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Vaughn, Watson help Ft. Zumwalt North defense turn back Francis Howell in season opener

Fort Zumwalt North senior linebacker Jaylin Vaughn pulls down a Francis Howell ball carrier for a loss of yardage during a nonconference high school football game on Friday, Aug. 24 at Fort Zumwalt North High. [Eric Geise Photography Photo]

Fort Zumwalt North’s defense was not great early against Francis Howell last week, but when the fourth quarter and overtime came around, the Panthers’ defense answered and saved the day.

Senior linebacker Cerry Watson intercepted Howell quarterback Aidan McDaniel’s pass on Vikings second play of the overtime period and raced away from his teammates in celebration as the Panthers held on for a thrilling 34-27 win last Friday at Fort Zumwalt North.

Watson’s overtime pick was the perfect end to a long night of football that had the senior linebacker busy but very productive with 11 tackles, a sack and the game-winning interception.

“I was really excited to help me and my teammates win,” Watson said. “On the interception, I knew the game was over, but I kept running because I was so excited for my teammates because we worked so hard to get where we wanted to win this game.”

Fort Zumwalt North senior linebacker Cerry Watson pulls down Francis Howell senior quarterback Aidan McDaniel from behind during the 2018 football season opener for both teams at Fort Zumwalt North High on Friday, Aug. 24. [Eric Geise photography photo]

“Three months ago, we didn’t even know that Cerry would be starting,” Zumwalt North coach Joe Bacon said. “He’s worked his tail off and he’s really developed as an outside linebacker, in the right place at the right time and doing his job. A huge play for us.”

The opener against Howell was the first time the two storied St. Charles County programs had seen each other since 1999.

Zumwalt North kept its five-year unbeaten streak against St. Charles area schools alive, running the streak to 39 straight games with the win over Howell.

The streak was secondary to senior linebacker/running back Jaylin Vaughn.

“I had heard about the streak the day of [the game],” Vaughn said. “It was never the focus. The focus was to get the W.”

Vaughn also had a big hand in helping the Panthers start week one in the win column.

He rushed for 35 yards on seven carries but it was his physical, sideline-to-sideline play at linebacker that also buoyed the Zumwalt North defense.

Vaughn racked up a team-high 12 tackles. Five tackles were for lost yardage. “We did a lot of conditioning over the summer and I feel like that helped me a lot be able to play both defense and offense and perform at a high level.”

It was an up-and-down-the-field, big-play game that Zumwalt North coach Joe Bacon was glad his team could capture, starting the 2018 season off on another winning note.

“We knew it would be a physical game and a really close game and that’s the kind of games we want to be in,” said Bacon. “Howell gave us all we could handle.”

Howell had a chance to end to the game in regulation as the Vikings drove inside the Panthers’ 5-yard line. But Vikings kicker John Recca’s field goal was no good as time expired, leaving the score tied 27-27.

“We were fortunate that we were able to hold them to the field goal [attempt] there,” Bacon said.

Two plays into overtime, Panthers senior quarterback Joel Hilliard connected with Cairo Payne on a 30-yard touchdown pass to put them up 34-27.

Howell got its first series in overtime, and two plays later, Watson had the ball and the Panthers and their fans got to celebrate.

“I feel great and my team feels great and I think we are going to be able to get on a roll,” Vaughn said. “This [win] helps our confidence and our fan base, too, because going into the season everybody was kind of like, ‘Oh, it’s going to be the year we fall off,’ but you come out and beat Francis Howell, it’s a real confidence booster.”


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