by Rick Conrad
For the Pharos-Tribune
ROYAL CENTER —
One-time nemesis Seeger made the trip to Royal Center to take on the Panthers in first round action of Sectional 42.
Pioneer knew coming into the game that the Patriots would try to control the tempo of the game and to keep the Panthers’ high-powered offense on the sidelines. Pioneer coach Mike Johnson had his charges ready after a good week of practice and when the final horn sounded the Panthers easily sent the Patriots packing with a 59-6 defeat.
“We prepared hard all week at practice. We prepare hard all the time for the people we’re going to play,” Panther J.P. Smith said. “We were looking for a physical inside game from them and thankfully we were able to stop them from getting anything going.”
Class A No. 9 Pioneer (8-2) travels to Carroll (6-4) next week for a semifinal game.
The Patriots (3-7) opened the game doing exactly what Johnson figured they would do: control the ball with their running game. The Panthers defense bent a couple times but didn’t break and the Patriots ended up turning the ball over on loss of downs on their first possession.
Pioneer then showed Seeger what ball control is all about by putting together a 71-yard, 13-play drive that ended with Justin Mersch taking it in from 10 yards out with 1:21 left in the first quarter. A Sam Kiser to Caleb Kindley pass on the conversion made it an 8-0 game after one quarter of play.
Seeger quickly responded early in the second quarter when it took the Patriots just four plays before Trevor Bowlus punched it in from 10 yards out. The conversion attempt failed to make it a 8-6 game with Pioneer on top.
The Panthers then settled into place on both sides of the ball and went to work. The defense played shutout ball the rest of the way and the Pioneer offense got in full gear, putting 30 points on the scoreboard in the second quarter alone.
Smith had a pair of scores for the Panthers. First was a 51-yard run and the later in the quarter he hauled in an 18-yard pass from Kiser for the score. Kiser himself then had a pair of touchdowns on runs of 7 yards and the another for 6 yards. By the time teams broke for the half the Panthers had put this one out of reach by leading 38-6.
When play resumed in the second half the Pioneer offense didn’t slow a bit as they took the second half kickoff back to the 48-yard line to begin their drive. Two plays later Mersch broke free from 30 yards away to make it a 45-6 game.
Midway through the quarter with Seeger backed up deep into its own end of the field QB Jake Fell dropped back to pass. The pass was underthrown and Kiser stepped in for the interception at the 22-yard line and returned it for the score. The Tyler Shaw PAT was good and the Panthers were up 52-6.
Their final score of the game came with 4:03 left in the third quarter. Freshman Keith Nies made the most of his time in the backfield when he took it in from a yard out for the touchdown. Shaw’s PAT was again good making it the 59-6 final.
Johnson went to his bench in the fourth quarter and though the younger Panthers didn’t score there was no let-up on the defensive side of the ball as the Panthers advance in the tournament to play another week.
Pioneer was led by Mersch with 120 yards on 14 carries and 3 TDs. Smith finished with 75 yards and a score on just five carries while Kiser added 65 yards and three scores on 10 carries. Kiser threw for 58 yards on 3-of-8 passing and a TD. Smith had one catch for 18 yards and a score while Kindley had two catches for 40 yards.
“They did exactly what we thought they’d do tonight. They tried to shorten the game and tried moving the ball against us,” Johnson said. “The defense was up to the challenge and I thought our guys played pretty well after the first quarter. I knew that if we played the way I thought we could play, then we’d have a big score against them and we were able to do that tonight.”