In many ways Pioneer’s and Carroll’s football teams mirror each other this season.
Both teams rely on a number of underclassmen and both got off to a rocky start to the year. But both have gotten things going at the right time heading into tonight’s Class A sectional game in Flora.
The Cougars (6-4) host the No. 9-ranked Panthers (8-2) at 7 o’clock tonight in a Sectional 42 semifinal.
“It’s a big game,” Pioneer coach Mike Johnson said. “They’re a big team. They’re certainly a lot bigger than us. They’ve played well of late. Their last 5 of 6 have been wins. They’ve gotten better and better and they’ve gotten healthy and gotten guys back.”
The Panthers have won eight games in a row on the strength of an offense that has scored 44.8 points per game this season. While the defense has allowed 25.2 ppg, the Panthers are coming off a game last week in which they throttled Seeger 59-6.
“Our defense has to show up against these guys, there’s no doubt,” Johnson said. “They can throw the ball and throw the ball down the field and they’re good in that area as well. We have to play good defense.”
Junior fullback Justin Mersch has rushed for 1,514 yards and 25 touchdowns and has averaged 7.6 yards per carry for the Panthers. Sophomore quarterback Sam Kiser has passed for 437 yards and 5 TDs and rushed for an additional 869 yards and 15 TDs. J.P. Smith adds 516 yards rushing and 8 TDs. Tyler Hanna leads the defense with 30 solo tackles, 27 assists and 5.5 tackles for a loss.
“The Kiser kid is unreal,” Carroll coach Steve Keown said. “The Smith kid, the Mersch kid, those guys are tough. They have good linemen. Mike’s always got guys that can block well. And they’ve been running the wing-T since they were third graders and they really know it and that’s a challenge.”