After a disappointing end to the nonconference season, the West Salem High School football team flexed its muscles to open MVC play on Thursday night.

The Panthers kept Central off the scoreboard in the first half, and then held off the Red Raiders after halftime to take home a 27-16 victory at UW-La Crosse’s Veterans Memorial Field.

Ryan Beirne mug


West Salem (2-1) scored on its opening possession, as senior quarterback Ryan Beirne lofted a beautiful pass into the left corner of the end zone, which junior wideout Trent Foreman brought down to give the Panthers a 7-0 lead.

Central (1-2) struggled to find momentum on offense, with a punt, turnover on downs and interception on its first three drives, as sophomore quarter Johnny Davis was picked off by Beirne on a sliding play near midfield.

Immediately following the turnover, Beirne found Jake Whitbeck on a short button-hook route, and Whitbeck pitched to Malachi Athnos as Whitbeck was crunched by two Central defenders. Athnos caught the lateral on the run, taking the hook-and-ladder 42 yards to the end zone untouched as the Panthers pushed their lead to 14-0.

“We had a sound scheme, we felt like, but on a short week to switch gears on the style of team we played is tough,” West Salem coach Justin Jehn said, referring to the Panthers’ 31-22 loss to G-E-T six days ago. “They’re a talented group on offense.”

The Red Raiders’ offense did find some momentum in the second half, as AC Riley took Central inside the 5-yard line on a 38-yard screen pass, before Johnny Davis found Greg Koehler across the middle on a 5-yard scoring strike.

The Panthers responded by handing the ball to junior Brendan Holt for eight straight carries, touching the ball on every play as West Salem put together a 59-yard scoring drive punctuated by Holt’s 3-yard touchdown plunge.

“We talked about putting a drive together at halftime, and our offensive line bought into that,” Jehn said. “They were taking care of the line of scrimmage, and I was proud of our guys being able to put together a drive there.”

Following a Central punt, Beirne threw a jump ball for Foreman, who came down with the ball in double coverage and eluded coverage the rest of the way for a 66-yard scoring play to give the Panthers a 27-8 lead.

Johnny Davis found Jamar Davis alone in the end zone for a 19-yard touchdown with 4:17 left to help cut the deficit late, and Koehler’s two-point conversion dive left Central trailing 27-16.

The Red Raiders forced a West Salem punt with 3:10 remaining, but a fourth-and-8 pass to Riley came up short and the Panthers took over on downs to close out the game.