Making history has been the goal for the Oblong High School football team all season and that is exactly what they did Friday night.
Oblong secured the first playoff berth in school history by scoring a 28-6 win at Flora to end the season with a 6-3 record. The six wins assured the Panthers of their first postseason game ever this weekend.
"This feels tremendous," OHS head coach Travis Reider said. "We broke our huddles all summer with 'make history.' This is something we really wanted to accomplish this year and felt like we had the players to do it. I couldn't be prouder of these boys."
The Panthers continued their hot play down the stretch by winning their third straight game and their fifth in their last six after a 1-2 start.
"We have worked hard all year and our confidence didn't wane when we started 1-2," Reider said. "The kids kept after it and we were able to finish 5-1 down the stretch."
"Our seniors started from 0-9 and then we started winning some games, which taught us all, especially the seniors, we needed to come together as one to keep taking that next step up," OHS senior quarterback/linebacker Anthony Johnson said. "After we started 1-2, we realized we had to have harder practices. It took everyone to get here. Even the younger guys being on the practice squad, they really helped us a lot."
The recipe Friday night was different that what the Panthers have used most of the season, but it was equally as effective.
Oblong utilized a potent ground attack that has been consistently improving throughout the season to wear down the Wolves. The Panthers picked up 211 yards rushing on 36 carries, with most of the damage being done by Johnson, who had a hand in all four touchdowns for the Panthers.
The first of those touchdowns came on Oblong's first possession of the game.
After forcing a turnover on downs, the Panthers took over at their own 33 and marched 67 yards in 10 plays, taking just under three minutes off the clock. On third-and-10 from the 12, Johnson connected with Gerald Richardson, who just got his feet inbounds in the end zone for a touchdown with 4:53 on the clock, giving Oblong a 7-0 lead they would not relinquish.
Oblong would get on the board again before the quarter was over. Chase Mendenhall intercepted a pass by Flora's Ethan Leib at the 32 and the Panthers were on the move again.
This time, Oblong went 68 yards in nine plays, taking three minutes and 45 seconds. Johnson capped the scoring drive with a 26-yard touchdown run with 6.2 seconds left and the Panthers had a 14-0 lead.
Flora would respond with their lone touchdown drive of the game on their next possession.
The Wolves moved 71 yards on a 16-play drive that took over eight minutes off the clock, ending with a one-yard touchdown run by Trey Thompson on fourth-and-goal. Mendenhall would block the extra point for the Panthers and they still had a 14-6 lead with 3:51 left in the first half.
It didn't take long for Oblong to get those points back, as Johnson would take the ensuing kickoff and return it 85 yards for a touchdown and just like that, the Panthers pushed their lead to 21-6 with 3:38 remaining and they would take that margin into the locker room at halftime.
Defense took over in the third quarter, as neither team was able to put any points on the board.
However, Oblong put the game out of reach with their final score on their first drive of the fourth quarter.
The Panthers drove 61 yards in seven plays, taking less than three minutes off the clock. Johnson did the honors again with a 16-yard touchdown run to complete the scoring.
"The kids did a really good job setting the tempo from the beginning of the ball game," Reider said. "When we have been able to get leads early, we have done a good job of being able to grind things out."
For the game, Johnson ran 12 times for 101 yards and two touchdowns, completed 10-17 passes for 85 yards and a touchdown and also returned a kickoff for another score.
Supplementing the ground game was Keaton Neeley with 98 yards on 20 carries. Richardson was the leading receiver with four catches for 44 yards and a touchdown, Mendenhall caught three passes for 35 yards and Collin Meese caught two passes for six yards on his way to becoming the all-time receptions leader at OHS.
"We thought we could run the ball against them," Reider said. "We have been getting a lot more balanced as the season has gone on. We challenged our offensive line to step up and they have done that. Our special teams also played great tonight. Not just the touchdown, but everything was great."
While the history they made Friday is great, the Panthers want to continue making more.
"Now that we have made it, we have to keep working hard if we want to keep it rolling," Mendenhall said. "We want to get a win in the first week of the playoffs and keep making history that is unbeatable for any team that follows us."
Oblong (6-3) received the 11th-seed in a 16-team bracket and will play sixth-seeded Salt Fork (8-1) in the first round of the IHSA Class 1A Playoffs Saturday at 1 p.m. in Catlin.
"We think we can give them a good ball game," Reider said. "We are not just content with being there. We want to make some noise in the playoffs."
At Bert Dancey Field, Flora
Oblong 14 7 0 7 - 28
Flora 0 6 0 0 - 6
OHS 1Q (4:53) Anthony Johnson 12 pass to Gerald Richardson (Richardson kick)
OHS 1Q (0:06) Johnson 26 run (Richardson kick)
FHS 2Q (3:51) Trey Thompson 1 run (kick blocked)
OHS 2Q (3:38) Johnson 85 kickoff return (Richardson kick)
OHS 4Q (8:58) Johnson 16 run (Richardson kick)
First Downs 21 13
Rushes-Yds 36-211 41-150
Passes-Yds 10-17-85 11-17-52
Fumbles-Lost 3-1 1-1
Penalties-Yds 1-15 4-20
Rushing - (OHS) Anthony Johnson 12-101, Keaton Neeley 20-98, Kurtis Fleek 2-14, Collin Meese 1-0, Logan Goodwin 1-(minus 2). (FHS) Trey Thompson 15-61, Connor Earleywine 11-36, Ethan Leib 5-22, Cory Moore 8-22, Logan Eckleberry 2-11.
Passing - (OHS) Anthony Johnson 10-17-85-1TD-0INT. (FHS) Ethan Leib 11-17-52-0TD-1INT.