CRESTON — One week after seeing an 11-point lead with 44 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter turn into a one-point loss, Creston scored with just over two minutes left to turn aside upset-minded Perry, 28-21, in a tightly-played Class 3A District 1 showdown.
The Panthers (4-1, 2-1) endured a bizarre set of circumstance in falling to ADM, 36-35, Sept. 20 but this time caught a huge break late in the game to knock off the Bluejays (1-4, 0-3), who had led, 21-14, midway through the third quarter.
"This was a well-played game by us on both sides of the ball," Perry head coach Jason Olejniczak said. "We did more than enough right to win this game, with the exception that we could not stop them from making one or two big plays at key moments.
"I give Creston credit for coming up with the big play, but part of that is on us, because we have to be able to make our own big plays and we could not," he added. "That has been the difference in our losses, especially this one and the Boone game. It is one thing to play well, but you have to make more big plays than the other guy if you want to win."
Creston grabbed a 7-0 lead after just two plays, as a 38-yard pass completion was followed by a 42 yards touchdown sprint from Adam Baker. The first of four Conner Pals gave the hosts the quick lift just 23 seconds into the contest.
Perry held their own and refused to fold under the sudden burst. The Jays appeared to have tied the game when Will Whiton hit Ben Daniels for a 31-yard score, but a holding call moved the ball back to the 41 yard line.
Whiton simply took it from there, breaking free on the next snap for a TD run that, coupled with Cameron Martinez’s PAT boot, tied the score with 1:36 to play in the first quarter.
Panther quarterback Brandon Phipps burned the Bluejay pass defense on multiple occasions, connecting on 18-of-23 attempts for 213 yards. He hit six passes for at least 20 yards and was able to repeatedly convert third-and-long yardage plays to keep drives alive.
"We broke down and made some mental mistakes and got out of our coverage at times, which helped them and to beat a team like this we had have avoid that," Olejniczak admitted. "I know it is frustrating for the kids, because they played so well all night on first and second down and then just could not get the stop.
"Part of this has to be on me … maybe I am not making the right calls at the right time," he continued. "All of us know we could be 4-1 or 3-2, but it is what it is. What is important is what we learn and how we bounce back. We have played well the past two Homecoming games and hopefully that will continue this week (Lewis Central visits Dewey Field tonight, see preview page 8)."
Creston converted two third-and-long plays on their way to taking a 14-7 lead early in the second frame when Trevor Frain scored on a two-yard run.
Perry responded with a brisk drive that saw four of five plays go for first down yardage, with the drive capped by a three-yard Whiton run. The point-after kick was wide right, leaving the hosts with a 14-13 lead.
Creston then went on a 14-play, 88-yard drive all the way to the Perry five-yard line, but the defense stiffened and time expired in the half before the Panthers could get off a final snap.
The Bluejays were sharp to start the third quarter, moving 80 yards on six plays, with Daniels racing into the end zone from 63 yards away with a Whiton pass. Whiton then hit Seth Stetzel with the conversion pass to put Perry in front, 21-14.
The Perry defense appeared to have stalled the ensuing Creston drive, but Phipps hit Maxx Walters for 25 yards on 3rd-and-10 to keep possession. Frain ended the drive with a three-yard run that tied the score with 4:56 left in the third period.
Perry moved quickly once more but fumbled away the ball at the Panther 30 early in the fourth quarter. The teams traded three-and-out possessions before the hosts flipped field position with a nine-play drive that moved 43 yards. The Jays then went three-and-out again, setting up the final Creston score.
The Panthers appeared by all accounts to have caught a huge break when an 18-yard pass that looked to have hit the ground was ruled a completion. The defense protested a little too vehemently and Perry drew their seventh 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in five games, giving Creston a total of 33 yards and moved the ball to the Perry 25.
Phipps scored on a seven-yard run with 2:18 to play for a 28-21 Panther lead, with Whiton intercepted by Bryce Briley on a final desperation drive that all but ended the drama.
Creston was held well below their rushing average despite 123 yards on 24 carries from Baker. Frain added 32 yards on eight rushes as part of 183 total ground yards.
Walters led the Panther receivers with eight grabs for 110 yards, with Frain making five snags for 34 yards.
Whton was 10-15-1 for 144 yards passing and rushed 19 times for 119 yards. Daniels had eight catches for 121 yards to pace the aerial attack, with Seth Stezel adding 46 rushing yards on nine runs.
Michael Lansing finished with a game-high 17 tackles for the Jays, with Nic Wilhelmi in on 10 stops while Daniels and Stetzel had nine denials apiece.