by Beau Wicker
— Pioneer’s football team travels to West Central tonight for a showdown that could represent the Panthers’ biggest threat to their Midwest Conference supremacy since the loss at South Newton six years ago.
The Panthers have won 46 MWC games in a row and 77 out of the last 78. The only loss in the last 11 years was “the Eric Watt game,” a game in which South Newton’s talented quarterback led the Rebels to a 44-40 win over the Panthers in September, 2006.
“[The streak is] the least of our concerns,” Pioneer coach Mike Johnson said. “It’s a ballgame against a very good opponent. We’ll have to play extremely well on both sides of the ball in all facets of the game.”
West Central (8-0, 6-0 MWC) enters ranked No. 8 in Class A and is just about even with No. 4 Pioneer (7-1, 6-0) in the Sagarin Ratings.
“They’re very, very good,” Johnson said. “We haven’t seen anybody stop them. They just won at North Judson 16-8 in a ballgame in the rain.
“They’re very explosive on offense. They haven’t thrown much but when they do they’re effective. Normally when it’s completed it’s a score.”
The Trojans are led by senior quarterback Michael Hamilton, who has rushed for 1,187 yards and 15 touchdowns and passed for 404 yards and eight TDs, and senior fullback Chantz Marlatt, who has rushed for 1,079 yards and 16 TDs. Hamilton is averaging 10.5 yards per rush and Marlatt is at 11.7 yards per rush.
“Those guys have been unstoppable,” Johnson said. “They’re very, very tough to bring down. They’re elusive runners and two of the best we’ve seen in awhile.”
The Panthers are led by senior fullback Joey Miller, who has rushed for 1,306 yards and 18 touchdowns and is averaging 7.9 yards per rush. Matt Dorris has rushed for 670 yards and five TDs.
Pioneer lost its starting quarterback, Mitchell Williams, for the season after he suffered a broken and dislocated left wrist last week. He had 241 yards rushing and four TDs and was 7 of 12 passing for 245 yards and four TDs before his season-ending injury.
Richmond (6-2, 6-0 NCC) at Logansport (1-7, 0-6 NCC)
Logan is looking for its first North Central Conference win of the season against first-place Richmond.
The Red Devils lost their first two games of the season to East Central and New Palestine but have won all six of their NCC games, which included snapping Kokomo’s 39-game league winning streak in Week 6.
“They’re a really good offensive team but they give up some points,” Logan coach Brad Urban said. “They were down 22-7 in the Kokomo game when it was delayed [by bad weather]. They had a great comeback the next night in the second half of the game. They’re a well balanced team. They’re very big up front on the offensive and defensive lines. They’re a solid football team, they’re No. 1 in the conference for a reason. They’re one of the better teams we’ll play all year.”
The Berries for the most part have played well at home this season after the opener against Twin Lakes with heartbreaking losses to Huntington North and Marion, and they had their best defensive effort of the year in a loss to Kokomo.
“Hopefully we’ll build upon that,” Urban said. “We need to start fast, and we have not done that. Against Huntington and Marion we had slim leads in the fourth quarter but were not able to hold on. We need to start fast and relax a little bit and not try to do too much at the start of the game.”
Bo Bullard has rushed for 821 yards and 13 touchdowns to lead Logan. Isaac Eastburn adds 505 yards rushing and three TDs.
Justyn Curtis has passed for 1,174 yards and 11 TDs to lead Richmond. Taylor Kidd has rushed for 500 yards and six TDs.
Western (4-4, 4-2 MIC) at Cass (7-1, 5-1 MIC)
From 2002-09, Cass had Western’s number, beating the Panthers seven straight times. The Panthers followed with wins in 2010 and last year. The Panthers lead the all-time series 25-21.
Tonight, the Panthers visit the Class 2A No. 7-ranked Kings for a clash of upper-division Mid-Indiana Conference teams.
Cass is on a roll, having won four straight and having outscored its opponents 219-12 during the streak.
Western had a three-game happy streak snapped last week when it fell to MIC leader Hamilton Heights 33-0.
Heights handed Cass its only loss, 45-7 back in Week 4.
Caston (6-2, 4-2 MWC) at Tri-County (1-7, 1-5 MWC)
The third-place Comets travel to seventh-place Tri-County, a team that is coming off a 54-8 loss to Pioneer.
“They’ve certainly got the athletes that if they put it all together they’re a formidable foe to go play,” Caston coach Chris Ulerick said.
Caston quarterback Quentin Douglass is questionable with a rib injury suffered in last week’s 20-15 win over Winamac.
“He’s been getting better, we don’t know yet,” Ulerick said.
If Douglass can’t play, Jeremy Gonzalez, who carried the Comets to victory last week, will once again move from fullback to quarterback.
“He’s got a week of practice under his belt, so we can be more dynamic with our offense,” Ulerick said.
Gonzalez has rushed for 866 yards and eight touchdowns, and Douglass has passed for 624 yards and seven TDs.
Frontier (0-8, 0-6 MWC) at Winamac (5-3, 3-3 MWC)
Winamac coach Tim Roth said his squad “gave the ballgame away” in last week’s 20-15 loss at Caston.
“It was a matter of we were averaging three penalties per game going in, and we had 11 penalties in the game,” Roth said. “It took us out of it. We were inside the 10 three different times and on two of the three we had to punt because we backed up on penalties. It was a lack of execution on our part. We didn’t play smart and it cost us.”
Frontier enters on a 26-game losing streak but played Carroll to a 24-0 game last week.
“I hope we don’t take anyone lightly,” Roth said. “We’re looking to get momentum going into the tournament. We had to refocus this week in practice.”
Tyler Katschke has rushed for 987 yards and 11 touchdowns to lead Winamac. Zach Shidler has passed for 795 yards and 10 TDs.