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Ellsworth Panthers win 2021 MBC crown

Ellsworth Panthers win 2021 MBC crown Ellsworth Panthers win 2021 MBC crown

After the Ellsworth Panthers’ 40-7 victory on the road against Saint Croix Central on Friday, Oct. 8, the Panthers secured, at the very least, a share of the 2021 Middle Border Conference Championship. Ellsworth will have a chance to be the outright champion if they win next week against Amery to be the lone undefeated team in Middle Border Conference play.

The road victory for Ellsworth against Saint Croix Central began unconventionally. Typically, Ellsworth will get out to a 14- or 17-point lead in the first quarter and have the win secured sometime in the first half.

However, the Saint Croix Central homecoming game didn’t begin like that. The first quarter served as more of a defensive battle and neither team could jumpstart the offense early in the game. That was until Ellsworth got on the board first nearly 11 minutes into the first quarter when running back Jurell Gooden scored on a 21-yard touchdown run to give Ellsworth a 6-0 lead.

In the second quarter, Ellsworth scored two more touchdowns to add to their lead. The first was moments into the second quarter when senior quarterback Jack Janke scored on a 47-yard designed quarterback run to give Ellsworth a 12-0 advantage. Four minutes later, senior running back Max Grand got in on the action. Grand took a handoff and bounced the play outside of the right tackle. Once he got to the edge, he let his speed shine as he scored on a 62-yard run.

The third touchdown in nine minutes gave Ellsworth a 20-0 lead with just under eight minutes remaining in the first half of action. Shortly before halftime, Saint Croix Central got on the board with a oneyard touchdown run by AJ Holmgren which was followed by a successful PAT to make the Ellsworth lead 20-7.

Despite a quality first half of football for head coach Rob Heller’s Ellsworth Panthers, the lead was only 13 points and Saint Croix Central finished the half with some momentum from the touchdown drive in front of a nearly fullcapacity homecoming crowd.

However, Ellsworth received the second half kick and subsequently dominated Saint Croix Central in all aspects of the game for the remainder of the second half. The Ellsworth defense pitched a shutout in the final 24 minutes, not allowing Saint Croix Central to do anything notable on offense.

Meanwhile, the Ellsworth offense picked up right where it left off. Grand added another touchdown in the third quarter. This time it was a 34-yarder that was followed by a successful two-point conversion attempt to make the Ellsworth lead 28-7. During the fourth quarter senior Ashten Quade joined the scoring effort with a 43-yard touchdown run. Less than two minutes later, Saint Croix Central was in a fourth and long situation. Head coach John Tackmann decided to punt to the returner, the aforementioned Quade.

On the return, Quade showed off his speed as he broke tackles, got to the sideline, and simply outran the entire Saint Croix Central special teams’ unit. When the play was over, Quade had a 65-yard punt return touchdown that capped off another stellar Ellsworth Panthers performance in Middle Border Conference action. After the game, coach Heller spoke about what it’s like to have a player like Quade on his roster.

“That kid has evolved into a great football player,” Heller said after the 40-7 win. “He’s fun to coach, he’s so dynamic, he can hurt you on offense, he plays great defense and he’s a special teams player too. I was actually surprised that they kicked the ball to him. He’s been getting a lot of credit this year, as he should. With him and Max (Grand), it’s kind of pick your poison and he’s a hell of a football player.”

Quade, Grand, Janke and other impactful seniors have created one of the most potent Ellsworth offenses in school history. The team is averaging 46 points per game, the most in the Middle Border Conference. The offense has propelled Ellsworth to a perfect 7-0 record for the 2021 season, including a 6-0 record in conference play. With the win on Friday night against Saint Croix Central, Ellsworth earned a second consecutive conference championship. Coach Heller spoke about winning the conference title after the game Friday night.

“I couldn’t be happier for this group of players,” Heller said. “This has been a group of players that we’ve been waiting for since I’ve been a coach here. They’re just a fun group to coach and I couldn’t be happier for them. I think this is the first time in school history we’ve been back-to-back conference champs. We’d like to win it outright next week against Amery, but these guys came up to Hammond and played a hell of a football game to seal the deal tonight. I’m proud of those guys.”

On Friday, Oct. 15, Ellsworth will host the 2-6 Amery Warriors in the final game of the regular season. Amery is tied for last in the Middle Border Conference standings with Somerset. Both teams have a 1-5 record in conference play. The game between Ellsworth and Amery is slated to begin at 7 p.m.

Ellsworth junior running back Jurell Gooden breaks free on a 21-yard touchdown run on the road against the Saint Croix Central Panthers on Friday, Oct. 8.Photo by Reagan Hoverman