The ground game propels Ellsworth to victory

By Joe Peine
Posted 9/7/23

The Ellsworth Panthers defeated the Amery Warriors by a score of 36-30 Friday night in Ellsworth.

It was old school 70’s style football on Friday, with both teams pounding the run game all …

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The ground game propels Ellsworth to victory


The Ellsworth Panthers defeated the Amery Warriors by a score of 36-30 Friday night in Ellsworth.

It was old school 70’s style football on Friday, with both teams pounding the run game all night. Ellsworth got the scoring started early as Quarterback Griffin Blomberg tucked the ball and turned the corner on the outside breaking away for a 40-yard touchdown. A failed 2-point attempt had the Panthers up with 7:48 left in the first.

As was the case for most of the night, Amery answered right back on their opening drive with two chunk rushing gains of their own that took them down to the Ellsworth 16-yard line. The Warriors wasted no time calling a QB sneak of their own on 1st and 10, punching it in one play after their last big gain. The extra point was good making it 7-6 with 4:25 to go in the first quarter.

Unfortunately for Panthers fans, the Warriors would take it right back. After a nice gain on an 18-yard pass, the Ellsworth offense ended up at 3rd and 13 on their own 41. Blomberg dropped back and threw a pass over the middle intended for Tight End George Rohl that was intercepted near mid field and nearly returned for a touchdown, bringing the quarter to an end.

Amery would start the next 12:00 by punching it in from the 1-yard line and securing the extra point and the lead at 14-6.

A nice kickoff return by Running Back Coen Hinrichs put Ellsworth in good field position from their own 43-yard line. The Panthers ran a total of two plays on this drive, a 10-yard run and a 47-yard rushing touchdown by Running Back Levi Nelson. This time they punched the 2-point attempt in, thus tying the game at 14 all with 11:20 remaining in the second quarter.

At this point it had become pretty obvious the Warriors were a completely one-dimensional team. Rushing attempt after rushing attempt ensued as they ground out yards and pushed downfield. Even when multiple penalties pushed them to 1st and 25 and 2nd and 30, Amery continued rushing, but they ultimately had to punt with 4:33 left in the half after taking 7:00 off the clock.

With good field position at the 29-yard line, and with plenty of time left on the clock, Ellsworth turned back to the ground game themselves. They carried the rock the whole way down field and found themselves at a 1st and goal from the Amery 4-yard line. With 0:21 left in the half, Blomberg pushed it in on the very next play, but this time the 2-point attempt was no good leaving the score at 20-14 going into halftime.

The third quarter nearly began and ended with the same drive.

The Warriors got the ball first coming out of the half and started on their own 30-yard line. A 5:00 slow march downfield had Amery on the Ellsworth 28-yard line. A couple plays later and it was 4th and 6 when, shockingly, the Warriors completed a pass attempt for a first down.

With 3:10 remaining in the third quarter, after nearly a 9:00 drive, Amery pushed the touchdown in, although they missed the extra point which left the score at 20-20.

Ellsworth got the ball back on their own 32-yard line, but quickly found themselves at 4th and 3 on their own side of midfield. The Panthers stayed aggressive, though, and were rewarded with a 1st down run. The third quarter came to an end in style as Blomberg connected on a 32-yard pass just two plays after barely overthrowing the receiver on the same play.

After working their way all the way down to the Warriors’ 1-yard line, Blomberg pushed another touchdown in as well as the 2-point conversion bringing the score to 28-20.

Amery started their next drive well, returning the ball all the way to the Ellsworth 45. However, the Panthers defense held and Amery turned it over on downs after going for it on 4th and short with 6:01 remaining in regulation.

That was basically it for Amery as Blomberg would rush the ball almost the entire length of the field by himself on the following drive, including a 64-yard scamper into the endzone. The Panthers would convert the 2-point attempt making the score 36-20 with only 2:14 remaining.

Even though Amery completely dominated time of possession 25:28 to 16:33, the Ellsworth defense was effective. They held the Warriors’ offense to 6-12 on 3rd down and 2-5 on 4th down and only 229 total yards of offense, as unlikely as that seems considering the time and the score.

The offense obviously did their part as well in this victory, going 5-6 on 3rd downs and 1-1 on 4th downs while putting up 421 yards of total offense.

Individual standout performances include Levi Nelson who rushed for 103 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries. Griffin Blomberg was the player of the game though, putting up Lamar Jackson numbers with seven passing attempts for 75 yards to go along with 150 yards and four touchdowns on the ground.

With this the Panthers move to 3-0 on the season, a feat they’ve now managed the last four years in a row. Panthers head coach, Rob Heller, is now on his ninth season with the team. He says the secret to their success isn’t much of a secret.

“It all started back in the COVID season. We had some kids that bought into weightlifting in the offseason, bought into the program and the philosophy and it's just been kind of taking care of itself,” Heller said. “It’s just been the next man up for the guys graduate and next guys are eager to have their spot and have the chance to perform on Friday Night Lights. It's been good. There’s a lot of good leadership from the seniors and the juniors stepping up the next season. It's been a fun ride the last four years.”

Ellsworth is now 33-3 in Middle Border Conference play during that time span.

Second-year quarterback Blomberg says there’s some things they need to work on still, though, especially if they’re going to compete in the Middle Border Conference.

“We’ve got to get off the bus and get ready to go right away. That's been a slow suit for us this whole season. We let bad teams hang around, and that's not who we are. We’ve been a second half team so far, but we’d like to be an all around team,” Blomberg said. “This conference is a straight gauntlet. It’s probably one of the best conferences in the state, in my opinion. I mean, there's four top 10 schools in the state for division four football, and I think it's just going to be a battle each and every week.”

The Panthers will look to stay perfect and add to their impressive resume as they bring that battle to Baldwin-Woodville where they will face another one of those top 10 teams in the Blackhawks, who are also 3-0. Kickoff is at 7 p.m. on Friday.

football, Ellsworth Panthers, Amery, Middle Border, Pierce County sports