Wilmot junior Zack Watson finds a hole during a Sept. 20 Southern Lakes Conference contest with visiting Union Grove. Watson, a multi-purpose threat, led the Panthers to a 24-7 win as quarterback (Earlene Frederick/The Report).

By Jason Arndt

After spending the week of practice running drills as a running back and wide receiver, Wilmot junior Zack Watson acknowledged he was not prepared when starting quarterback Zach Lamberson went down with an injury.

Watson, however, found a way to win.

Lamberson, among the Southern Lakes Conference leaders in passing yards, suffered the possible season-ending injury on the first play from scrimmage in the Panthers’ Sept. 20 clash with Union Grove.

For Watson, he had a few minutes to warm up before entering the game, which the Panthers edged the Broncos 24-7.

“I was practicing wide receiver and running back all week,” said Watson, who did not expect to see action at the start of the contest. “I have taken some reps at quarterback during practice and I knew I had to be ready.”

“But I was not expecting that, I was a little bit nervous at the beginning, but after a few reps I got into my rhythm.”

The Panthers and Broncos, meanwhile, carried a scoreless contest in the second quarter, where Wilmot posted the first points.

With 1:51 left in the first quarter, the Panthers forced a turnover, when Union Grove sophomore Ryan Davis fumbled after making a catch and recovered by Wilmot on the Broncos 23-yard line.

Wilmot, which maintained possession entering the second quarter, eventually scored on a 1-yard run by Watson to pull the Panthers ahead 7-0 with 10:57 left in the first half.

The Broncos, however, capitalized on a Wilmot fumble with under one minute remaining in the half.

Union Grove, in possession on the Wilmot 34-yard line, produced a five-play scoring drive capped off by a 14-yard Luke Hansel touchdown strike to Luke Nelson with three second left in the first half.

“We gave them those seven points by turning the ball over before the end of the half,” said Panthers coach Keiya Square. “There was a lot of miscommunication.”

Panthers take control
At 9:42 left in the fourth quarter, Wilmot garnered favorable field possession, courtesy of a botched Union Grove punt to place the ball at the Broncos’ 39-yard line.

Watson then answered with runs of 27, 8 and 2 yards to set up a senior Tanner Peterson 2-yard touchdown run to extend the Wilmot lead to 14-7 at 8:02.

On the next possession, the Broncos turned the ball over on downs to give Wilmot possession on its own 39-yard line.

Wilmot responded with five-play scoring drive capped off by a Watson 42-yard touchdown run.

Watson, who completed 3 of 9 passes for 20 yards, rushed for a game-high 163 yards on 18 carries.

He credited his offensive line for opening up holes.

“My line made huge holes for me, I wasn’t throwing the ball very well and doing anything in the passing role, so we decided to run it,” Watson said.

Watson said the Broncos high-pressure pass rush did not help his cause.

“They mixed me up from the beginning with the stunts, with the blitzes from the outside,” Watson said.

Union Grove coach Craig McClelland, whose team prepared its game plan for Lamberson, switched up the Broncos defensive scheme.

“We switched up on the front a little bit and bring more pressure on him and make his reads a little tougher,” said McClelland, whose team dropped to 2-2 in the SLC (3-3 overall).

According to Square, he knew Watson would look for a way to win, but it was a matter of finding his strength on Sept. 20.

“We had confidence that he was going to be able to do it, he just hadn’t had a lot of reps at quarterback, we just had to find out what he could do and what he felt comfortable with,” he said.

The Panthers added a 29-yard Joe Davis field goal late in the game.

Tenacious defense
Wilmot (4-2, 3-1 SLC) held the Broncos to less than 200 yards of total offense.

Three defenders accounted for at least 10 tackles (Austin Videlka, 12; Caden Mulhollon, 11 and Cal Jenkins, 11 tackles, sack).

Senior Kevin Brenner added a sack and contributed six tackles.


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