This was a year of promise for Clint Layng’s Jefferson High’s football team. After a disappointing 3-6 campaign in 2018, the Panthers had a new quarterback, a big and quick line, and a shared determination to return to the team’s winning heritage.

The turnaround happened: Even after losing its starting quarterback, Avery Stiles, four games in, the Panthers engineered a 5-3 regular season record, a third-place finish in District 5B, and a play-off spot.

But the prospect of a deep post-season run ended in Malta, where Jefferson fell, 26-7, in its first-round match-up Saturday to a strong Malta/Whitewater/Saco coop team.

The Panthers relied all year on its staunch defense, which gave up an average of under 10 points per game. But Malta broke through early and often, scoring 20 points before Jefferson could get on the board. That score came on a pass from Braden Morris to Joey Visser, and the PAT by Dylan Root made it 20-7 with 5:45 left in the third. But that would prove the end of the Panthers’ scoring, and Malta added six more to advance.

In other first-round games, Fairfield dominated Broadwater, 41-13; Florence-Carlton crushed Shepherd 59-6; and Manhattan-Manhattan Christian, which finished undefeated in District 5B, shut out Cut Bank 41-0. Loyola Sacred Heart took Huntley Project, 20-0; Lincoln County walloped Baker-Plevna, 65-24; Columbus edged Glasgow 28-24; and Red Lodge beat Big Fork 28-25. This week, Florence is at Fairfield, Loyola is at Manhattan, Columbus is at Lincoln County, and Malta plays at Red Lodge.

The Panthers have now made the post-season six out of Layng’s nine years at the helm; in two others years, they went 6-3 with a lot of injuries and just missed the playoffs. They will lose Stiles, running back Jaxson Yanzick and other talented seniors to graduation – but they have a strong, young core that will serve the team next year. Thanks for a great season, Panthers.

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