A large crowd celebrating the Sweet Home Panthers’ homecoming went home in disappointment on Friday night after the Grand Island Vikings came away with a 28-0 shutout victory.
The victory was a statement by a Vikings team to anyone who may have still questioned the validity of the Vikings after ending Starpoint’s 17-game league winning streak last week, and toppling a high-scoring Panthers squad this week.
“It was just a great win for our guys to shut out a team that scores a lot of points and has some good athletes on their team,” Vikings coach Dean Santorio said. “Our defense has done that all year. I think we’re the lowest scoring defense in our league… We won ugly a little bit tonight but we’ll take an ugly win and a shutout.”
Meanwhile, Panthers coach Rich Lowe lamented the outcome, which he felt his team – one that was desperate for a victory in order to stay in the crowded Class A North playoff picture – let get away from them.
“We pretty much made all the same mistakes we’ve been making all year,” Lowe said. “We were too undisciplined and it caught up to us. That’s on me, and we’ve got to find a way to correct it.”
After trading scoreless drives, the Vikings received a boost late in the first quarter when Jason Breeden returned a 45-yard punt to give his team excellent field position at Sweet Home’s 30-yard line.
The Vikings then took the ball down to the one-yard line where quarterback Cam Sionko cashed in on a one-yard quarterback sneak.
When the Vikings did get the ball next a short while later, they decided to put some tricks on display. A successful fake punt and a halfback option both lead to Grand Island marching down the field and winning the time of possession battle, and culminated with a nine-yard touchdown pass from Sionko to Zane Johnson to put the road team up by 14 at the half.
The Panthers’ only realistic opportunity to score came at the Vikings’ one-yard line with 1.4 seconds remaining in the first half. Sweet Home decided to have quarterback Joseph Torrillo keep it himself on a quarterback keeper, but was stopped just short of paydirt before the clock ran out.
“That was huge,” Santorio said. “That could have been a game-changer, because if they got in, they’d have all the momentum. That was enormous for us.”
“(Torrillo) tried to jump over me but I grabbed his ankles and pulled him right down,” linebacker Nick Anzalone said. “Hard work and dedication, that’s what we put into it.”
In the second half, it proved to be more of the same on Grand Island’s part. A zone read-option call in the third quarter lead to Sionko hitting paydirt from 11 yards away, and Easton Speer put the game away for good in the fourth quarter with a three-yard scoring run.
One player that didn’t make an impact was Vikings running back Thomas Cecere, who left the game early with what looked to be a bruised knee.
“He took a helmet to the knee and it swelled a bit,” Santorio said. “There was no sense in risking it, so we decided to rest him and go from there.”
Grand Island will take on the Williamsville East Flames next week, while the Panthers will travel to Williamsville South for a tilt with the Billies – with both matchups essentially determining who will move on to the postseason and who will go home.
“Will East is 3-2 going into their game tomorrow and 3-1 in our league, so we can’t afford to take them lightly,” Santorio said. “Ever since we lost to Will South earlier this year, every game for us has pretty much been a playoff game. So hopefully we’ll be focused and play good football next week and everything will come together in our favor.”
Santorio also won his 100th game as head coach of the Vikings Friday night.
“It’s a must-win situation, for sure,” Lowe said. “Will South’s very physical and they run a similar system to ours. We’re going to need to be ready and minimize mistakes and go from there.”