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Ellsworth football relies on defense to advance to playoffs

Ellsworth's defense forced five fumbles in their game against the Prescott Cardinals on Friday, Oct. 13. Katie Davidson / RiverTown Multimedia1 / 2
Shane Elsen and Alex Matzek stop Derek Rundquist on his fourth-quarter run. Katie Davidson / RiverTown Multimedia2 / 2

Ellsworth's defense could not have presented a better performance than what they showed in their game against the Prescott Cardinals on Friday, Oct. 13. The Panthers held their conference rivals to zero points in the last game of the regular season, which ended with a score of 27-0.

With the win, the Panthers have secured a spot in the playoffs while the Cardinals end their 2017 season with a record of 3-5, 2-5.

The Panthers managed to win the game, but the first quarter, which was filled with turnovers from both sides, was not the best of Ellsworth's play.

The Panthers were able to force a Prescott fumble at the Cardinals' 35-yard line in the first drive of the game, but would turn the ball over after an incomplete pass at fourth and 21.

Logan Melstrom put the Panthers on the board with a five-yard touchdown run with 4:59 left in the first quarter, and the Panthers' defense recovered another Prescott fumble following Melstrom's touchdown, but the Panthers couldn't convert this time and turned the ball over at fourth and seven after an illegal procedure flag.

The Cardinals went four and out on their next possession, and the Panthers ended the first quarter with a Sawyer Hamilton carry, which was enough for a Panthers first down.

The Panthers took over at their own 47-yard line to start the second quarter and would make it to Prescott's 19-yard line, but gave the ball back to Prescott by throwing the first interception of the half.

Ellsworth's Ryan McGregor intercepted a Prescott pass on the Cardinals' next drive, but Drake Flom would throw his second interception of the night in the next Ellsworth possession. The Cardinals went on to recover their own fumble at their 37-yard line to end the turnover-filled first half.

Flom made up for his first half interceptions by running for Ellsworth's second touchdown of the night with 9:43 left on the clock in the third quarter. Ellsworth's two-point conversion was no good, and the Panthers lead expanded to 13-0.

Prescott's Joe Schulte gave the Cardinals the field positioning they needed to score their first touchdown of the night on a 30-yard run, but Prescott would turn the ball over on a fourth down once again.

Ellsworth's defensive play proved to be too much for the Cardinals to handle in the fourth quarter, too. On the first Prescott possession of the quarter, the Cardinals fumbled at their own 35-yard line, which they were able to recover, but went on to throw an incomplete pass at fourth and 25.

Ellsworth's offense matched their team's superior defensive play by scoring their third touchdown of the night on a Melstrom 66-yard running touchdown. The Panthers would go on to score one more touchdown on a 15-yard pass from Flom to Logan Benson, which set the final score at 27-0.

The Panthers were led on defense by senior Shane Elsen who recorded seven-and-a-half tackles in the game.

"The team really came together after halftime to solidify the lead over the Cardinals," Elsen said. "I'm very glad we secured the spot in the playoffs, and I wouldn't want to go into battle with any other group of guys."

Prescott's Ethan Luksich also recorded seven-and-a-half tackles in his team's loss.

Melstrom led the Panthers with 85 rushing yards, and Schulte was the Cardinals' rushing leader with 44 yards of his own.

Benson recorded 61 receiving yards on four catches for Ellsworth, while Flom, his quarterback, went 12-21 on passing attempts.

Prescott's quarterback, Jonah Anderson, was three for 10 on passing attempts in the Middle Border Conference matchup.

Ellsworth will continue their season on Friday, Oct. 20 when they travel to Bloomer for the first round of the WIAA playoffs.