by Rick Conrad
For the Pharos-Tribune
ROYAL CENTER —
The Pioneer Panthers hosted a very strong West Central squad at The Pit on Friday night in local football action.
After dropping their first two games of the season, the Panthers ran the table for the rest of the schedule as Pioneer turned away the Trojans by a score of 50-36 to finish at 7-2 going into sectional play next week.
The Panthers (6-1 Midwest Conference) finished second to Winamac in league play.
This one was a back-and-forth game until midway through the final quarter when the Panther defense rolled up its sleeves and the offense put it out of reach. A big night by quarterback Sam Kiser helped Pioneer defeat West Central as the sophomore carried the ball 29 times for 194 yards and a touchdown. Fullback Justin Mersch carried 20 times for 119 yards and three TDs while J.P. Smith pitched in 32 yards on 10 carries and a score.
A big reason the Trojans (6-3, 4-3) were able to go up on Pioneer was poor tackling by the Panthers. The defense would repeatedly hit the Trojan runners at the line of scrimmage but would not wrap and tackle allowing their ball carriers to break away for big gains. West Central owned a 12-6 lead after the first quarter of play with Kiser scoring the only points for the Panthers. With 6:14 to play in the first, Kiser scooted up the middle and found paydirt from 10 yards out.
Towards the end of the first quarter the Panthers again were moving the ball. On their first play of the second quarter at the 11:54 mark, Smith banged his way in from 4 yards out to tie things up at 12-12. The conversion pass from Kiser to Kamrin Buell was good and the Panthers went in front 14-12.
Pioneer’s lead was short lived as it took the Trojans less than a minute to score and retake the lead. The Panthers’ tackling issues continued but the offense started to spark. The Panthers would go on to score two more times in the second. First was a 7-yard pass from Kiser to Buell at the 5:11 mark, then it was a 32-yard pass play from Kiser to Caleb Kindley with :07 to go before the half. At the break the Panthers still trailed 30-28.
Pioneer fixed its defensive problems during the break and did not allow West Central into the end zone in the third quarter. The Panthers were able to retake the lead at the 2:33 mark when Austin Mersch took it in from 15 yards out to make it 34-30 at the end of the third.
The Panthers gave up a score in the final quarter but posted two more scores themselves. Both TDs were by Mersch. The first was at the 7:40 mark when he took it in from 4 yards out. The final Panther score came with 3:06 left to play when Mersch took it in again, this time from 1 yard out to make it the 50-36 final.
Poor tackling in the first half allowed the Trojans to gain 261 rushing yards over the course of the game and 304 total yards of offense. Pioneer rushed for 346 yards and ended with 441 yards of total offense.
Buell and Tyler Hanna led the Panther defense with 5.5 and 5.0 tackles respectively.
“I thought Sam did a pretty nice job for us tonight,” said Panther coach Mike Johnson. “He had some nice reads running the ball and he also had some nice passes at key times.
“We’ve had problems tackling all year, tonight we took a little step back but it’s stuff we can work on. When you give up 30 points you’ve done some things wrong.”
No. 9-ranked Pioneer hosts Seeger next week in sectional play. West Central hosts Triton in a separate Class A sectional.