by Kenny Hetzler
For the Pharos-Tribune
Class A No. 9 Pioneer wasn’t holding anything back when it went into Cougar Country as the Panthers defeated Carroll 41-6 Friday in the semifinal round of Class A Sectional 42.
The Panthers (9-2) took the opening kickoff and marched 61 yards on eight plays for a quick 8-0 lead with quarterback Sam Kiser scoring from 14 yards.
Carroll then had the ball, and three plays later defensive back Keith Nies intercepted a pass from Carroll quarterback Jared Miller, giving the ball to Pioneer on Carroll’s 19-yard line.
Four plays later, Pioneer’s Justin Mersch ran in from 11 yards to give the Panthers a 14-0 lead with 4:19 left in the first quarter.
Pioneer kept up its dominance on defense, not allowing Carroll a first down until its third possession, and that was on a Pioneer penalty.
After two turnovers by Pioneer, Carroll finally got the ball down to Pioneer’s 3-yard line, but the drive stalled as the Cougars were unable to convert on a fourth-and-goal. It was like that mostly for Carroll in the first three quarters.
“Defensively, I was very happy with the way we performed,” Pioneer coach Mike Johnson said. “Carroll is a very good offensive team. The Cougars have won five of their last six ballgames, been scoring some points, and they are a very good power running team with good backs. For us to be able to stop the run, I was really pleased. Hat’s off to our defensive coaches and our guys on the defensive side.”
Pioneer’s offense added two more touchdowns in the first half. The first one was a 28-yard run by Tyler Hanna and the second one was a 55-yard run by Mersch. Pioneer led 28-0 at halftime.
“They’re not ranked ninth in the state for no reason,” Carroll coach Steve Keown said. “They are a good football team. It seemed like we came out a little shell-shocked. They hit the big pass on us. We had a turnover, and the first series I thought we had it stopped, but Kiser breaks contain and scores, and we never recovered from it.”
Kiser added two final scores for the Panthers. He scored from 56 yards in the third quarter, and 2 yards in the fourth quarter.
Carroll (6-5) avoided the shutout as Jaden Reneau ran in from 2 yards with 4:46 left in the game.
Mersch led Pioneer with 204 yards rushing on 21 carries with two touchdowns. Kiser had 133 yards rushing on eight carries and three touchdowns.
Reneau led Carroll with 87 yards on 17 carries and a touchdown. Chandler Eurit added 82 yards on 12 carries.
Pioneer plays at Frontier (3-8) for the sectional championship next Friday. Pioneer won the regular-season matchup 47-13. The Panthers are seeking their sixth sectional title and first since 2008.