By Matt Danely For the Pharos-Tribune Nov 3, 2018
LAFAYETTE — If there’s a game that’s not technically on the schedule every year that is absolutely on the schedule in the minds of the players for each team, it’s Pioneer matching up with Lafayette Central Catholic. Friday night the backdrop was set for the Sectional 42 championship at the home of the LCC Knights. Once again, the Panthers dominated their opponents 70-7 putting a nice little bow on the matchup for these players who’ve looked forward to this game all year long.
The Knights (5-7) took the ball first in this edition of the rivalry and looked to be able to give the Panthers (11-0) all they could handle despite their less-than-stellar record coming into the night. The Knights immediately used their air attack to keep the Panthers’ defense on their toes, and at first it worked. Quarterback Wes Dulin completed 5 of his first 7 attempts and the Knights were moving the ball down the field and into Panthers territory.
The Panthers don’t take long to get acclimated to whatever the opposing offense is attempting to do, and Friday night was no different. Danny Gregorich stepped up and shot through the offensive line of the Knights and sacked Dulin for an 8-yard loss setting up a fourth-down opportunity for Central Catholic.
The Panthers pass defense held up and forced an incomplete pass from Dulin to Karson Kyhnell and gave Pioneer the ball at their own 35-yard line for their first offensive possession.
Quarterback Jack Kiser had the stage set for a big game, on his rival’s turf, and he took the lead and the Panthers’ offense followed. Kiser and Gregorich were the 1-2 punch that the Panthers needed to wear down the Knights’ defense and they churned out no less than 5 yards per attempt through their first 5 carries. At this point the Panthers were getting at least 8 defenders in the box and on the next play, Kiser took the ball and gutted the Knights’ defense for a 32-yard touchdown run to kick off the night’s scoring.
Down 8-0, the Knights came out on their following possession with a 21-yard run from running back Ky Schrader getting LCC to the 50-yard line. However, the Knights went back to the air and the Panthers were reading them like a book now. Dulin threw incomplete on his next 3 attempts and the Knights were forced to punt the ball back to Pioneer.
Again, Kiser and Gregorich alternated going to the Knights’ body with runs of 5 and 6 yards, while alternating right hooks of 10, 11, and 14 yards at a time. Methodically the Panthers marched down the field and Kiser capped off the 11-play drive with an 11-yard touchdown run to put the Panthers up 16-0 early in the second quarter.
Central Catholic, again, came at the Panthers’ defense with their ground game on their following possession, and for the most part they were able to move the ball a bit. Dulin was able to hook up with Daniel Roach for a 17-yard gain for their second first down of the drive, but Brenton Mersch had other ideas on how this drive would end.
The junior came up the middle as Dulin stood in the pocket and dropped him for a 9-yard loss. And just like that, the Knights were forced to punt again. The Panthers’ defense may not get the notoriety that the offense does purely because that’s how football is viewed in terms of the excitement it brings. The scorers get the spotlight the vast majority of the time, but this Pioneer defense is absolutely the real deal.
And the defense would get another chance to make a play right after Kiser broke another big gain for a score. His 49-yard touchdown run – his third score of the night – put the Panthers up 22-0 and the Panthers were one play from locking this one up in the first half. And here comes the defense again.
This time it was Mason Schnurpel who had been one of many breaking through the LCC offensive line on this night. Schnurpel busted through the line as he and Gregorich were working the right side of the Knights’ protectors, and dropped Adam Dienhart and knocked the ball loose. The Panthers recovered the fumble and there is the play that Pioneer needed to complete control of this matchup.
“We just gave these guys everything we had tonight.” Schnurpel stated. “Everyone was on it. We mixed up our looks and were able to overpower their line which gave us the confidence we needed on each play.”
In great field position at the Knights’ 23-yard line, Kiser was tripped by his own lineman as he pulled to lead block for him and still managed a 3-yard gain. The next play, however, Kiser couldn’t be stopped and got loose for a 20-yard touchdown run increasing the Panthers’ lead to 30-0.
The Panthers defense was far from done too. On the Knights’ following possession it was Gregorich breaking through to sack Dulin for a 9-yard loss and there was nothing Central Catholic could do about it. The following play, Calahan Kindley picked off a pass and returned it to the Knights’ 27-yard line putting the Panthers’ offense in great field position yet again.
This go-round it only took Kiser one play to get back into the end zone (his fifth of the night), and this time it was from 27 yards out and Pioneer’s lead ballooned to 38-0 just minutes before the half was over.
It was more bad news for Central Catholic, though, as the Panthers were set to receive the second half kickoff.
Gregorich came out pounding the rock down the collective throats of the Knights’ defense ripping off powerful 8- and 15-yard runs. Ezra Lewellen received his first carry of the night and used his vision to bounce his way through for a 28-yard touchdown earning a collective sigh from the home crowd as the scoreboard now read 46-0.
Central Catholic was able to get on the board, but at this point it didn’t even make a dent. Ky Schrader bounced outside and sprinted past the Panthers’ secondary and beat Kiser inside the 10-yard line to get into the end zone for a 35-yard touchdown run. Schrader drew the lion’s share of the carries Friday night and was able to earn himself 81 rushing yards on 12 carries.
Kiser – as if he needed it – would get his redemption on the very next drive, though. After Gregorich softened up the defense on the first two plays, Kiser busted out for an electric 35-yard touchdown run of his own where he stiff-armed one defender, weaved through some traffic, sidestepped another defender and simply sprinted past the rest of the defense and pumped his arms as he crossed the goal line to give the Panthers a 54-7 lead.
“As a competitor,” Kiser explained, “you always want to win every play. You know, sometimes that doesn’t always turn out to be the case. But, yeah, that one felt good.”
I’d guess most of his night felt pretty good, then. Kiser carved up the field in this one for 257 rushing yards on 18 carries and crossed the goal line 6 times against a bitter rival.
The Panthers weren’t done making plays defensively either. Schnurpel stifled the LCC backfield twice on their following drive, and once forced to punt, the Panthers rushed hard and blocked the kick, forcing it to work its way back towards the Knights’ end zone. Ezra Lewellen recovered it and put the Panthers up 62-7.
Central Catholic had bitten off more than they could chew, and their offense had nothing left to offer. The Panthers were too fast, too strong and were finding all the right angles to stuff anything LCC could muster to throw at them.
Finishing off the game, Addai Lewellen capped off another short drive, courtesy of a very quick punt forced by more pressure on the kicker. Lewellen ran right, was swallowed up by the LCC defense, disappeared, then re-emerged and swiftly glided to the other side of the field with blockers in front of him to finish off the eventful 12-yard touchdown run. This almost completely summed up Central Catholic’s night on one play.
With the running clock, which I can only imagine added insult to injury at this point, the game was all but over and the Panthers found themselves victorious in another sectional championship. The Panthers have put up 70 points a few times this year alone, but rocking LCC 70-7 on their own turf had to feel better than any before it for the No. 1 team in 1A.
Pioneer travels to HNAC rival Triton (9-3) for a regional game next week.