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Semifinal loss does little to dampen another superb season for Fort Zumwalt North gridders

Fort Zumwalt North junior receiver Grant Latina heads upfield as Panther senior wideout Vernell Rue puts a block on Pattonville defender Charles Shelton during a Class 5 semifinal game at Pattonville High School on Saturday, Nov. 18, 2017. [Eric Geise Photography photo].

Just nine days ago, the Fort Zumwalt North Panthers were one win away from having a return trip to the Class 5 championship game. It was right there in front of them for the taking. Unfortunately, bad weather, and a fast physical Pattonville Pirates club, led by senior running back David Ellison Jr., proved to be the one hurdle that ultimately stopped the Panthers drive to state.

Pattonville defeated the Panthers 26-7 on Nov. 18 in its first trip to state in 17 years. Pattonville also reached the state finals in 2000.

It was a tough ending for the Panthers after winning 12 straight games to reach the Class 5 semifinals.

“Getting that close to the state championship and to come up short, we didn’t feel like we played a great game,” Panthers coach Joe Bacon said. “The weather wasn’t ideal for what we had been doing offensively but it wasn’t ideal for Pattonville either. “I was very impressed with Pattonville and they deserve all the attention have been getting.”

Despite the semifinal loss to Pattonville, the season was another outstanding run as the Panthers have enjoyed one of the most prolific runs of success in St. Charles County prep football the over the past four seasons.

Zumwalt North has advanced past the quarterfinal round for the last four years, made it to the Class 5 championship game last season, and in addition, has gone to the Class 5 semifinals back to back seasons.

It’s a different group of kids that got the first one then got the last one, so it’s not just one good group of kids,” Bacon said. “So, I feel like we’ve arrived as one of the top teamsĀ  and now the challenge is to see how long we can stay there.”

The Panthers had a multi-pronged running game that was a nightmare for opposing teams to stop as senior quarterback Jack Ederer, junior running back Marion Lowery, senior running back Jacob Triplett, junior running back Cairo Payne, and junior running back Jaylin Vaughn all took turns rushing for big yards this fall.

Ederer paced the Panthers offense with 1,359 yards rushing and 20 touchdowns. Senior receiver Vernell Rue and junior wideout Grant Latina stretched the field in the passing game.

“All of those guys were huge along with the entire offensive line, so we had a lot of guys contribute offensively,” Bacon said.

Defense was also strong for the the Panthers. Senior defensive linemen Kadeer Ndiaye, Trevor Olson, and Bryce Rowles, along with linebackers Vaughn, senior Eli Paraheim, senior Maurius Smith, and Rue gave the Panthers a dominant front seven that may go down as one the best in program history.

“It was one of the best front sevens that we’ve ever had and that was such a big part our defense being as good as they were,” Bacon said.

Senior safety Kyle Mallett, senior safety Jacob Triplett, senior defensive back Yosef Kropp, and sophomore defensive back Izayah Hudnut patrolled the Panthers secondary.

The Panthers had six games where they held an opponent to 7 points or less during the 2017 regular season.

“Every had their job to do and they didn’t have to do more than their job,” Triplett said.

Bacon also noted that being strong in the special teams as well allowed the Panthers to have perfect balance that made them virtually unbeatable all season.

Triplett said the biggest key to the club winning and going deep into the playoffs again was playing for each other and ignoring the outside distractions.

“We all were just playing for each other,” Triplett said. “It didn’t matter what other people were saying and it didn’t matter what outside folks were saying. We didn’t care about everything else except for winning.”

Bacon said it was tough to say goodbye to this senior class that turned in a memorable season for the Panther faithful.

“It was a great group of guys to work with and we will miss their leadership,” Bacon said. “It’s a very selfless group that got after it and did as well as they could and that was very impressive to me.”







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