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INDEPENDENCE — Unfortunately for the Central Panthers, football isn’t horseshoes.

So close doesn’t count.

Not in the standings, though Central’s effort and overall play must count for something, even though the Panthers have been coming up just short on the scoreboard, as was the case Friday.

“It was a tough one,” coach Joel Elliott said of the Panthers’ 21-14 loss to No. 3-ranked West Albany. “Our guys were battling.”

The defense had a stellar night, and the offense moved the ball as Central kept the game close and pulled within five points with about a minute and a half remaining.

The Panthers tried an onside kick, but didn’t get it, and West Albany ran out the clock.

“We were still fighting hard down the stretch,” Elliott said.

The Panthers overcame some adversity to keep it a close game, he pointed out, as “we were down our top six defensive backs.” Two were sidelined with concussions, and four were out for “disciplinary reasons,” Elliott said.

Three receivers came to the defensive side to join some backups and fill the gaps.

“I was really proud of those guys for how they battled,” Elliott said.

A miscue in the secondary led to a long touchdown pass on West Albany’s first play. The Bulldogs’ quarterback scrambled and then found a receiver who had wandered behind the defenders.

But other than that, Central’s defense held up well against a team that had scored 42 points the week before at Crescent Valley.

“The defense played really well,” Elliott said. “Those guys played their hearts out.

“We got a really good pass rush on their quarterback and never let him get comfortable. We kept their stud receiver (DeMarcus Houston) out of the game, and kept things in front of us.”

Panthers quarterback Chase Nelson punched in both of his team’s touchdowns. The junior ran in from three and nine yards, one on a designed carry and the other off a scramble when his receivers were taken down.

“Our offense was making plays, but we had some drops and false starts that hurt us,” Elliott said.

Each team used up big chunks of the clock, especially in the second half. West Albany’s first drive after halftime lasted some seven minutes.

The Panthers have had a shot at wins the last three weeks. They’d lost the week before 19-14 at Corvallis and 32-21 to Lebanon in what was a one-score game until the end.

“We’ve been right there, we’re just making too many mistakes,” Elliott said. “It’s tough telling our kids that we’re five plays away from being undefeated in league.”

Instead, the Panthers are 1-4 overall and 0-3 in the Class 5A Special District 3 for football.

And they’ll be heavy underdogs again this week, as they have to take on visiting Silverton, which is 4-1, 3-0 MWC and ranked No. 2 in the state.

Kickoff is 7 p.m. on Friday.

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