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Jets fall to No. 2 Pickford

POWERS — The second-ranked Pickford Panthers made it clear from the start what they intended to do in an eight-player, Division 2 regional football championship game here Saturday.

Top-ranked North Central also couldn’t alter their game plan as it dropped a 22-14 decision to the visiting Panthers.

The victory enables the Panthers (10-1) to host Hillman (10-1) in a state semifinal contest Saturday. The Jets finished 10-1.

Pickford, intent on keeping the ball on the ground, ran for 371 yards with senior Jimmy Storey carrying most of the load.

Storey rushed for 280 yards on 51 carries and hit 3-of-6 passes for 21 on a muddy field.

“That was quite a workout,” he said. “Our line definitely stepped up. The guys blocked real well. We wanted to limit our turnovers and it definitely helped to limit those.”

The Panthers, who turned the ball over seven times in a 20-14 regular-season loss to the Jets Sept. 14, had two miscues this time. The Jets also had two turnovers Saturday.

“Our game plan was to play physical up front,” said Pickford coach Josh Rader. “We were determined to keep the ball on the ground. That was an exciting game. North Central has a magnificent team. They never gave up. We knew it would be a dogfight.”

The Jets tied the score at 14 on senior Noah Gorzinski’s four-yard quarterback keeper up the middle and Cole Timblin’s conversion run with four minutes, 53 seconds left in the contest.

“Anytime two great teams meet, it’s going to boil down to who makes the plays,” said Jets’ coach Leo Gorzinski. “I think our guys were a little surprised by how strong they were. Although, we made stops through the third quarter.”

Pickford responded on its next drive with Storey scoring the game-winner on a 10-yard run around left end and senior Stephen LaMothe’s conversion run with 51 seconds remaining.

“All I could see was our fans jumping up and down,” said Storey. “Everybody was excited. This was definitely a great environment.”

The Jets got one more chance, but lost a fumble on their own 13-yard line on a fourth-down play in the final 15 seconds.

“I saw (senior) Sam Burton dive for the ball,” said junior Micah Bailey, who made the fumble recovery. “I knew if I actually got the ball, it was the game. Although, it was the game either way. Being able to be the guy who ended the game was all the more satisfying. We knew they were going to be good.”

Pickford opened the contest by marching 70 yards in 13 plays, taking a 6-0 lead on Storey’s three-yard run up the middle to end a drive which lasted more than seven minutes.

North Central answered on its first possession, covering 57 yards in 11 plays and tying the score on freshman Luke Gorzinski’s one-yard run around right end with 1:43 left in the opening frame.

The Panthers regained the lead at 14-6 when Storey dashed 55 yards around left end and LaMothe added the conversion run with 2:32 remaining in the second stanza.

“They were a lot like Forest Park,” said coach Gorzinski. “We knew they were going to go downhill and they kept coming at us. They came in with a great game plan. The field conditions made it hard for us to go outside and the guys couldn’t make the cuts. Although, we still had some opportunities. This is hard for our seniors, but we have a real bright future. We’re blessed with a lot of young, talented players. Hats off to our guys and Pickford. They beat us fair and square. They’re a great team.”

The Jets were held to 191 yards in total offense. Noah Gorzinski ran 15 times for 106 yards and was 6-of-18 passing for 57 yards and his first interception all year. Luke Gorzinski hit 4-of-12 aerials for 25.

“They did a great job keeping us off balance,” said Rader. “Credit to North Central. It’s unfortunate one team had to lose.”

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