Panthers fall to the Mustangs to end memorable season

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It was a season the Panthers won’t easily forget, and one they hope will lead to a more competitive future for their program.

On Saturday afternoon, McKinleyville fell 42-7 to St. Vincent de Paul in Petaluma in the North Coast Section Division-7 football playoff semifinals.

The loss ends a campaign that saw this group of Panthers set themselves apart from any that have played for the program over the past three decades by winning a first league title in 32 years.

They followed that with a first NCS playoff win in eight years, but if they want to take the next step, head coach Fel Barlow says it all begins in the offseason

“I was very happy with the season, and I am very grateful for all the things we accomplished that people didn’t think we could do,” said Barlow, who has made the playoffs in both of his seasons in charge of the program. “Let’s see what we can do next year. Let’s get this rolling every year.

“And hopefully we get some recruits because of what we did. If we can continue, I think there’s a lot more to come, but it all begins in the weight room.”

The difference between the No. 5 seeded Panthers and the No. 1 Mustangs on Saturday, the coach believes, is the work a program like St. Vincent de Paul puts in during the offseason.

And he’s hoping his players will see that.

Senior Payton Harbin scored McKinleyville’s only touchdown of the game on a 45-yard screen pass from senior quarterback Jack Clancy.

But there were not a whole lot of other offensive highlights for the Panthers, who had several players sick this week, with many of them missing practice and a couple of players who missed the game.

Four fumbles on offense didn’t help matters either.

“We should have scored more,” Barlow said. “We didn’t perform like we should have … we had too many turnovers when we were moving the ball downfield. And with a team like that, you can’t mess around.”

The home team led 28-0 at halftime and never really looked like losing this one.

The Mustangs will host No. 2 Clear Lake in the championship game next weekend.

The Panthers, meanwhile, will carry come momentum into the offseason after a memorable campaign.

“We almost got to the final,” said Barlow, who added “it brought tears to my eyes. I didn’t want it to end.”

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