Masuk Panthers advance to Class MM semifinals with 42-21 win over Cheshire

MONROE, CT — An incomplete lateral pass was scooped up by a Cheshire Rams defender, who ran it into the end zone for a quick 7-0 lead over Masuk on the Panthers home field in the Quarterfinals game of the Class MM Playoffs.

Moments later, the Rams’ defense stopped a Masuk ball carrier short on a fourth down run, ending a Masuk drive at Cheshire’s 20 yard line.

But then the Panthers took over.

Masuk’s defense forced Cheshire to punt. Jason Champagne charged toward the high kick and caught it on the run, never breaking stride as he raced down the sideline for a 31-yard touchdown return.

The play sparked a 42 point explosion for the Panthers, keying a 42-21 victory. Masuk will host Wilton High School, which beat Platt 35-14, in a semifinals matchup at Benedict Field this Sunday, Dec. 3, at 12:30 p.m.

On Tuesday, Masuk’s star running back Jason Champagne broke free again, this time for a 32 yard TD run only eight seconds into the second quarter to break the 7-7 tie.

Masuk defenders Luke Longo, left, and Ryan Putman pressure Rams quarterback Aiden Gregorich, who seldom had time to throw.

Meanwhile, the Panthers’ defense continued to dominate. Jayden Cassese’s interception and long return to Cheshire’s 24-yard-line set up another Masuk score. Quarterback Robert Klein kept the ball and ran it in for a three yard TD.

Jackson Zylick’s extra point increased Masuk’s lead to 21-7 with 8:54 left in first half.

Masuk scored one more time before intermission on a play-action pass. Klein faked a handoff to Champagne before firing a four-yard TD strike to wide receiver Colin Hope. The point after made it 28-7.

The Panthers refused to let the Rams back into the game, recovering an onside kick to give their explosive offense good field position to start the second half.

Klein tossed two more scoring passes in the third quarter, a nine-yarder to Hope and a 14 yard pass to receiver Max Viglione.

The Panthers’ 42-7 advantage with 58 seconds left in the third quarter set the CIAC’s running clock rule in motion. Whenever a team is ahead by 35 or more points in the fourth quarter, the clock continues to run.

However, a pick-six by Rams linebacker Adam Vernon in the final period would slow the clock as Cheshire tried to regain momentum.

With a commanding 42-14 lead, Masuk’s coaches directed Champagne to take a knee at the Panthers’ 25 on the ensuing kickoff. Then Masuk planned to eat up the clock with its running game. But a fumbled exchange in the backfield was recovered by Cheshire at the Panthers’ 22.

The Rams fed the ball to running back Jeffery Gonzalez, who went on to score on a short run with 3:33 left in the game, cutting Masuk’s lead to 42-21.

The Panthers’ offense went on to kill the clock and preserve the win.

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