O'FALLON, MO. • The longest winning streak in St. Charles County is alive and well.
The Fort Zumwalt North football team escaped Francis Howell 34-27 in overtime on Friday night at Fort Zumwalt North.
Senior linebacker Cerry Watson made the game-sealing interception to give the Panthers the victory in the first meeting between these two county powers since 1999.
Zumwalt North has won 39 consecutive games against St. Charles County opponents, a streak that stretches to September of 2013.
Howell did its best to bust it. It had its chances.
The Vikings drove inside the Panthers' 2-yard line with 11.2 seconds to play in the fourth quarter. Without a time out Howell coach Brett Chojnacki opted to try an 18-yard field goal.
Senior linebacker John Recca's attempt caromed off the left upright.
“I felt like he was going to make that kick,” Chojnacki said. “He's made that kick. It was just unsuccessful.”
Zumwalt North started overtime with the ball. Two plays in, senior quarterback Joel Hilliard hit junior receiver Cairo Payne over the middle for a 30-yard touchdown. Hilliard completed 16 of 26 passes for 202 yards and four touchdowns to three receivers. For a team whose success, identity and its win streak comes from pounding away on the ground, Zumwalt North aired it out Friday night.
“We knew they were going to adjust to our run game because that's our strength,” Hilliard said. “We have people who can go out there and beat them deep and it worked out.”
Senior receiver Grant Latina caught six passes for 75 yards and two touchdowns. Junior receiver Isaiah Hartrup had three catches for 58 yards and a score. Payne caught three passes for 41 yards and the winning touchdown. He also rushed for a team-high 57 yards and a touchdown, too.
“We knew coming into this game we were playing a good program in Howell,” Zumwalt North coach Joe Bacon said. “We weren't sure how'd we react to a physical team coming at us. For our kids to roll with the punches and make adjustments, it was a wild game. Win or lose, our boys played their hearts out. I'm proud of them.”
Howell senior quarterback Aiden McDaniel completed 15 of 24 passes for 147 yards and three scores. He found junior receiver Jackson Hetzel four times for 42 yards and two touchdowns. Senior receiver Daylan Dalton had four catches for 34 yards and a touchdown. Senior Drew Scheer caught three passes for 53 yards.
Howell took a 27-20 lead with 3 minutes and 37 seconds to play in the third when McDaniel found Hetzel for a 6-yard touchdown, his second. It capped a 70-yard drive that was aided by more than 60 yards in Panthers penalties. Zumwalt North was called for five defensive pass interference penalties on that drive alone and six in the third quarter.
“It was hard but we stayed mentally focused,” Watson said. “We did our jobs and adjusted to the best of our abilities and got the job done.”
Zumwalt North's defense made its share of big-time plays as it 13 tackles for loss and three sacks. Senior linebacker Jaylin Vaughn had 12 tackles, five for a loss of 14 total yards. Latina had eight tackles.
Watson had a sack and then gave the Panthers the victory when he picked off McDaniel on the second play of the Vikings' overtime possession. He raced away from his teammates who chased him across the field where they mobbed him.
“I barely realized the moment. I took off down the sideline. I was so excited,” Watson said. “I was stressing so much in overtime. I was pleased to have the ball at the end of the game.”