Things couldn’t have started out better for Effingham Friday night, as Matt Wolhtman scooped up a fumble just more than a minute into the game and took it 27 yards for a touchdown.
That touchdown would be Effingham’s only one for much of the game, as that glimmer of hope faded and Effingham lost 18-12 to Paxton-Buckley-Loda Friday night.
The Flaming Hearts had plenty of chances and plenty of moments of hope, even having the ball down 18-12 with 4:25 left. But the offense never found its footing outside of a fourth quarter touchdown drive.
For coach Mike McDonald, it came down to too many mistakes and turnovers, just like during the Hearts’ 34-15 season-opening loss to Breese Mater Dei.
“Those things make differences, and we have to play through those things,” he said. “Towards the end, it was just turnovers that hurt us. That continues to plague us.”
After the early touchdown, PBL responded quickly as Nate Schrodt took his first carry over the game 65 yards to the Effingham four-yard line. He scored two plays later from three yards out to make it 7-6 Panthers.
The teams would keep flipping possession as the Heart defense stood tall. On the first play of the second quarter, PBL went for it on 4th-and-8 from the Effingham 14. Weston Webber had an open throwing lane to Trent Wooten, but he bobbled it and Wohltman deflected the pass away for a turnover on downs.
Effingham would immediately go three and out. The Panthers kept driving again, moving the ball quickly down the to the Effingham six on 1st-and-5. Again, the Hearts stood tall. Weber ran a QB keeper on 4th-and-3 and was stopped a yard short of the first down by Griffin Paige.
“(The defense) kept us in the game, they scored the first touchdown,” McDonald said. “They did a great job when they needed to.”
Effingham moved the ball from the two to the 48 on three plays for its first real drive of the day, but Billy Arndt fumbled on the fourth play of the drive and PBL recovered.
All the time on the field came back to bite the Hearts defense. The Panthers scored with 34.1 srecond left on a nine-yard pass from Weber to Schrodt and converted a two-point conversion on a broken extra point to go up 15-6.
The Panther kick was a high floater, and when it came down, no Heart fell on it and PBL recovered it for an onside kick at the Effingham 38. PBL went for a 29-yard field goal at the buzzer and missed, but a flag for a personal foul on Effingham gave kicker Jordan Kietzman a second chance.
He’d take advantage, hitting the 23-yarder to put Paxton-Buckley-Loda up 18-6 going into the half.
The Flaming Hearts came out in a way befitting their name in the third quarter, forcing a three-and-out and moving the ball with authority. Their first five plays were all in the no huddle, carrying the ball 42 yards on five carries, forcing a Panther timeout.
Whatever was said in the PBL huddle paid off. Zach Miller took the first down run for five yards, but fumbled the exchange for no gain on second down. Kevin Daugherty ran a keeper on third down for two yards, and Miller was stuffed for a one yard gain for a turnover on downs.
Effingham fumbled on its next possession on a read option play to Travis Durbin, giving the Panthers the ball at the 25-yard-line.
Again, the defense showed its fortitude. PBL had third-and-goal from the four, but on his way to the end zone, Weber was stripped and Noah Hagen fell on the ball for a touchback.
The Hearts seemed energized briefly, as a 46-yard pass to Dylan Wolff ended the quarter with Effingham at the PBL 30. Three plays later, Daugherty stepped up and threw a pick into coverage to Vaughn Gentzler.
“As it turned out, e got beat by six. All those turnovers we had and penalties put us in bad shape,” McDonald said. “Two or three of those don’t happen ... we have the momentum in the second half, maybe push another one across.”
Wooten fumbled on the next drive and Drew Vasquez picked it up, but Daugherty threw another pick on the next drive on 3rd-and-18.
Effingham kept hope alive on its next drive as a 45-yard pass to Carter Hayes put them in the PBL red zone, and Miller did the rest, scoring for 17 yards out to make it 18-12.
“We made some adjustments back, we scored a touchdown out of our tight formation,” McDonald said. “We had too many 2nd-and-10’s, 2nd-and-25’s, and that put us in bad field position.”
The defense forced another punt with 4:36 left, and Zach Miller’s long return into Panther territory was negated by a block in the back. Effingham’s drive gained 10 yards, but a hold and a sack put them at 3rd-and-23. They punted with 3:17 left and never got the ball back.
“They were sending a lot of guys, we knew they were going to do that,” McDonald said. “We thought we had enough guys to get them blocked, and we didn’t.”
Miller carried the ball 16 times for 106 yards and a touchdown. Daugherty was 5/14 passing for 130 yards, but threw two interceptions.
Durbin led the team with 16 total tackles, Arndt added 11 in his first game at defensive tackle and Paige racked up 13 tackles of his own. Wohltman, Vasquez and Hagen all had fumble recoveries.
It was the Schrodt show for the Panthers. He carried the ball 27 times for 199 yards, and also caught five passes for 92 yards. He scored both touchdowns for PBL.
Effingham (0-2) looks to get into the win column when they host Centralia next Friday night. The Orphans (2-0) had a come-from-behind 20-17 win over Bethalto Friday night.
Paxton-Buckley-Loda 7 11 0 0 18
Effingham 6 0 0 6 12
Passing: Daugherty (E) 5/14, 130 yards, 0 TD, 2 INT; Weber (PBL) 5/10, 92 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT
Rushing: Miller (E) 16 carries, 106 yards, 1 TD; Schrodt (PBL) 27 carries, 199 yards, 1 TD; Weber (PBL) 10 carries, 46 yards
Receving: Wolff (E) 1 catches, 46 yards; Hayes (E) 1 catch, 45 yards; Schrodt (PBL) 5 catches, 92 yards, 1 TD
Defense: Durbin (E) 16 tackles; Arndt (E) 11 tackles; Paige (E) 13 tackles; Wohltman (E) 4 tackles, FR, TD; Hagen (E) 4 tackles, FR; Vasquez (E) 9 tackles, FR