Memory of last-season loss fuels Panthers

Memory of last-season loss fuels Panthers

PAXTON — Motivation can be a powerful tool in the sports world. Paxton-Buckley-Loda football is going to test that concept in the 2018 season.

Back on Sept. 8, 2017, coach Jeff Graham's Panthers suffered a 27-7 loss at the hands of Sangamon Valley Conference opponent Clifton Central.

It was the last time PBL finished on the wrong side of the scoreboard during last year's regular season.

But the outcome against Clifton Central had a profound impact on the Panthers. They couldn't capture a third straight league crown, despite running the rest of the table.

"(We want to) get our title back," senior T.J. Jones said. "It's been ours for how long? A while. I think we want to get it back, bring it home."

That's one way to pump up a crew that finished 6-4 in 2017 but watched 16 seniors graduate several months later.

If those still competing for PBL need a little extra kick in the behind, though, there's always this year's Week 1 showdown.

The Ford County rivalry between PBL and Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley takes on added significance this time around after the Falcons captured the Class 2A state title last November.

"We're going to have to be really mentally tough, and physically (tough)," Jones said. "No smack talking, just leave it all on the field, play as a team and just go have fun."

Jones is among the Panthers' key returnees, suiting up at running back and defensive end. He'll be joined by the likes of senior Mason Ecker, a shifty receiver who doubles as a cornerback.

"I feel like we're pretty strong on the defensive side of the ball," Ecker said. "I feel like we've got a lot more guys back this year. We lost a few, but that's all right."

The PBL offense will be paced by a new starting quarterback, after Will Pound put up 1,188 passing yards and 607 rushing yards in his senior year under center.

Graham said either junior Gunner Belt or sophomore Gavin Coplea projects to take control of the quarterback position.

"I think we're a little bit faster," Ecker said. "The line's not as big, but we've still got to put in the work and get better."

There is a third bit of motivation that may exist for these Panthers. Playing under the watchful eye of eight-year leader Graham, a 1989 Paxton alumnus, allows PBL's players to know their coach's expectations are something that have come down through program history.

"He's a hard guy," Jones said. "He's a tough cookie, honestly."

"Yeah, he likes to get at it," Ecker added. "Always (wants us to) go out there and hit the first person to start the game."

Paxton-Buckley-Loda's 2018 schedule

DATE OPPONENT TIME

Aug. 24 vs. Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley 7 p.m.

Aug. 31 at Georgetown-Ridge Farm 7 p.m.

Sept. 7 vs. Iroquois West 7 p.m.

Sept. 15 at Seneca 1 p.m.

Sept. 21 at Momence 7 p.m.

Sept. 28 vs. Salt Fork 7 p.m.

Oct. 5 vs. Clifton Central 7 p.m.

Oct. 12 at Watseka 7 p.m.

Oct. 19 vs. Dwight 7 p.m.

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