The final score shows this game has to go on the loss side.

But the Washington football team was a big winner Saturday with the valiant effort it delivered against a state power under extremely difficult circumstances.

The Panthers lost to Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin, 44-14, in the Illinois High School Association Class 5A state semifinals at Cyclone Stadium.

The final score shows this game has to go on the loss side.

But the Washington football team was a big winner Saturday with the valiant effort it delivered against a state power under extremely difficult circumstances.

The Panthers lost to Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin, 44-14, in the Illinois High School Association Class 5A state semifinals at Cyclone Stadium.

It was the first semifinal appearance for Washington (12-1) since the 1985 team won the program's lone state championship.

Talking with the team afterwards, WCHS head coach Darrell Crouch said he tried to put in perspective all the things they have done as a group.

The accomplished senior class helped get Washington to a point it has only been three times.

"I love these guys like I love my own son," said Crouch. "It's tough to say goodbye to your seniors."

After facing mental and physical challenges all week following the Nov. 17 EF-4 tornado that did extensive damage tearing through Washington, football was in focus on this frigid afternoon.

"Once we got started, it was all about football," Crouch said.

The Cyclones scored 10 points off two Panther turnovers about eight minutes apart.

"Turn the ball over twice to a team like that, it's hard," Crouch said.

SH-G (13-0) took advantage of good field position to score on its first two drives. It started at the Washington 36-yard line the first time and then the 29 on the second series.

Anthony DiNello reached the end zone on a 2-yard carry at the 8:41 mark before Malik Turner hauled in a 14-yard touchdown catch with 6:06 left in the first quarter.

The short fields were set up by the Panthers failing to pick up a first down and then having to punt into a stiff wind.

Down 14-0, but on the move after a 14-yard run by Casey Danley and a 22-yard pass from quarterback Colton Marshall to Ben Izaguirre, an alert play kept Washington going.

The Cyclones intercepted a pass on third-down-and-13, but then fumbled the ball and Danley recovered to give the Panthers a fresh start.

Washington caught another break when SH-G was flagged for roughing the punter.

Now in Cyclone territory, Tanner Smith made a 21-yard reception to get the Panthers near the red zone.

Five plays later, Danley lunged across the goal line at the 5:43 mark of the first half to cut the Washington deficit to 14-7.

SH-G went 77 yards in 55 seconds to go up 20-7 with 0:17 on the clock.

DiNello made a 29-yard catch and, on the next play, QB Gabe Green hit Nate Lowis for a 27-yard TD.

The Panthers fumbled the ensuing kickoff and the Cyclones recovered, but after going backwards, they had to settle for a 34-yard Kenny Rowe field goal to forge a 23-7 advantage at the break.

SH-G opened the second half by losing 45 yards to set up a fourth-down-and-55.

Going the same direction as Washington to start the game, the Cyclones only got the ball to their own 34-yard line after the kick.

Danley made an impressive reception on a ball thrown down the middle by Marshall and plowed in for the final few yards for a TD, trimming the Panthers' shortfall to 23-14 with 9:18 left in the third quarter.

Chris Friend broke up a third-down pass on the next SH-G possession to give the Panthers the ball back.

Washington was driving, crossing midfield after 31 yards gained on the ground by Danley and a Cameron Schone 10-yard reception.

The record-setting Washington running back Danley had 90 yards rushing to surpass 2,000 for the season.

The guests lost a fumble, however, and the Cyclones marched 68 yards to pay dirt, capped by a Lowis 10-yard TD grab.

The shift that resulted in a 30-14 margin was vital to SH-G reaching its eighth state title game.

"That was probably the tipping point," Cyclones head coach Ken Leonard said.

In the final minute of the third period, Turner returned a punt 74 yards for a TD.

The final points came with 9:41 remaining in the fourth on a Sam Sergent 10-yard TD catch.

SH-G picked off another pass, but Friend produced a tackle for loss and Andrew Holderness made a stop for no gain.

The Cyclones eventually earned a first down at the Washington 2-yard line.

SH-G elected to have Green take four straight kneel-downs to give the ball back to the Panthers, who ran one more play before bringing their starters off the field to a standing ovation.

Crouch called the move classy, not the first time he used that word during the week to describe the SH-G program.

The senior trio of Danley, Friend and Chockley, who met the media in a postgame press conference, were sad they played their final game together.

"I feel like I want to go back out there and play," said Chockley.