By Andrew Luberda
The Superior Panthers celebrated their homecoming last Friday night and appeared to have closed out their season with a dramatic victory. Unfortunately, the Fort Thomas Apaches scored a touchdown with less than 30 seconds left in the game to defeat the Panthers, 42 – 38.
Matthew Zavala, a starting receiver for the Panthers, was moved to quarterback to fill in for the injured Nicolaus Cruz. Zavala connected with Marcus Hiracheta on a touchdown pass and reception with about a minute left to give the Panthers a short-lived lead. The Apaches were able to capitalize after a 68-yard pass play by scoring the winning touchdown with 16 seconds left.
“We played a sloppy game,” head coach Ryan Palmer said about the Panthers’ performance. “But our kids didn’t back down and they go after it. One big play was the difference in the end.”
The Panthers jumped to an early lead and had a defensive score as well. But as has happened many times during the season, injuries began to take their toll. Elias Olmos and Austin Navarette left the game and did not return. In total, three Panthers’ players were carted off the field and taken to the local hospital. According to Coach Palmer, each of the injured players will have a complete recovery.
With the injured players sidelined, the remaining players were forced to play out of position where they may not have been familiar with their responsibilities. Their inexperience at those positions led to mistakes, including on the key pass play on the Apaches’ winning drive.
“We were doing a lot of things right,” Palmer said of his teams’ play before the injuries. “But we would continue to shoot ourselves in the foot.”
The Panthers’ record is not indicative of the talent on the team. They are far better than their record indicates. They are a very young team that was competing against juniors and seniors on other teams. Despite the losing record, Coach Palmer saw many positives during the season and is extremely optimistic going forward with this group of players.
“Our kids fought every game and never gave up all season,” he said. “(We) gained some valuable experience that will be rewarded with more hard work. The kids have a lot of potential and understand they have to work at getting bigger and stronger.”