One more stop – that’s all the Western Panthers really needed on Friday night to knock off Lansing Waverly and get their season back on track.
Leading 13-7 with nine minutes remaining, the Panthers had forced Waverly into a 4th-and-8 at the Western 33 yard line. A stop here would give Coach Dave Mifsud’s team the ball back, the momentum from a huge defensive stand and the lead with the clock on their side.
Instead Waverly QB Airic Boyce found Austin Edwards for 9 yards and a first down. One play after that Boyce hit Kevin Kirkland on a 24 yard touchdown. It was suddenly 14-13 Waverly and the Panthers never recovered.
Three possessions later the Waverly defense pounced on a fumble in the end zone to extend their lead to 21-13, which ended up being the final.
After an impressive opening night victory over Lake Odessa-Lakewood, Western has dropped three straight to fall to 1-3. But there were some bright spots.
Easton Oliver carried the ball 28 times for 135 yards and a touchdown and his ability to run the ball opened things up for QB Ryan Conklin. Oliver’s power running softened up the Waverly defense on their opening drive and Conklin found Levert Franklin-Potter for a touchdown that gave Western an early 7-0 lead.
“Having Easton back is a huge spark to our offense,” Coach Dave Mifsud said. “That first drive is an example of who we want to be on offense. We wanted that to set the tone for the rest of the game, but we came up short on a few big drives.”
That 7-0 lead stood until the second quarter when Boyce struck for the first time, hitting Kirkland from 40 yards out to knot the game at 7-7.
Western had chances to take control of the game, but a pair of long drives (covering 15 and 13 plays) didn’t result in points leaving them vulnerable to Boyce’s late heroics.
“We had a couple of long drives where we stalled and didn’t score,” Mifsud said. “Had we put points on the board there, it may have changed the outcome.”
Oliver eventually put Western on top in the third with his touchdown run, but a missed conversion and Boyce’s pass to Kirkland swung things Waverly’s way.
“We’re disappointed in the loss,” Mifsud said. “But we have to grow as a team and keep getting better.”
The Panthers welcome Leslie to town next weekend and a struggling Blackhawks team (0-4) should provide Western with a chance to snap that 3-game losing streak. Waverly returns home to meet surprising Eaton Rapids (3-1).