CARROLLTON, Ill. -- When Central football coach Brad Dixon looked at his team at halftime Saturday, their exasperation wasn't unexpected.
"You could see it in their eyes," Dixon said. "They were down."
But not out. Not until the final seconds ticked away.
Trailing Carrollton 20-6 at halftime of the Class 1A second-round playoff game after the Hawks scored with only two seconds remaining in the half, Central mounted a rally. The Panthers scored with 35 seconds remaining in regulation, pulling within 20-18. All they needed was the two-point conversion to force overtime.
However, Eric Jones' pass in the end zone fell incomplete, saddling the Panthers with a two-point loss and an end to their five-game winning streak.
"It was a play we ran earlier," Dixon said. "The throw was just a little wide. It was a tough throw. Carrollton defended it really well."
It was the third two-point conversion the Panthers failed to converted.
"That's the difference," Dixon said. "We've been pretty good at those throughout the year. We were above 50 percent. This time, it just didn't work out."
Dixon had a feeling it might work out better than expected after the Panthers got off to such a strong start.
Central forced Carrollton to fumble on the game's first possession, and two plays later, Cole Williams broke off a 68-yard touchdown run to give the Panthers a 6-0 lead three minutes into the game.
"We struggled to move the ball the rest of the half," Dixon said.
The Hawks took advantage. Hunter Flowers threw three touchdown passes to Nathan Walker in the first half, including a 38-yarder with two seconds remaining in the half.
"I really challenged our kids at halftime," Dixon said. "They were down, but I could see they weren't going to give up."
Central scored on its first possession of the third quarter as Williams scored on a 4-yard run.
It turned it into a one-possession game in the fourth quarter.
"We've had a bunch of chess matches with them," said Dixon, whose team beat Carrollton 34-28 at home two weeks ago.
For the third straight time they've met in the playoffs, the Hawks won the chess match.
"It's tough," Dixon said. "It's tough for everybody, especially for the seniors. You tell them at some point you'll be proud of the season you had."
Central outgained Carrollton 337-277 as the Panthers rushed for 252 yards. Williams finished with 122 yards on 16 carries, while Jones completed 5 of 10 passes for 85 yards with one interception.
Flowers completed 15 of 29 passes for 171 yards with Walker catching nine passes for 116 yards. Flowers' two-point conversion run on Carrollton's first touchdown proved to be the difference.
"Our guys showed they're fighters," Dixon said. "I'm proud of that."
Class 1A second round
Carrollton 20, Central 18
13 First downs 9
36-252 Rushes-yards 27-106
85 Passing yards 171
337 Total yards 277
5-10-1 Comp-Att-Int 15-29-1
1-5 Penalties-yards 5-50
3-2 Fumbles-lost 0-0
Central 6 0 6 6--18
Carrollton 8 12 0 0--20
CEN--Cole Williams 68 run (un failed), 8:53
CAR--Nathan Walker 16 pass from Hunter Flowers (Flowers run), 6:20
CAR--Walker 13 pass from Flowers (pass failed), 4:44
CAR--Walker 38 pass from Flowers (pass failed), 0:02
CEN--Williams 4 run (pass failed), 6:35
CEN--Chayse Houston 4 run (pass failed), 0:35
RUSHING--Central, Williams 16-122, Strochkirch 9-73, Jones 12-36, Houston 4-10, Chase Norfolk 4-8. Carrollton, Byron Holmes 14-59, Flowers 13-47.
PASSING--Central, Jones 5-10-85-1. Carrollton, 15-29-171-1.
RECEIVING--Central, Tristian Brockseick 2-43, Houston 2-35, Norfolk 1-7. Carrollton, Walker 9-116, Alex Bowker 4-27, Holmes 3-24, Tyler Barnett 1-12