By Dan Truttschel

Sports Correspondent

Host Burlington gave the Wilmot football team its best shot during a third-quarter scoring flurry Friday night.

But the Panthers answered in a big way during the last 12 minutes – and survived a Southern Lakes Conference slugfest in the process.

Wilmot held a slim 39-37 lead heading into the fourth quarter but scored 13 unanswered points en route to a  52-37 victory. The win improved the Panthers to 4-1 in the SLC and 6-1 overall, while the Demons fell to 1-4 and 2-5.

After a tough loss to SLC leader Badger the week before, Wilmot coach Mike Greinke and his staff challenged the team to bounce back.

“Our offense responded every time they were asked to,” he said. “That was really excellent to see, because the week before, we weren’t able to do that.

“Our kids just have a never-say-die attitude that got challenged pretty hard by Badger. I think a lot of our kids had to get that confidence built back up.”

Greinke was quick to credit Burlington for putting together a solid effort.

“It was their Homecoming, and they were fired up to play,” he said. “Their kids battled the entire game offensively.”

After Burlington cut the Panthers’ lead to just two points heading into the fourth quarter, Wilmot turned to star quarterback Chris Nelson for a helping hand.

And Nelson certainly delivered, as he guided Wilmot on an 11-play, 87-yard drive that ended in his 2-yard touchdown run and rebuilt the Panthers’ lead back to two scores.

“When we’re clicking and doing the things we have done in practice all week long, it shows in drives like that,” Greinke said. “We were moving the ball and taking what they were giving because it was there. It breaks (the opponent’s) back to get it down in the red zone and stick it in.”

The game may have been Nelson’s finest moment of the season, Greinke said, as he completed 18 of 24 passing attempts for 407 yards.

“It was an outstanding game for Chris Nelson,” Greinke said. “I think it was definitely his best of the game of the year. … Chris was a man on Friday night. He just stepped up and really carried us on his back.”

Both teams scored in the first quarter, and the game was tied at 13-13 deep into the second when Wilmot cornerback Keith Hopkins came up with a key interception.

Just three plays later, Nelson connected on a 26-yard touchdown pass to Matt Christensen that sent the Panthers to the locker room with a 20-13 advantage.

The play by Hopkins was key as well, Greinke said.

“That was big,” he said. “Their quarterback under threw the ball a little bit, and he made him pay for it. They were starting to get some of that momentum back. I can’t stress how important that was at that point and time.”

Christensen led the Panthers six receptions for 206 yards.

Wilmot looked like it might run away from the Demons when it took a 32-13 lead with 7:18 left in the third quarter on a 13-yard touchdown by Ryan Gartner, who caught five passes for 77 yards and two touchdowns. But the Demons fought back to within two before Wilmot regained control.

For the game, Wilmot had 25 first downs, 230 yards rushing on 35 carries and 407 yards passing.

Burlington finished with 19 first downs, 180 yards rushing on 38 carries and 221 yards passing.

Bennett Kothe led the Panthers’ rushing attack with 167 yards on 18 carries. He also caught four passes for 73 yards and a touchdown.

Gartner also had two 27-yard field goals to go with his two touchdowns.

Wilmot and Westosha Central will renew acquaintenances this weekend when the Panthers host the Falcons Friday night in a 7 p.m. Homecoming affair.

Central has struggled to a 1-4 SLC record and a 1-6 mark overall, but Greinke knows records mean little when the two nearby rivals hook up.

“I know (Central coach) Scott (Mirkes) will get his guys fired up,” Greinke said. “I know their record isn’t what they want it to be, but it’s Wilmot (versus) Westosha.

“This week, I don’t have to do much to fire anybody up. Our kids just want to beat that team badly. … When we play confident and fired up, I just don’t know of many teams that can beat us.”

 
 

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