by Beau Wicker
In a matchup of two ball-control, ground-and-pound offenses, Western was able to finish its key drive of the second half while Cass was not.
The Panthers secured a share of the Mid-Indiana Conference title with a 23-8 win over the Kings on Friday night.
“They’re a tough team, they always are,” said Western senior quarterback Drew Bellus, who led the Panthers with 81 yards rushing and a touchdown and also added a pass for a score. “Our o-line, everybody else, just stepped up and really did their jobs. We stayed tough through the whole game, and that was really the key, staying tough and being tougher than them.”
The Panthers (8-1, 6-1 MIC) share the league title with Hamilton Heights, which knocked off Peru Friday night. Western last won a share of the league title in 2011.
“It’s always great to win the MIC. It always great to beat everyone in the county and it just feels good to be the best team in the area,” Bellus said.
The Kings (5-4, 4-3) had to settle for a tie for third place with Maconaquah.
The Kings trailed the Panthers 16-8 at the half but opened the half with a time-consuming drive that took over nine minutes off the clock. They got as close as first-and-10 from the 13-yard line and on a third-and 16 play, Owen Ohman hit Payton Young with a pass that appeared to be good for a first down near the goal line. But the play was called back by a holding penalty and eventually the Kings were forced to punt after a Quentin Fields sack.
“That happens. There’s no argument there. You don’t really see it all the time,” Cass coach Scott Mannering said. “That hurt. That hurt bad. We don’t get a score there and they were able to drive the field and get one in.”
The Panthers then embarked on a 22-play, 92-yard drive that was capped by a 1-yard plunge by Bellus with 7:40 remaining in the game that made it 23-8.
Early in the drive Western coach Nate Andrews gambled on a fourth-and-2 from the Panther 37 when Ryan Alexander picked it up on a 3-yard gain. Christian Glenn later had a 26-yard run on third-and-7.
On third-and-13 from the Cass 23, the Kings appeared to have an angle on Ben Lenahan, but he cut left outside for a 22-yard gain to the 1-yard line that set up Bellus’ score.
“The play kind of got blown up but Ben found the seam and our o-line holds their blocks and they do a great job,” Bellus said.
Added Andrews: “That was a senior play, a great character play by him. That really broke it open for us.”
The Kings were then forced to punt deep into their own territory on their next possession. Their defense held on the next Western drive, and after moving the ball to the Western 16-yard line they were stuffed on a fourth-and-5 run with a minute left to play.
Western opened the game with a 60-yard drive for a touchdown that was capped by a 3-yard run by Lenahan, who early in the drive had a fourth-and-2 conversion. The TD was setup by a 38-yard pass from Bellus to Alexander. Bellus ran in the 2-point try.
Both teams lost fumbles before the Kings tied the game on a 48-yard TD pass on a rope from Owen Ohman to Kyle Dwiggins with 9:31 left in the first half. Ohman ran in the conversion.
Ohman’s passing was a bright spot for the Kings, who finished with 75 yards in the air but were outgained 202-129 on the ground.
“Owen had a tremendous game both sides of the ball,” Mannering said. “I think he’s gotten better every week. He is a fierce competitor.
“We had trouble in the trenches [Friday]. That’s our game so when that happens we really have to grab at straws and try to find something else to go to. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. I thought he played real well, took care of the ball and made some tremendous throws.”
The Panthers answered with a 65-yard TD drive capped by a 9-yard TD pass from Bellus to Lenahan with 4:32 left in the half. Lenahan ran in the conversion.
A Corey Hinkle sack helped stop the Kings’ final drive of the first half at the Western 35-yard line.
Mannering thought his squad had a good effort going into next week’s sectional game at Tipton.
“I’m really pleased with the way our team competed. It’s something I wasn’t sure we’d do the first couple weeks of the season. I think we’ve came a long way and hopefully we’ll be better next week and have a shot at Tipton,” he said.
Andrews said his squad will have to clean up its play which included 11 penalties for 77 yards.
“It was one of those games where we didn’t feel we played to our potential, and for that to happen and for us to still pull it off, it was a great win for us,” he said. “Penalties we have to clean up. We can’t do in the playoffs going forward.
“Cass does a great job of finding your weaknesses and trying to exploit them. That’s what they did and their kids battled.”
Western hosts Mississinewa next week.