Frustration was visible all over Doug Clapp’s face.
The Peoria head coach seem to go out of his way to explain that the Panthers’ opening day defeat 24-13 to visiting Apollo was clearly a winnable game. “We beat ourselves,” the coach repeated in post-game remarks, and insisted his football team will get better.
The bottom line was turnovers at the most critical moments. Two fumbles and then two interceptions from senior quarterback Nick Salute, combined with solid execution from the Hawks, spelled doom. The fact that Peoria, save the mistakes, could have taken this one only acted the exacerbate the disappointment.
“We ran the ball, we passed the ball, but we can’t beat ourselves,” Clapp said afterward. “We stopped ourselves. We know many of their players were good, but we can’t beat ourselves.”
For most of the dreadfully hot night, the Panthers had difficulty stopping Jon Brown, the Apollo quarterback. The 6-0, 215 pound senior carried 19 times for 122 yards and completed 12 of 18 for 116 yards and two touchdowns.
To put the Panthers in an immediate hole, Brown took the opening kickoff and engineered a 5-play, 78-yard drive which culminated in a 38-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Abraham Mendivil. Immediately, the Hawks gained a lead they never relinquished.
Later, mid-way through the second period, Mendivil scored again but this time from the defensive side of the ball. He picked off Salute near mid-field and returned 39 yards for the score.
Plus, Apollo was better carrying the football. Overall, the Hawks outgained the Panthers 195 to 78 on the ground.
“I liked our execution and the fact we did not turn the ball over,” said Zach Theradgill, the Apollo coach. “Plus, I liked the way Brown took care of the ball. He’s a senior, one of our leaders and he gave us an experienced game.”
Then, Theradgill identified the turning point.
Down 17-6 at halftime, Peoria started at its 20 yard line.
On the first play, Salute hit wide received Sam Pineda over the middle and Pineda sprinted toward the left sideline. Moving into Apollo territory, Pineda was stripped of the ball and lost possession, Though the gain was 42 yards, the Hawks took over on their 38.
From there, Brown took his team 62 yards on 8 plays and the drive ended when Brown connected with Justin Bishop on a 17 yard scoring strike and a 24-6 Hawks advantage with 6:58 to go in the third period.
From that point, the Panthers could manage only one score and that was a 14 yard TD strike from Salute to tight end George Spoonmore late in the fourth quarter.
For the game, junior running back Ira Rojas paced the Panthers with 78 yards on 18 carries. Salute finished with a 10-19 night, 188 yards, one touchdown but two interceptions.