Hilliard, defense lead Zumwalt North past Ladue
By: Jonathan Duncan
For eight weeks, the Fort Zumwalt North Panthers have struggled to finish games late and win.
That agonizing grind of emotions took a big turn for the better on Saturday as the Panthers battled visiting Ladue.
Panther quarterback Zach Hilliard scored a touchdown late in the first half and the Panthers running game chewed up three minutes down the stretch as Kory Morton’s interception in the final minute sealed an exhilarating 21-16 homecoming victory.
Zumwalt North moves to 4-4 with the win and is very much alive in the Class 5 playoff picture as the regular season wraps up next weekend.
“We haven’t won a homecoming game since I’ve been here at school,” Hilliard said. “It feels really good to finally win one of these here. Today, the offense and defense played together for the whole game.”
Zumwalt North jumped on top three minutes in thanks to a 5-yard touchdown run by Deon Lewis.
Ladue shaved the margin to 7-3 on a 29-yard field goal from Eric Stuber. Stuber added a 24-yard field goal cutting it 7-6.
A 28-yard scoring pass from Matt Hooper to Sam Glancy put the Rams ahead for the first time in the game at 14-13 with 7:18 left in the first half.
That’s when Zumwalt North’s spread-option went to work as the Hilliard directed the Panthers on 81-yard scoring march capped by Hilliard’s 17-yard run to paydirt making 14-13 at the half.
“That drive just before the half and the one we got late in the game were just huge for us,” Zumwalt North coach Joe Bacon said. ”We did a great job of controlling the ball when we needed to and then we knew our defense has been strong all year and they stepped up.”
Zumwalt North took its opening drive of the second half and scored again as Lewis scored his second touchdown of the day on a 6-yard run making it 21-13.
“Our spread triple-option was doing a real good job of spreading their defense out and we were able to move the ball well,” Hilliard said. Hilliard riddled the Rams defense for 125 yards rushing on 25 carries.
Ladue (5-3) pulled within 21-16 with 9:41 left on Stuber’s third field goal of the day. A 26-yard kick.
The Panthers running game ran three and half of the final four minutes off the clock but Zumwalt North was forced to punt with 1:39 left to play.
Two plays later, Morton plucked away a sideline pass from Hooper and it was celebration time for Panther Nation.
“We have been having these kind of grind it out and try to hold on last possession games for eight weeks,” Bacon said. “It feels great to get one and hopefully we can start learning from this.”