The Elder Panthers secured a home playoff game at The Pit next week Friday night with a 34-28 victory over their GCL South foes, the LaSalle Lancers.
Elder (7-3, 2-1) overcame the weather, several big plays by the Lancers, and some miscues of their own to win a game that mimicked their 2012 season.
LaSalle (4-6, 0-3) came out looking to finish the season on a high note, and appeared more relaxed, as they put together a nice drive early in the first quarter. With about four and a half minutes gone in the game the Lancer drive was capped off by a diving 14-yard touchdown catch by Derek Kief right in front of the Elder student section.
The Panthers returned the favor with a ball control drive of their own and with two minutes left in the first quarter Chris Schroer scored the first of his three touchdowns on the night, this one from a yard out. The point-after conversion missed left as the wind and rain led to the first miscue by the Panthers leaving them trailing 7-6.
Less than forty seconds were off the clock when LaSalle next scored. Brennen Walsh caught a short pass from Brad Burkhart and raced down the sideline for a 62-yard touchdown making it 14-7 which was the score when the first quarter came to an end.
Elder was able to respond once again with a 12-yard touchdown catch by Anthony Stacklin. This play was befitting of the evening as Panther quarterback Josh Moore mishandled the shotgun snap, but was able to pick it up and hit Stacklin, who had to go through a Lancer defender to get into the end zone. It wasn't pretty, it took some physical running, but in the end it was successful and Elder was back to within one at 14-13.
The final points of the first half came on another La Salle big play when Morgan Wilcox went straight up the middle and 72 yards later the score was 21 -13 Lancers just over two minutes after Stacklin's score.
The Panthers put another nice drive together, but it stalled out in the red zone and with a minute and a half left in the second quarter Elder missed its second kick of the night, a 25-yard field goal try this time around.
Coming out of the locker room with the lead and the ball, LaSalle marched right down the field, looking to put some distance between themselves and the Panthers. Elder senior linbacker had other ideas though and leapt high in the air at the goal line to pick of a Burkhart pass giving his team the ball.
As the weather worsened, both offenses struggled for most of the third quarter. However, with the quarter coming to a close one of the most memorable moments in Elder offensive history would take place. With just about three minutes to go in the third Max Mazza hauled in a Josh Moore pass and raced eighty yards for the touchdown. Not only was it a much needed score to get the Panthers back in the game, it was also Mazza's third catch of the game making him Elder's number one pass catcher of all time.
History aside, the Panthers still needed this game to host a home playoff game and when they tried for two and failed, they were still trailing to visiting La Salle 21-19 and the Lancers still had one more haymaker to throw.
To this point La Salle was in the lead due mostly to Elder miscues and their big plays. It would be another big play that stretched the Lancer lead to 28-19 when quarterback Brad Burkhart went 70 yards on the ground with a minute plus to go in the third.
Down nine in the fourth quarter, head coach Doug Ramsey would rally his team in admirable fashion. It started when Schroer got his second touchdown of the night with 7:43 to go in the game and the Panthers trailed 28-26.
When it absolutely had to the Elder defense stood its ground and forced LaSalle to punt. While the kick wasn't all that pretty it took a serious Lancer roll and ended up near the 10-yard line giving the Panthers about five minutes on the clock and nearly the entire field to go, down two.
The ensuing drive was one that Elder fans won't soon forget. Twice Elder converted on third downs to keep the drive alive, at one point senior quarterback hit senior receiver Joe Ramstetter on a sensational catch in double coverage and in the rain. It appeared that the Class of 2013 wanted one more game in The Pit.
With just 1:24 remaining on the clock Schroer added his final touchdown on a 12-yard run and the Panthers had their first lead of the game. Schroer also added the two-point conversion making the score 34-28. The Elder defense finished off La Salle and the fourth quarter and the regular season came to a close.
LaSalle graduates a senior class that struggled late in the season after a 4-1 start, but no doubt coach Tom Grippa will be back at the grind getting his team ready for the 2013 season.
The Panthers earned themselves a home game at home next week in the first round matchup that will be officially announced on Sunday afternoon.