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Big second half lifts Panthers to first win, over Cedaredge

No. 4 Aca Dennison and No. 20 Dorian Hilliard block for Tay Wheat on a sweep around the end Friday night.
M-CHS defense shines in victory

Two games into the season, the 2021 Panthers football team has already established an identity. After showing stretches of defensive dominance in their season opening loss, M-CHS cemented their “defense-first” approach in a home-opening victory Friday over Cedaredge, 26-13.

Renewing a rivalry with the Bruins that hadn't seen them meet on the gridiron since 2013, M-CHS (1-1) would put themselves in an early hole. Bruin sophomore Luke Maxey took the opening kickoff and returned it 76 yards to put the visitors in front.

Much like in week one, M-CHS had some success moving the ball, but needed to unlock the Cedaredge (0-1) defense with a big play. Cue freshman running back Tay Wheat, who showed the home crowd his dynamic game-changing ability on a play late in the opening quarter.

Taking a short pass from senior quarterback Aca Dennison, Wheat burst into the secondary and outraced the Bruin defense to the endzone, cutting the deficit to 7-6.

The defense continued its strong leadership, shutting down Cedaredge drives through the remainder of the first half. Yet, for a second consecutive week, the Panthers arguably outplayed their opponent in the first 24 minutes, yet were on the wrong side of the scoreboard at the intermission.

Aca Dennison lets go of a pass for the Panthers Friday night against Cedaredge.

It didn't take long for that to change.

Fired up to start the second half, head coach Ivan Mack's squad changed the game in the third quarter. M-CHS marched down the field early in the quarter, using a balance of run and pass. Then, Dennison, who had been limited in terms of his mobility in their season opener, showed what he could do when allowed to break free.

With just over eight minutes left in the third, Dennison burst through a hole opened up by strong offensive line play, and scored from 18 yards out.

Then, after another defensive stop, the Panthers were at it again – this time marching inside the 10 yard line, before Dennison called his own number again. Another keeper from the senior, from five yards out, brought the crowd to its feet, as the Panthers built a 20-7 lead and appeared to be in full control of the contest.

Ryder Higgins takes a Cedaredge kickoff down field to the Bruins 31 yard line Friday night. The Panthers won the game 22-13.

Cedaredge put the celebrations on hold, however, on the ensuing kickoff, where sophomore Logan Tullis promptly zipped through the Panther special teams unit for a 76-yard return to cut lead to 20-13.

However, the Panthers showed the poise of a team could withstand significant momentum changes, as they methodically responded with another effective offensive drive.

A week after failing to convert any of their red zone chances, the Panthers were excellent in the second half in their home opener. Caden Cote capped the scoring with a 13-yard reception from Dennison to build the lead back to two scores, and the defense did the rest.

The Panthers defense didn't allow a single point, and the Panthers got to celebrate with a win on their home field for the first time since September 2018.

After a bye week, M-CHS gets set for a visit from the No. 4 team in the 2A classification, when Delta invades Panther Stadium on Friday, Sept. 17 at 7 p.m.

Ryder Higgins tackles Lane Hunsberger as the Cedaredge running back fumbles the ball.