Big plays and a pair of fourth-quarter defensive stands helped Woodland Park survive a scare Saturday.
Cecil Cox threw for a score and ran for another, and Dakota Herman kicked the game-winner with 4:29 remaining to help Woodland Park defeat Mitchell 23-20 at Garry Berry Stadium. The Panthers (5-2, 1-0 3A South Central) never trailed, but needed two stops down the stretch to secure the win.
"It was a tough game," Woodland Park coach Joe Roskam said. "We made some key stops and then got a couple of first downs when we needed to shut it down. We feel good, but we've got to execute a lot better because we have Coronado, Discovery Canyon and Lewis-Palmer back-to-back."
Josh Smith had a 39-yard scamper with 6:12 remaining to set up Herman's 20-yard field goal, and the Panthers' defense forced the Marauders (1-7, 0-2) to punt with 2:19 remaining. Woodland Park was able to run out the clock.
"It's weird how plays can change momentum just like that - it's awesome," said Cox, a sophomore. "We were struggling but then we scored on fourth and 15, and that helped put the momentum on our side. Those stops near the end of the game really helped us and got us going."
Cox's touchdown pass came with the Panthers facing a fourth and 15 early in the second quarter with Woodland Park holding a 7-6 lead. Cox found Logan Watters, who weaved his way to the end zone for a 14-6 advantage with 9:39 left in the half.
Herman, who missed an extra point right before halftime, split the uprights with the game-winner.
"It was awesome to hit it," Herman said of the field goal. "I was nervous and trying to make up for the extra point I missed earlier in the game. I was more motivated and determined to hit it (after that)."
The Panthers' other big play came later in the second quarter, when Mitchell quarterback T.J. Conklin fumbled his exchange with running back Preston Williams on the Marauders' 39-yard line with 33.4 seconds remaining. A roughing-the-passer penalty helped Woodland Park set up for a 7-yard Cox touchdown run with 11.5 seconds left, and the Panthers took a 20-12 lead to the locker room.
Dylan Schaller's 42-yard run set the stage for Smith's 1-yard touchdown plunge 2:42 into the game and gave Woodland Park a 7-0 lead. Mitchell answered with a 6-yard touchdown pass from Conklin to Rahiem Stafford with 4:30 left in the first quarter.
Mitchell converted a fourth down of its own in the second quarter, and Williams punched it in from 3 yards out to cut the Panthers' lead to 14-12 with 3:54 left in the half. Mitchell took its opening drive of the second half and tied the game 20-20 after Conklin found Stafford on an 8-yard scoring strike and Williams ran in the 2-point conversion.
Its offense, able to move the ball all game, stalled in the fourth quarter. Despite the loss, Marauders coach Archie Malloy said his team could take away some good things from the game.
"There are some positives," Malloy said. "Some kids stepped up and showed they belong out here at the varsity level. Our seniors came out and played hard and represented themselves well, but you just can't turn the ball over in critical situations."