Fossil Ridge will move on to the area round of the playoffs this Saturday after thumping Arlington 44-9 last Friday in the bi-district round.
The Panthers (8-3) will take on San Angelo Central at 1 p.m. on Saturday at Shotwell Stadium in Abilene.
Central was not as fortunate, as it dropped its bi-district round game to Arlington Martin, 21-16 and finished the season at 5-6.
For Fossil Ridge, the defense held the Colts at bay all night until the Panthers offense got rolling in the second half.
“Our defense has been stepping up all year,” Fossil Ridge head coach Tony Baccarini said. “We were very physical and they’re fun to watch. It shows you can win a championship game with that defense.”
The fun came about in various ways, but in addition to holding Arlington to just 59 net rushing yards, the defense scored twice on its own.
Interception returns by Charles Walker (31 yards) and Anthony Villalobos (four yards) helped the Panthers establish a lead and then ensure the victory.
For Villalobos, it was his first touchdown and he said the feeling was great.
“The defense all came out to play,” Villalobos said. “We all went to the ball. All 11 went 100 percent to the ball.”
Fossil Ridge took a tight game and played stellar defense until the offense made plays and posted 14 points in the third quarter and another 21 in the fourth.
Cody Seidel connected on a 33-yard field goal and Walker’s interception return put the Panthers up just 10-3 at the half.
The defense would give up the only touchdown in the third quarter.
“We didn’t panic,” Villalobos said. “It was a close game at end of first half and everyone knew to just do their job and everyone just played hard.”
Jacob Gnacinski led the Panthers in rushing, totaling 163 yards and two scores while throwing for another.
Keyshawn Mitchell added another 47 yards and a score while Ryan Parker caught Gnacinksi’s touchdown toss.
Baccarini said San Angelo Central’s offense will be a challenge.
“They are very explosive on offense,” he said.
San Angelo Central (10-1) picked up its only loss in district play to Amarillo Tascosa. In their bi-district win over Montwood, 42-21, the Bobcats were again led by Mickey Scott at quarterback. Scott has thrown for 27 touchdowns and just five interceptions with a completion rate of over 75 percent. He has also rushed for 938 yards and 19 scores.
Having a Saturday game, Baccarini said the team will get a little more rest. “We’ll be able to get some extra time in study hall and tutorials,” he said.
Momentum is another take-away from the win over Arlington and Baccarini said although you take them one at a time, a win can offer something extra. “Anytime you win one of those championship games it always gives you a little momentum,” he said. “We’re certainly very excited.”
“We thought at the beginning of the season we’d make a deep run,” Villalobos said, “and we’re ready to make a statement.”
With a win, Fossil Ridge would move on to the regional round to play the victor between Denton Ryan and Waco Midway.