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But early in the third quarter Wayne was suddenly down only 27-20.
“I’m proud of our kids, and we came out in the second half and we had a shot,” Wayne coach Jay Minton said. “Especially after they beat us up pretty good in the first half.”
Warriors junior quarterback Rashad McKee ripped off a 49-yard run – the Warriors biggest play of the night by far – and finished the 70-yard drive with a 5-yard touchdown pass to Austin Mullins with 10:38 left in the third quarter.
The defense forced a quick punt and the Warriors were on the move again. But a fumble in the backfield stopped that drive. On the next possession, McKee was intercepted and Nick Giardina returned it 15 yards for a touchdown and a 34-20 lead. The Panthers had the momentum and scored again before the quarter ended.
“That’s a heck of a football team, and we knew what we were up against,” Minton said. “I felt like we had a shot at it, but give them a lot of credit.”
The Warriors had some good moments like the touchdown to start the second half, an 80-yard touchdown drive in the first half and Justin Harris’ 37-yard interception return after the Panthers had jumped to a 13-0 lead. But the offense struggled to find rhythm otherwise.
“We just didn’t play very well — that’s the bottom line,” Minton said. “You have to play well in big games as we have in the past. This year we just didn’t.”
The Wayne defense made stops, but Weirick’s ability to extend plays was evident. He rushed for 161 yards on 20 carries and passed for 194 yards.
Wayne (7-4) lost in the first round for the first time since 2012. The Warriors were not as deep as they have been in recent years, and they were banged up on both lines. Sophomore center Jacob Padilla did not play last week because of a leg injury, but played Friday on, as Minton said, one leg.
“In his heart he wanted to go out there desperately,” Minton said. “He wanted to go out there for the team.”
The Warriors lose 20 seniors, but the offense will return several linemen, McKee and several other skill players. Minton expects the defense to be its usual self. But there was pain in this season ending so soon.
“Years like this are tough to swallow, but every once in a while you have to have one,” Minton said. “You never want to admit you’re rebuilding.”