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WEST SALEM — At a certain point in Friday’s regular-season finale at West Salem High School, there wasn’t anything more the Panthers could do.

The Central High School football team’s offense was locked in from the start, and with the explosive athletes the Red Raiders feature and an offensive line playing the best it has all season, opposing defenses have to pick their poison.

Unfortunately for West Salem, anything they tried to take away opened up another weak spot for Central to exploit, and the Red Raiders walked off the field with a 41-12 MVC win and a boatload of momentum heading into next week’s Division 2 playoffs.

“Hopefully we get to host a home game (in the playoffs), because that’d be the first time in a while here,” Central junior quarterback Johnny Davis said.

Davis was on fire out of the gate, completing his first eight passes and confounding the West Salem defense early. Central had a near-perfect game plan to attack West Salem’s defense in the first half. The Panthers have been the best team in the MVC in terms of getting after the quarterback, but Central was able to neutralize that rush with quick passes.

Johnny Davis would take the shotgun snap and sling the ball to his bevy of weapons on the outside, allowing them to get easy yards before West Salem’s secondary could come make a tackle. Then in short-yardage situations, Davis would roll out with a pulling guard or a running back in front of him to block, and uncork deep shots down the field.

“They’ve got a great defense,” Central (7-2, 5-2) coach Tony Servais said. “We said, ‘We’ve got to get the ball out of Johnny’s hands quickly, move the pocket.’ I thought our line did a great job, and we were able to hit some double moves with our receivers.

“It kind of took them out of their game plan in terms of what they wanted to do against us.”

Central also kept speedy running back Steven Cross as a safety valve near the line, so when the rush got close, Davis would quickly pitch the ball and the Red Raiders gained big yards.

The first deep shots went to junior Jordan Davis for a 35-yard score, and the second — a play on which Johnny Davis stayed patient on the rollout and allowed his receivers to get away from defenders — he found Jamar Davis down the middle of the field for 33 yards and the TD.

Central had a similar play in the final minute of the half. Johnny Davis rolled right, allowed his blockers to clear his way, and waited for a man to break free. Cross was totally isolated in the middle of the field about 10 yards beyond the line, caught the pass and went the rest of the 24 yards to put Central up 20-6 at halftime.

Cross caught another touchdown pass and tallied a rushing score in the second half. He finished with 83 yards on 12 carries, and 68 yards on five catches.

Johnny Davis went 17-for-21 and 250 yards passing and scored five touchdowns (four passing, one rushing). He was 11-for-12 with 173 yards and three touchdowns passing in the first half.

“They’ve got athletes all over the place. They really spread a defense out and have a ton of weapons to go to,” West Salem coach Justin Jehn said of Central.

West Salem’s offense was out of sync after its first drive was stopped for a turnover on downs. The Panthers tried to fake a punt, snapping the ball to senior Brendan Holt who was lined up in front of the punter. But he was injured on the play after he was sandwiched by two Red Raiders on the tackle. He didn’t re-enter the game, and was seen walking to the locker room before half with a trainer.

Jehn said the leg injury didn’t initially seem too bad, but it will be monitored throughout the week.

Without Holt — the team’s top linebacker and running back — West Salem struggled to get its usually-strong running game going.

The Panthers (6-3, 4-3) tallied 141 of their 180 total yards on the ground.

Therrick Roberts scored on a run from the 1 to put West Salem on the board in the first half, and quarterback Joe Wopat had a 1-yard TD late in the fourth quarter.

Roberts finished with a team-best 71 yards on 16 carries.

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Colten Bartholomew can be reached at Colten.Bartholomew@lee.net or via Twitter @cbartdizzle.

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