Central falls at home to Fort Zumwalt North

Friday, October 12, 2007

Central had a few highlights Thursday night.

But continuing the pattern of this struggling season for the Tigers, their opponent had the majority of them.

Fort Zumwalt North spoiled Central's homecoming with a 45-19 rout in front of about 350 fans at 10,000-seat Houck Stadium.

The Panthers, from O'Fallon, Mo., improved to 5-2. The Tigers fell to 1-6 and have been outscored 331-126.

"It's tough to lose like this on homecoming," Central junior running back/receiver Cantrell Andrews said. "We're just trying to stay together as a team, keep our heads up, let people know we're not going to give up easily."

Central receiver Jonathan Siemers was tackled by Fort Zumwalt's Kris Robinson after catching a pass during the first quarter Thursday at Houck Stadium. (Aaron Eisenhauer)

Fort Zumwalt North scored on the game's opening possession and never really looked back as the Panthers piled up 459 yards on offense, including 392 yards rushing.

The Panthers had two runners go over 100 yards in the contest.

Matt Espey, a 5-foot-5, 185-pound bowling ball of a tailback, entered the game with nearly 1,200 yards rushing.

Also a state champion wrestler, Espey did not play the first quarter for undisclosed reasons. He only needed about two quarters -- he didn't see much action in the final period, along with many of the other Panthers starters -- to rush for 168 yards on 20 carries.

"He's a real good, hard runner," Central senior linebacker Joe Uhls said. "They're a good team."

Fullback Zak Meyer added 105 yards on 13 carries for the Panthers, who held Central to 258 yards total as the visitors controlled the ball and the clock most of the way.

"I thought we were clicking tonight," Espey said.

As for those Central highlights, senior quarterback Chase Johnson hit junior wide out Shawn Prince with a 72-yard touchdown pass late in the third quarter that pulled the Tigers within 28-12, although the Panthers went on to score the next 14 points.

Johnson also scored on an 11-yard run late in the first quarter, pulling the Tigers within 8-6, although they fell behind 21-6 by halftime.

Johnson completed 13-of-21 passes for 166 yards without an interception.

Central's other touchdown came on a 6-yard Andrews run midway through the final period, although that only made the score 42-19.

As for the Panthers' highlights, there were too many to list.

"When you go through tough times like this, you find out a lot about yourselves as players and coaches," Central coach Lawrence Brookins said.

Not only have the Tigers been outmanned in most games this season anyway, they were especially short-handed Thursday as several players missed the contest for various reasons.

Among them was senior Tyler McNabb, who is the Tigers' leading receiver and a key defender at linebacker while also being their place-kicker and punter.

Brookins said McNabb will miss at least two games -- and perhaps more -- for disciplinary reasons.

But despite all the Tigers have endured so far this season, they are still optimistic they can be a factor in the all-important three-game district schedule that begins next Oct. 19 at Poplar Bluff.

Central was in a similar position last year, losing to Fort Zumwalt North in its final non-district game to fall to 2-5. The Tigers went on to capture their fifth district title in seven years, which sent them into the playoffs.

"I think we can," said Andrews, asked if the Tigers believe they will contend for the district title.

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