SPRINGFIELD — Saturday afternoon brought the town of Washington, Ill., a temporary distraction from dealing with the devastation that remains at home in the wake of last Sunday's EF-4 tornado.
Fueled in part by a mini-convoy of buses chartered by Class 5A state semifinal opponent Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin, Panthers fans packed the visitors' side of Cyclone Stadium. Scores of orange-clad fans also piled onto adjoining end zone berms.
But the traveling display of civic pride wasn't enough to overcome the host Cyclones, who won 44-14.
"Unless you win that last game, you feel like that defines what you've done," Washington coach Darrell Crouch said. "But these guys have done so much more — community-wise, program-wise. They did all the things we asked them to do."
The Panthers were in a 14-0 hole before the midway point of the first quarter. Casey Danley's 3-yard second-quarter scoring run cut the deficit to 14-7, but nine points in the final 17 seconds of the first half shifted momentum back toward Sacred Heart-Griffin (13-0).
Danley's 34-yard touchdown reception from Colton Marshall less than three minutes into the third brought Washington (12-1) within 23-14, but Gabe Green's 10-yard pass to Nate Lowis and Illinois commit Malik Turner's 72-yard punt return for a touchdown with 33 seconds left in the third extended Sacred Heart-Griffin's lead to 37-14.
"It's a long game, and if you don't do well the first half, you have to come out in the second half and do better," said Danley, who surpassed 2,000 yards rushing for the year before leaving the game early in the fourth quarter with a right leg injury. "That's what we did. But the punt return was huge. That was one of the big ones right there."
Sacred Heart-Griffin, which has scored 706 points this season (54.3 per game average) became the first team in state history to top 700 in a season, breaking the record of 694 set by Carthage in 2000.
Player of the game: Gabe Green, Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin, 13-of-27 for 138 yards, 4 TDs.
Key performers: Sacred Heart-Griffin — Malik Turner, 5 catches, 47 yards, 1 TD; 72-yard punt return TD; fumble recovery; Nate Lowis, 3 catches, 43 yards, 2 TDs; INT. Washington — Casey Danley, 24 carries, 82 yards, 2 total TDs; Colton Marshall, 4-for-11, 88 yards, 1 TD.
Next: 5A final, Sacred Heart-Griffin vs. Montini, 10 a.m. Saturday, Huskie Stadium, DeKalb.