Pana all-state quarterback knows the secret of playoff success: 'The line played amazing'
PANA — On paper, it was the Max Lynch show.
Pana's senior quarterback ran for 274 yards and four touchdowns, passed for another score and came up with an interception of Auburn quarterback Talin Kern in Pana’s Class 2A first round 59-30 win at Brummett Field on Friday.
But the blonde-haired all-stater who out-races defenders if he has even a small window of space said the praise goes to an important group of teammates.
“The (offensive) line played amazing tonight,” Lynch said. “They’ve worked harder than anyone I’ve ever seen over the summer.
“I just wish I could cut apart every yard I gained and give some to (the offensive linemen) because they deserve every bit of it as much attention as I’ve got.”
Pana will face the winner of Saturday's game between No. 5 North Mac (8-1) and No. 12 Fairfield (6-3) in the second round. If it's North Mac, it will be a rematch — again in the southern Christian County town — where Pana beat North Mac 42-21 in Week 8.
Lynch, whose 1,323 rushing yards last year set a school record, surpassed the 2,000-yard mark on Friday as Pana won a seventh consecutive first-round playoff game.
Pana coach Trevor Higgins said it was the Panthers’ offensive line’s best game of the 10-game season.
"The game plan was to get as many blockers in front of Max Lynch as possible so we pulled a lot of guys, we had a couple of formations that we hadn’t ran all year,” Higgins said. “We wanted to get Max the ball in a lot of space with a lot of blockers in front. Man, our o-line — even our receivers … blocking outside — Max can make things happen and that’s what you saw tonight.”
Dominating first, third quarters
The fourth-seeded Pana offense needed a minute to get on the scoreboard, capped by a 5-yard Lynch run.
Auburn had success moving the ball from junior running back Tre Lancaster. His 6-foot, nearly 200-pound frame overpowered Pana’s defensive front if the Panthers attempted to go one-on-one.
Lancaster finished with 183 yards rushing on 30 carries and finished his season with more than 1,300 rushing yards.
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“(Lancaster) runs hard,” Auburn’s Ryan Gardner said after his first playoff game as the Trojans’ coach. “He came in ready to go. He’s a big part of our offense and he will be again next year; he’s a tough kid.”
With a second-and-five from the Pana 22, Pana’s Carter Beyers tipped the pass from Auburn quarterback Talin Kern and Lynch immediately pivoted to catch the deflected pass for an interception.
“Before the games, you can see us do the tip drill,” Lynch said. “Tonight, that proved a good point of why we should be doing that. Our coaches are great: they know what we should be working on. They tell us what’s going to happen and why we need to work on it.”
Beyers said he knew Lynch would be in a position to catch the ball.
“I saw (Auburn’s receiver went on a slant route) and I just jumped up for it and tried to tip it back to (Lynch),” Beyers said.
Nine plays later — all runs — Beyers scored a 14-yard touchdown to give Pana (9-1) a 14-0 lead with 3 minutes, 50 seconds left.
A botched snap which was then accidentally kicked through the back of the end zone gave Pana two more points and the ball at the Auburn 42. Four plays later, Lynch had a 15-yard TD run as the Panthers’ lead ballooned to 23-0.
Gardner was asked what would be the right formula to stop Lynch.
“I don’t know if there is,” Gardner said. “He’s quick, he’s fast, he’s a smart runner, he doesn’t turn the ball over. He’s just the type of kid that wins football games for you and that’s just what he did.”
With a 37-22 lead at halftime, Pana outscored Auburn 22-0 in the third to seal the victory.
Not without a fight
Despite trailing 23-0 at the end of the first quarter, the No. 13 Trojans (6-4) outscored Pana in the second and played with confidence the offense would come alive.
Jackson Kern caught a 42-yard pass him his younger cousin Talin Kern then Lancaster caught a two-point conversion pass to chip away at the Pana lead. Four minutes later, Nathan Barth was on the receiving end of a 10-yard TD pass from Talin Kern and then it was Ben Warwick who jumped on a ball in the end zone for the Trojans’ third score.
“I loved the response,” Gardner said. “We’re always going to fight. A couple of trick plays early got us, a couple of breakdowns in coverage got us. I wouldn’t say that’s something we’re going to throw the towel in for. We’re never going to quit.”
The only problem for Auburn was Pana sandwiched a score between each of the Trojans’ scores.
Lynch was asked what part of Auburn’s game made him nervous in the days leading up to the game. He pretty much said everything but the bus driver.
“Their corners, they look pretty quick; their defensive linemen, their linebackers, they play their zones well,” Lynch said. “When they drop outside, they can cut back inside to cover that middle real quick. Also their running back and their receivers. They’re a quick team, a strong team.”
The only blemish on the game was the final second. Auburn called timeout with one second left at the Pana 1-yard line on a first-and-goal situation. Pana’s defensive starters re-entered the game and brought down Lancaster — who was accompanied by the Trojans’ first-team offensive unit — behind the line of scrimmage to end the game. With the teams going into the handshake line immediately after that play, there were plenty of heated words sent back and forth.
“Our staff has always been known as a respectful staff,” Higgins said. “We always try to be respectful to the other team and other coaches. Once we got to a lead we thought was safe, we put our (second-unit) guys in. When (the opponent) doesn’t sub out and you call timeout with one second left, if you’re asking my opinion, that’s not the correct call with the ‘coaching code.’”
Contact Ryan Mahan: 788-1546, firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter.com/RyanMahanSJR.