CAMP POINT, Ill. -- The Brown County football team had little problems moving the ball into the red zone.
Central's defense, however, turned into a brick wall.
Brown County had four trips inside the red zone, and each time the Hornets came away with no points as Central upset the fourth-ranked team in Class 1A 28-8 Friday night in Western Illinois Valley Conference North Division action. Central (5-2, 4-1 WIVC North) becomes eligible for the playoffs for the 10th consecutive season while handing Brown County its first loss of the year.
"Something just clicked," Central linebacker Chayse Houston said. "We had some mistakes that allowed them to get into the red zone, but we made sure we got our stuff together. If they don't score, they don't win. That was key for us."
None were bigger than Brown County's final two series of the second quarter.
Trailing 14-0, the Hornets (6-1, 4-1 WIVC North) needed just five plays to march to the Panthers' 10-yard line for a first and goal. Brown County didn't run a play for positive yardage and an incomplete pass by Joe Hendricker on fourth down turned the Hornets away.
Central followed by going three-and-out, and Brown County got the ball back at its own 38-yard line.
Five plays later, the Hornets were back in the red zone. After running back Darian Drake gained a yard to the Central 15-yard line for a first down, Hendricker threw three straight incomplete passes before being sacked on fourth down with three seconds remaining in the first half.
"We bent but we didn't break," Central coach Brad Dixon said. "We were stopping the run, but eventually you run out of real estate when you're throwing. Once we got in the red zone, we could match their routes a little better and get stops."
Brown County had 204 yards of offense in the first half and 128 of those came through the air. The Hornets had 387 total yards of offense.
In the nine plays the Hornets had inside the 20-yard line, they had just one play for positive yardage and had two rushes go for negative yardage.
"I don't know if anything changed, it was just a few things didn't go our way," said Drake, who finished with a team-high 89 rushing yards on 19 carries.
"Obviously in a big game that can't happen. You have to punch it in when you're in the red zone."
Brown County turned the ball over on downs on its first series of the third quarter, and Central capitalized as running back Cole Williams caught a 41-yard pass down the middle of the field from quarterback Eric Jones to push the Panthers' lead to 22-0 with 8:36 remaining.
The Hornets got into the red zone again on the next series, but once again was turned away after Hendricker was 2 yards short of the end zone on a fourth down scramble.
Hendricker completed 13 of 25 passes for 177 yards, but had an interception.
"We had no problem moving the football, we just couldn't get that one big play to get us in the end zone," Brown County coach Tom Little said. "We had numerous opportunities, but you have to give credit for them playing great goal line defense."
Brown County finally scored when Drake busted a 43-yard touchdown run on fourth down to trim the deficit to 22-8 with 9:09 left in regulation. Central answered later in the quarter on Houston's 13-yard touchdown run -- his second score of the game -- that pushed the lead to 28-8 with 3:55 to play.
Houston's first touchdown came on a 72-yard run down the right sideline just one play after forcing a Brown County turnover on downs, and his score gave Central a 14-0 lead with 8:59 remaining in the second quarter.
"That run doesn't happen if Reed Olson didn't come all the way across the field to make a block," Houston said. "That's why I got free."
Houston finished with 112 rushing yards on five carries and had two scores. Noah Strohkirch added a 1-yard run for the Panthers' first score on the game's opening series.
"We told the guys the playoffs basically start tonight," Dixon said. "Our goal is never just to make the playoffs. We want to make a run and these games are playoff caliber teams."
Central 28, Brown County 8
20 First downs 9
40-210 Rushes-yards 30-218
177 Passing yards 62
387 Total yards 280
13-25-1 Comp-Att-Int 2-5-0
3-1 Fumbles-lost 1-1
9-26 Penalties-yards 3-27
Brown County 0 0 0 8--8
Central 6 8 8 6--28
C--Noah Strohkirch 1 run (run failed), 10:05
C--Chayse Houston 72 run (Cole Williams run), 8:59
C--Williams 41 pass from Eric Jones (Jones pass), 8:36
B--Darian Drake 43 run (Joe Hendricker pass), 9:09
C--Houston 13 run (run failed), 3:55
RUSHING--Brown County, Drake 19-89, Devin Tynan 10-54, Gavin Lancaster 5-22, Hendricker 7-24, Cameron Zimmerman 4-24, Seth Fisher 1-3, Skyler Moorman 1-(-6), Central, Houston 5-112, Williams 6-53, Strohkirch 11-39, Jones 5-14, Norfolk 2-20.
PASSING--Brown County, Hendricker 13-25-177-1, Central, Jones 2-5-62-0.
RECEIVING--Lanny Sussenbach 3-59, Tanner Sussenbach 4-53, Tynan 3-41, Drake 2-13, Fisher 1-13, Central, Williams 2-62.