By Beau Wicker
---- — Pioneer’s football team is taking its dominating 47-game Midwest Conference winning streak into Winamac tonight.
The Panthers haven’t lost an MWC game since 2006 to South Newton in the “Eric Watt game.” That was their only league loss in the last 12 years, as they’ve won 78 of their last 79.
But Winamac might present the biggest threat to that streak since South Newton did in the middle part of the last decade.
The No. 3 Warriors (1-0, 0-0 MWC) actually enter with a higher state ranking than the No. 8 Panthers (0-1, 0-0) for tonight’s 7 p.m. kickoff.
“They’re a very confident team at this point, and rightfully so,” Pioneer coach Mike Johnson said. “They won a sectional title last year and they played well in the regional against Lafayette Central Catholic, the state champion. They have every right to be.
“We are definitely the underdog going into this ballgame.”
The Panthers are coming off a 29-0 loss to Lewis Cass in which they accumulated less than 100 total yards from scrimmage and just three first downs.
“We’ll find out just how good Cass was or how bad we were,” Johnson said. “I think we still have a lot of question marks. We’ve got to find a way to move the football and defensively find a way to tackle.”
Against Knox last week, Winamac scored the game’s first 56 points in a 56-14 win. Senior fullback Tyler Katschke led the way with 169 yards rushing and three touchdowns.
“He’s a great back. He runs hard and can bounce outside and run between the tackles,” Johnson said. “They have a very athletic kid at quarterback [Parker Fox]. ... This is as good of a Winamac team as we’ve seen in a long time.
“We’ll have our hands full. We’ll definitely have to play a lot better than we did against Cass.”
Pioneer’s 1-2 punch of quarterback Sam Kiser and fullback Justin Mersch weren’t able to find much room to operate against the Kings.
“No doubt we have to find a way to run the football,” Johnson said. “The things we did in the passing game in the gun with Kiser gives us other options. But still the bottom line on Friday nights in high school football you have to be able to run the ball and run it well.”
Peru (1-0) at Logan (0-1)
In last year’s 110th meeting between the two teams Peru showed improvement from recent seasons but Logan prevailed 28-7.
The Tigers are coming off a 40-13 win over Wabash last year.
“Obviously they are coming in with a lot of momentum,” LHS coach Brad Urban said. “They can take away a lot of positives from that game. They beat Wabash in all phases of the game.”
Urban said the Tigers have a lot back from last year.
“They had their running back, Richardson, out against us last year. He didn’t play. They have their quarterback back. They’ve got a lot of players from last year. Their numbers are up. They are two-platooning this year. They feel they’re in a better place than they were last year at this time.”
The Berries can say the same thing after last week’s 17-7 loss at Twin Lakes in which they showed improvement. In fact Urban thought it was a game they should have won against an Indians team that has a lot back from last year’s team that nearly took down Lafayette Central Catholic.
“There were definitely some positives,” Urban said. “The biggest thing is on the offensive side of the ball we’ve got to get going early and get our confidence back and our swagger back. Our defense gained confidence and had confidence going into the game from practicing very hard and being physical. Our offense had to match that.”
Urban said there could be changes to the offense after the Twin Lakes game, and he said tonight junior Devin Winegardner (6-5, 235) will start at guard and senior Alex Emmerd will move over to tackle.
“It gives us a little more size up front. Peru has size and we’ll be able to counter that,” Urban said.
This is the 111th meeting between the two teams and is the longest running rivalry game in the state. Logan leads the series 57-48-5 and has won 10 straight.
Logan’s 1977 North Central Conference team will be recognized before the 7:30 p.m. kickoff.
Cass (1-0) at W. Lafayette (1-0)
The Class 2A No. 7 Kings travel to Class 3A No. 9 West Lafayette for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff.
The Kings are coming off an impressive road win over Class A power Pioneer to face Class 3A power West Lafayette on the road.
“We don’t have long to celebrate our victory. We’re going right into the fire in the pan,” Cass coach Scott Mannering said.
West Side won at previously ranked Class 3A Tri-West 26-15 last week.
“They just beat a really good Tri-West team,” Mannering said. “They return almost everybody off last year’s team. They have very good skill people and their linemen are all 6-3 or 6-4 and 250 pounds. They have good size and they always have good skill players. They have a very good running back in Maurice Woodard.”
Woodard rushed for 247 yards and two TDs against Tri-West. He became the school’s all-time leading rusher last year as a junior. Parker Ronchetto was 11 of 17 passing for 147 yards and a TD against Tri-West.
The Kings defeated the Red Devils 14-6 last year to snap a five-game losing streak against them. They are 3-5 since the series was started in 2005. Mannering said this will be the final meeting as West Lafayette has added McCutcheon in Week 2 for next year, so Cass will need to find a new opponent.
Gabe Welch rushed for 113 yards on 12 carries in last week’s win for the Kings. Payton Young had 40 yards rushing and two TDs and also led the defensive effort.
Caston (0-1, 0-0 MWC) at
W. Central (1-0, 0-0 MWC)
The Comets are looking to snap a three-game losing streak to the Trojans.
“We have to line up right and take care of ourselves. That’s the No. 1 goal for the week,” Caston coach Chris Ulerick said.
The Comets struggled with penalties and mistakes in last week’s 25-13 loss at Triton.
West Central is coming off an 18-6 win over Culver.
“They were a lot like us but they won. They had the ball four or five times inside the 10 or 15 and didn’t score or the game could have been more lopsided than it was,” Ulerick said. “That’s something that scares us. They have big-game potential. We have to line up correctly and play football.”
The mistakes added up last week for the Comets.
“There were times our freshmen were a little lost. That’s to be expected, having growing pains when you play freshmen,” Ulerick said. “Now with a whole week under their belt, we’ve coached those kids up in group time and team time and hopefully we make strides this week.”