by Beau Wicker
Pioneer’s dominating run in Midwest Conference play was so thorough, so impressive, that it just could not go quietly into the night.
The Winamac Warriors had overcome both the Panthers and two lengthy lightning delays, and 18 hours after the opening kickoff they were finally able to celebrate their own dominating performance in a 34-8 win Saturday that ended the Panthers’ 47-game MWC winning streak.
How were the Warriors able to completely turn the tables on the Panthers after having lost 12 straight to them entering the contest? They beat them at their own game: They won the line scrimmage and made the big plays.
And the players making most of those big plays were quarterback Parker Fox and fullback Tyler Katschke.
Fox, a first-year starting quarterback for the Class A No. 3 Warriors (2-0, 1-0 MWC), had a 69-yard touchdown run on the Warriors’ second play from scrimmage Friday night to get them out to the fast start they were seeking. He finished with 155 yards rushing on 15 carries and two TDs and was 6-of-10 passing for 158 yards and two more TDs.
“They’ve had a long legacy of beating us. It’s been too long,” Fox said. “We had to get it back. It just feels great.”
Katschke, a 5-10, 190-pound bruiser, had a 59-yard TD reception on the Warriors’ second possession to give them a quick 14-0 lead. He added a 9-yard TD run on their first drive on Saturday morning to give them a 20-0 lead early in the third quarter. He finished with 72 yards rushing on 15 attempts and had 139 yards from scrimmage for the game. He also led the Warriors on defense from his linebacker spot and some of his hits were much louder on the field than the thunder that caused the postponements.
“We came out here and we performed to perfection and we got the win. It feels awesome,” Katschke said. “The linemen, they were great, opened up holes and we just popped through there.”
No. 8 Pioneer (0-2, 0-1) finally got some offense going on Saturday. Trailing 20-0 and having to sit out another lightning delay, the Panthers put together a scoring drive that finished with a 3-yard TD run by Justin Mersch, who led them for the game with 66 yards on 24 carries. Sam Kiser then found Caleb Kindley for the 2-point conversion to make it 20-8 with 2:45 left in the third quarter.
Levi Schultz answered with a long kickoff return into Pioneer territory. But the Panthers later came up with a goal-line stand, their second of the game.
The Warriors stopped them on their next possession, and on the ensuing punt attempt the snap sailed over punter Kiser’s head. The errant snap gave the Warriors the ball at the Panthers’ 1-yard line, and two plays later Fox scored on a QB sneak to give the Warriors a 28-8 lead with 7:33 left.
The Panthers put together another long drive, but Winamac’s Brandon DeGroot intercepted a pass in the end zone to all but seal the huge win.
The Warriors weren’t done on offense, as Fox hit Sean Lynch on a go route for 52-yard TD pass. Lynch outleaped a defender for the ball, the defender fell down and Lynch was able to stroll into the end zone to make it a 34-8 game with 3:18 remaining.
Winamac coach Tim Roth said the postponement to Saturday was unfortunate because there were many less fans in the stands after Roudebush Stadium was packed for the big game on Friday night. But his squad didn’t lose focus and took care of business on Saturday and certainly made the Winamac faithful proud for finally taking down mighty Pioneer.
“We hadn’t beaten that team for 12 years. We’ve had a couple close calls and a bunch of blowouts,” Roth said. “You start to second-guess yourself if you’re doing things the right way. We’ve felt like we always have. A lot of times it’s been we didn’t have the personnel to line up with them or we’d have a bad break here or there. We told them one play at a time. ... Our kids did a really good job of executing.”
Winamac outgained Pioneer 392-165 in total yardage, including 234-100 on the ground.
There have been swings in domination in the conference from Winamac to North White to Pioneer, and all of the schools in the conference of course have had strong teams at some point.
“We had a streak like that ourselves in the ’80s and ’90s where we won four championships in a row and didn’t lose a game. Their streak outlasted ours. They’ve been the bully for 10 years,” Roth said. “[Pioneer coach] Mike [Johnson] has done a great job down there. They’ve been blessed to have a lot of great athletes just like I have. They’ve been buying in to what they’re doing and their athletic ability takes over. It’s quite an accomplishment by them.”
It was the Panthers’ first MWC loss since they lost to South Newton seven years ago. It was only their second loss in the last 12 years. They’ve still won 78 of their last 80 league games.
“It was a good run,” Johnson said. “All that does is just make you remember all those great players that we had in the past that built that streak. And I tell you what, we have some great players coming. We’ve got some great players that I think were on the field today. So we told our guys that we love them no matter what regardless of the score. We love them before the game and we love them after the game. Despite the lopsided score there, we got a little better in the second half and that’s what we were looking for. That’s what we’re looking for with this team is to get a little better.”
Johnson still likes the potential of his team. The Panthers have a young group that has struggled to get going their first two games against two teams that won sectional titles a year ago in Lewis Cass and Winamac.
“About eight quarters, it took us about eight quarters to score,” he said. “Sure, execution, a little bit of heart, some backs running hard, maybe figuring out some stuff. Our two halfbacks, really it’s their first varsity experience. Our fullback, it’s his first varsity experience at fullback. It takes a little while to jell, but I feel a little better at the way that we ended we were able to move the ball and pick up some first downs and do some things. And once we put it all together we’re going to be all right.
“We’re 0-2 right now, but that doesn’t mean anything really. We’ve got a long season left. We want to get better every day, that’s the bottom line, see where we are at the end.”
The two teams could possibly meet again in regional play.