TRAVERSE CITY - Tom Passinault saw improvement Thursday night.
But there's more work to be done, the Traverse City Central football coach said after a 28-7 non-league win over Escanaba in the home opener at Thirlby Field.
"Early in the season, anytime you can win a ballgame it's a good feeling," Passinault said. "You're always going to have mistakes early in the season and it's a lot more fun to work on your mistakes after a victory.
"I'm proud of the boys. We're growing up every week. But we know we've got to play a lot better to win next week."
That's when the Trojans, now 1-1, will face crosstown rival Traverse City West.
Junior Ethan Campbell rushed for 105 yards and three touchdowns to spark Central past the Eskymos. He scored on runs of 19, 10 and 36 yards. Junior quarterback Sean Williams enjoyed an efficient night passing the ball, completing 12 of 15 passes for 120 yards and a score.
"Sean Williams is growing up," Passinault said. "He's throwing the ball well. We protected the passer and then we got Campbell loose. He's a good, elusive back. He's as fast sideways as he is straight ahead. He's a tremendous back."
Campbell broke the game open with a pair of touchdown runs in the fourth quarter.
"Our line really got their roles down," Campbell said. "We started blocking great and the holes opened. I just ran through them."
The defense, torched through the air last week at Marquette, surrendered a 48-yard touchdown pass from Travis Heller to Cam Beversluis with 20 seconds left in the first half. Other than that, the Trojans contained Escanaba, limiting the Eskymos to 42 yards in offense the second half.
"We tried not to let it get to us," inside linebacker Josiah Lopez-Wild said of the Escanaba scoring pass. "We thought, 'we've got this game under control, we've got to put it behind us and get back on the field and do what we do.'"
The Trojan secondary intercepted three passes, two by Alex Liggett and one by Campbell. In addition, Mitch Wynkoop recovered a fumble.
Liggett's first interception led to Central's first touchdown, a five-play, 64-yard march. A 40-yard Williams to Bronson Wood pass keyed the drive. Campbell finished it off, taking an inside handoff and breaking it to the outside from 19 yards out. That came with 1:40 left in the first quarter.
In the second quarter, Campbell returned a punt 16 yards to the Escanaba 28. Five plays later, Williams hooked up with Drew Girard from 11 yards for a touchdown. Jake Gorter's second conversion of the night made it 14-0 with 3:06 remaining before half.
Escanaba chewed up most of that remaining time with an 80-yard drive that culminated with Heller's 48-yard pass to Beversluis.
The Eskymos outgained Central in the first half. Heller was 6 of 8 in the opening half for 105 yards.
Central committed five penalties on its first two possessions in the second half before getting untracked. Girard returned a punt 30 yards to give the Trojans the ball at the Escanaba 38 near the end of the third quarter. A seven-yard pass from Williams to Zach Egbert on a 4th and 6 kept the drive alive. It finally ended with Campbell busting it from 10 yards.
Liggett's second pick followed and Campbell on his very next carry went 36 yards to close out the scoring.
The Eskymos never crossed midfield in the second half.
"Our defense was solid," Passinault said. "Our defensive line gets better every week. It looked like our linebackers, Lopez-Wild and (Joe) Schepperly, played extremely well. We had a couple big interceptions that gave us a lot of confidence, too."