Panthers win season opener
ELLSWORTH - It seems purple and white always look good on Clair Austin.
Austin, the first-year coach at Ellsworth, has sported the colors as a player in high school where he won a state championship at Brandon, S.D., at Goodhue, where he led the team to two state championships and eight state tournament appearances in 13 years, and now with the Panthers, who made him a winner Friday in his first game with a 22-7 victory over Elk Mound.
"I think it's big to start out the way we did," Austin said.
Big because winning football games hasn't come easily for Ellsworth in the past three years. After back-to-back 0-9 seasons, the Panthers won two games last season, so the season-opening victory went a long way for the players.
"It's huge," senior running back Jacob Betthauser said. "We haven't had a win like this in a long time."
Betthauser played a big role in the victory as he rushed for 115 yards and a touchdown. He also led the team with nine tackles from his linebacker position.
"He's a heck of an athlete," Austin said. "He just took over the ground game."
Ellsworth rushed for 298 yards as a team. Sophomore Logan Kammerer finished with 91 yards. Sophomore Dennis Schutz rushed for 47 yards and a touchdown. Senior Adam Kearns had 36 yards and a touchdown.
The ground game came up solid for the Panthers, but early on they had trouble with putting the ball on the ground. Ellsworth fumbled five times in the game and lost four of them. For the game the Panthers had five turnovers and the miscues created an abrupt end to budding drives.
"We've got a lot of work to do," Austin said.
The Ellsworth defense flourished while the offense sputtered at times. The Panthers held the Mounders to just 177 yards of total offense and most of that came on a first quarter touchdown pass.
After Ellsworth got Elk Mound to go three-and-out on its first possession, the Panthers gave the ball back after five plays.
The Mounders needed one play to take the lead when quarterback Matt Hastreiter found a wide open Austin DeLong for a 62-yard touchdown pass that gave Elk Mound a
7-0 lead less than 4 minutes into the game.
Schutz provided Ellsworth with big plays throughout the night and his first came on the ensuing kickoff. Schutz brought the ball down to the Mounders' 24-yard line with a 62-yard kick return that set up a 2-yard touchdown run by Betthauser. The Panthers missed the extra point and trailed 7-6.
Ellsworth took a 12-7 lead with 2 minutes, 12 seconds left in the game when Kearns scored on a 30-yard run. The touchdown completed a seven-play, 54-yard drive.
Schutz's other big play came in the third quarter when he tackled Elk Mound running back Jordan Klemp in the end zone for a safety that gave the Panthers a 14-6 lead with 3:26 left in the third quarter.
Ellsworth had a 13-play drive that began on its own 11-yard line stall at the Mounders' 7-yard line. But Schutz made sure the Panthers got some points out of it as he sniffed out a sweep play and made the solo tackle in the end zone.
"Our defense stepped up when we needed," Austin said.
Ellsworth had five sacks in the game, intercepted a pass, recovered a fumble and held Elk Mound to 60 yards rushing.
The Panthers will face River Falls Aug. 26 in River Falls.
"We're just going to have to get ready and show progress," Austin said. "It was a great start."