The Panthers may never have been in control of last week’s game against the visiting Chester Volcanoes, but they were in contention throughout, and fought all the way through the final whistle of their 16-6 loss.
Maxwell’s offense struggled often against Chester’s formidable defensive front – whether it was in the pass or run game. Maxwell was held to just 175 yards of total offense on the night, including 77 yards through the air. Quarterback Trent Hendrix, starting his third game in place of the injured Ulisses Rolon, was sacked a total of eight times in the contest. Those sacks resulted in a loss of 58 yards, and one of them resulted in Hendrix being stripped of the ball and Chester recovering the fumble in the end-zone for a touchdown at the start of the second quarter. The Panthers found more success with their rushing attack, particularly when Rudy Gutierrez was carrying the ball, but struggled to fill the void when Gutierrez left the game early in the third quarter with an injury.
While their offense struggled, Maxwell’s defense kept the game competitive, coming up with big plays at crucial times. The only touchdown the Panthers’ defense allowed came in the first quarter, when Chester’s Callum Kremer broke free for a 48-yard rushing touchdown to open the scoring on the Volcanoes’ second drive of the game. Aside from that, in Chester’s six first-half possessions, Maxwell’s defense forced two punts, had two stops on fourth down, and made a critical goal-line stand as time expired in the second quarter. Two of Chester’s first-half drives started inside Maxwell’s 25-yard line, and the Panthers kept them off the board on both occasions. The Panthers ultimately entered the half down 13-0.
Maxwell’s defense forced turnovers on Chester’s first two possessions of the second half, as Tim Kromis recovered a Kremer fumble and Gutierrez picked off quarterback Kameron Stelzriede late in the third quarter. After Gutierrez’s interception gave the Panthers the ball deep in Chester territory, they marched 28 yards in seven plays and were faced with a fourth-and-goal situation at the two-yard line. Hendrix plunged in on a quarterback keeper to finally put the Panthers on the board with about 17 seconds left in the third quarter. After an unsuccessful two-point attempt, Chester held a 13-6 lead.
Chester looked like they would respond quickly, as Kremer ripped off a 35-yard gain in the early stages of Volcanoes’ ensuing drive, setting his team up with a first down at Maxwell’s 24-yard line. The Panthers defense cinched down, however, and held Chester to a field goal. Leo Flores’ 38-yard attempt sailed through the uprights with about nine minutes left in the game, putting the score at 16-6.
After the kickoff, Maxwell started their drive at their own 29-yard line. Hendrix and Greg Rangel connected for a quick three-yard gain on first down, and Gutierrez rumbled for four yards on second down. It was on that play that Gutierrez went down and had to be helped off the field. After a Hendrix pass fell incomplete on the next play, the Panthers’ drive appeared to have at their own 36-yard line. Maxwell came out in a punt formation, but head coach Russ Jones and his staff dialed up a fake: Maxwell’s long-snapper flicked the ball back to one of the up-backs, who handed the ball to Cody Pearson on a reverse. Pearson outran Chester’s defense to the corner, and turned it upfield for a gain of 23 yards.
Absent Gutierrez, who wouldn’t return to the game, Maxwell struggled capitalize off of the big play, moving backwards before punting the ball away from midfield.
With about half of the final quarter in the books, Maxwell’s defense made yet another momentum-shifting play to keep their hopes of a comeback alive. This time, it was Wyatt Hendrix, who picked off Kremer near Chester’s 35-yard line and returned it 27 yards to set the Panthers up with a first-and-goal situation at the eight-yard line. Despite the short field, Maxwell was unable to come away with points, turning the ball over on downs with 3:30 left in the game. Chester took over and churned out three first downs to run out the clock, sealing a 16-6 win.
Despite injuries to key players, Jones said his team played with tenacity, going hard for all four quarters and keeping themselves in a position to win the game throughout.
“We just kind of ran out of horses. When Rudy (Gutierrez) went down, that left us without two two-way starters,” said head coach Russ Jones. “(Chester)’s a really, really good football team, and I thought the adjustments we made at halftime were going to be good enough, and they just weren’t… Greg Rangel had to run in and play running back, and he’s probably gotten three reps all year in practice at (that position). Like always, I’m proud of these young men. They work their tail-ends off and don’t give up.”
Maxwell (3-5, 1-5 Cascade-Valley League) will look to bounce back on the road in a league tilt against a winless Burney team (0-7, 0-5 CVL) on Friday at 7 PM. Chester (6-1, 4-1 CVL) travels to Quincy (3-4, 3-2 CVL) this week. ■