The Panthers had the mojo, the drive and desire to bring home the school’s first state championship.
In the end, the Vianney Golden Griffins came away with the Class 5 championship thanks to a 49-14 win over Zumwalt North. But don’t expect the Panthers to make excuses, hang their heads or say the 2016 season was a bust by any means.
Zumwalt North (12-2), after two straight seasons of being bumped in the Class 5 quarterfinals by Battle, made it to the Class 5 title game for the first time in school history. The Panthers were denied a title but still buoyed by a strong sense of accomplishment never seen before by the program.
“It’s a great experience for our team and everything just to be able to take another step in the program and take journey a little farther,” Panthers senior quarterback Cade Brister said. “For the younger kids, to set the standard even higher this year. It wasn’t the result we wanted but we enjoyed everything and had a blast.”
It was a unique week for the Panthers as the club practiced on Thanksgiving morning in preparation for the championship game and for Coach Joe Bacon, having another week of practice with this group of Panthers was something that made the trip to the title game even more special regardless of the outcome.“It was a crazy, busy week but a good kind of crazy,” Bacon said. “It was pretty cool having to rearrange our Thanksgiving plans to hang out and have practice together Thanksgiving morning and it was cool to see our guys out on that field competing as hard as they could and to have one more week with them was really special.”
Brister’s 43rd touchdown of the season, a 2-yard run in the first quarter, and an early second quarter score by Deondre Stockton on an 8-yard run, staked the Panthers to a 14-7 lead.
That was the last time Zumwalt North would enjoy a lead as the potent Golden Griffins, led by standout running back Kyren Williams, exploded for six straight touchdowns to decide the game quickly in their favor.
“Things kind of snowballed on us there and we made a few mistakes and against a team of Vianney’s quality, you just can’t make those mistakes and when you don’t play at your highest level as team like that is going to expose you,” Bacon said.
Despite the down finish, Brister ended up with 98 yards rushing on 23 carries.
Bacon did not view the championship game loss as a dark time for the program but rather as a major stepping stone that could keep Zumwalt North relevant in area football circles for several seasons to come.
“We did some things that’s never been done at North before, we won 12 games this season, we made it to the state championship,” said Bacon. “Obviously, we didn’t win the game and that’s a disappointment but these kids did something that hadn’t been done in over 50 years at our school, so that’s a lot to be proud of.”
The best part of the championship game experience for Brister was being able to spend that final game of the playoffs on the field with his teammates and share that experience with his senior classmates.
“Just enjoying with my some of boys, my senior class, we’ve been working on this since sixth grade and I know we lost but just getting there was something to really be proud of,” Brister said. “I’m glad I got to enjoy that with all of our senior class.”