Panthers top Tolman in playoff thriller


The Johnston football team edged Tolman 35-34 in a thrilling Division III Quarterfinal matchup last week to advance to the next round against Middletown.
Trailing 34-27 deep in the fourth quarter, Johnston running back Steven Finegan would rush for a touchdown. Instead of playing for the tie, the Panthers elected to go for the win on the 2-point conversion.
The risk paid off, as Finegan once again found the end zone to give Johnston the 35-34 advantage which was maintained the rest of the way.
“It was just their confidence level. We kick the ball well, but we hadn’t been missing on the 2-point conversions. There are a lot of things that can go wrong with a kick, if you get some pressure it can change everything. Steve had the option to run or pass and he kept it. We felt that we wanted to get our best athletes in the action,” said Johnston head coach Joe Acciardo.
It was a see saw battle throughout as the clubs exchanged leads. Finegan had a career performance for the Panthers, as he rushed for two touchdowns and returned an interception the distance on defense.
“He always comes up big. He’s not only a good player for us, but whether he’s making a play or not he has to be accounted for. He’s not very big but he’s a monster. He makes plays, he plays with emotion, and he makes the kids want to play harder. He’s the heartbeat of the team. He brings the best out of everybody else,” Acciardo said.
Dean Paris also scored for the Panthers in the second quarter while Michael Abruzzi hauled in the game-sealing interception in the fourth.
Next up for the Panthers is Middletown, who eliminated defending champion Moses Brown 21-14.
The Panthers will be the underdogs once again, but Acciardo likes his team’s chances as long as it plays its best game of the season.
“They’re a good team and they’re playing very good ball. We had some mistakes, some that we hadn’t had all season so we have to clean those up. We have to play the best we’ve played all season regardless of who we’re facing,” Acciardo said. “We have to play four quarters of good football. Every week people pick someone to win other than us, but it’s worked out. I like being the underdog.”
Kickoff is slated for 6 p.m. at Gaudet Middle School on Friday night.