Playoff picture: Nashville heads to semis after Hornets knock off second-seeded Pana

The road to a repeat appearance at the Class 2A state championship game on Thanksgiving weekend got a little closer on Saturday after the Nashville Hornets took early control and kept adding to it to beat the Pana Panthers 43-19 at Hornet Field.

Senior running back Connor Gladson had four touchdowns and rushed 101 yards on 35 carries in the victory.

Nashville drew first at 7:54 in the first. Pana would answer back with a touchdown before the quarter ended. Things really started to look good for the Hornets in the second quarter, as Nashville pulled away again for a possession when quarterback Kolten Gajewski finds Isaac Turner for a 45-yard touchdown and then again to take the lead at the half 19-7.

The third quarter started to heat up as the Hornets took another quarter to outscore Pana. The offensive explosion began after a Gajewski sack led to a fumble recovery by Kade Ridgeway. Nashville took advantage of the extra possession and Connor Gladson ran it in for a touchdown with 9:33 left on the clock.

The defense was equally as impressive. After Pana recovered an onside kick, Turner nabbed an interception and Gajewski pass to Ben Reid for a 78-yard touchdown to make it 36-13.

The lead was cut down in the fourth after a 61-yard touchdown from the Panthers. But Gladson would add right back to it with another run at 1:20 in the fourth.

Gajewski threw for 297 yards on 10 completions.

“This week was very different from what we normally do because we knew we were going to get many looks from them – they probably played five or six different defenses we saw on film and we really got that today, so early on we were changing plays at the line of scrimmage,” Coach Stephen Kozuszek told The Southern. “I thought our kids handled that well. Early on we moved the ball on the ground and later on they loaded the box and that opened up some things for us to take some shots down the field and luckily we hit on them. Isaac Turner had a big game and Ben Reid with a huge post play that put us up three scores was a big turning point in the game.”

Nashville (11-1) returns to Hornet Field to play St. Teresa Decatur (12-0) after the Bulldogs dismantled Breese Mater Dei 48-13. In 2019, the Hornets faced St. Teresa in the semifinals and overcame a 14-7 deficit to win 35-21 and advance to the Class 2A championship game.

This season, the Bulldogs have averaged 42.4 points per game.

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