of his two touchdowns during the Panthers' Class 4A quarterfinal playoff Friday at Cottage Grove. Riddell rushed for 94 yards and had 12 tackles.

November 19, 2013

COTTAGE GROVE — Facing one of its stiffest challenges of the season, the Central football team gave second-ranked Cottage Grove everything it wanted Friday night, but the host Lions rallied in the fourth quarter for a 42-38, come-from-behind victory in the Class 4A state quarterfinals.

Central (9-3) trailed by seven points at halftime, but twice took the lead in the second half — the first time on a zig-zagging, 13-yard touchdown run by Wesley Riddell, and the second on a juggling, 20-yard touchdown catch by Grant Lindley, who hauled in a deflected pass while lying on his back in the end zone.

Lindley's score gave the Panthers a 38-35 lead late in the third quarter, and it appeared as if the momentum was on Central's side.

"I wasn't getting ahead of myself, but after we got the go-ahead score I figured, 'Hey, we can turn this around and we can win,'" Central running back Tell Cruickshank said.

Unfortunately, Cottage Grove seized control of the game with two time-consuming drives, each of which hinged on a crucial fourth-down conversion.

Early in the fourth quarter, quarterback Scotty Hitner completed a 14-yard pass to Oscar Rauda on fourth-and-4 from the Lions' own 44-yard line. A little more than a minute later, Brad Bonds busted a 30-yard touchdown run up the middle for the go-ahead score.

Two penalties and a sack forced Central to punt the ball away with 6:30 remaining, and the Panthers would not get it back. Cottage Grove picked up two first downs, then converted a pivotal fourth-and-4 when Hitner rolled to his right and hit Rauda for a 5-yard gain.

Grant Lindley reels in a Ben Finnegan pass for a big gain during Friday night

Photo by Eugene Johnson/for the Itemizer-Observer

Grant Lindley reels in a Ben Finnegan pass for a big gain during Friday night's state quarterfinal matchup with Cottage Grove. Lindley caught five passes for 68 yards.

"They threw a nice little bench route," Central coach Shane Hedrick said. "It's fourth-and-4 and they pick up five — just exactly what you want to do. Great play call on their part and a nice play by the quarterback. They certainly deserved that battle there."

With no time outs remaining, Central players and coaches could only watch as the final minutes of their season ticked away.

"Either one of the teams that lost this game, it would have been a tough loss," Hedrick said. "I think both teams played really well. I told the official on our sideline, 'Jeez, this one's going to be whoever has the ball last is going to win it.' And sure enough, that's the way it was."

The scoring came fast and furious in the first half.

Cottage Grove opened a 7-0 lead on its first possession, but Cruickshank answered immediately with an 84-yard kickoff return touchdown. The Lions capitalized on a Central fumble at the end of the first quarter to go on top 21-7, but the Panthers answered again. Quarterback Ben Finnegan tossed a 9-yard touchdown pass to Coby Jackson, and Riddell tied the game with a 9-yard scoring run after Central blocked a punt near midfield.

Cottage Grove eventually seized a 28-21 lead going into halftime, but Central came out hot in the second half, getting a 25-yard field goal from Roger Torres and Riddell's pinballing 13-yard touchdown run to pull ahead, 35-31.

Colton Magill

Colton Magill

Riddell finished with 96 yards rushing and two touchdowns, and Cruickshank added 48 yards on the ground. Finnegan completed 10-of-16 pass attempts for 223 yards and two scores - one each to Lindley (five catches, 68 yards) and Jackson (four catches, 94 yards).

Defensively, Riddell and Colton Magill led the Panthers with 12 tackles each. Marlon Tuipulotu added 10 tackles.

Despite the loss, Hedrick told his players to hold their heads high.

"I'm very proud," he said. "These kids had no quit in them. We're 9-3, there are not very many teams in the state that can say that. Obviously, the sting right now hurts a little bit.

"You'll wake up in the morning and you'll feel like, 'OK, it was 42-38, you're right there, one play away from that ballgame being turned the other way.' So there's a lot to be thankful for and a lot for these kids to be proud of."

Cruickshank echoed that sentiment.

"Definitely no regret," the senior said. "We left it all out on the field, so that's a good thing. You can't be upset. Even though we lost, we were still able to come out here and play the game, so you've definitely got to be thankful for that."

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