by Beau Wicker
ROYAL CENTER —
Pioneer has one of the top small-school programs in the state and expects to be a top contender for the Class A state championship this season.
But on Friday night the Panthers were no match for their county rivals to the south, the Lewis Cass Kings.
The Class 2A No. 7-ranked Kings took it to the No. 2-ranked Panthers in a 29-0 win in the season opener.
The 29-point victory marked the largest margin of victory for either team since the series began in 2007. Cass is now 5-2 all-time against Pioneer.
“Ooh, that was ugly, that was a butt-kicking by a program,” Pioneer coach Mike Johnson said. “Cass right there shows you what a great program they have. That’s a program: tough kids and well-coached.”
The Kings had their JV offense on the field by early in the fourth quarter. How did it get that bad to that point? The Kings were able to wear out the Panthers’ defense while at the same time stopping their offense throughout.
Pioneer finished with just 29 yards rushing for the game and 48 yards passing. Meanwhile, the Kings racked up 263 yards on the ground and had 17 first downs to Pioneer’s three.
The Kings had about three times as many players as the Panthers did warming up on the field and depth looked to be a factor.
“Particularly in the first half when the sun was out and it was hot, I think that made a huge difference,” Cass coach Scott Mannering said. “We actually had nine guys that played both sides but nobody plays both ways really. So we tried to get a lot of water in everybody and make sure guys are rotating. That’s something we’re going to try to do throughout the whole year and hopefully that will make us stronger. But I thought that worked to our advantage in the first half.”
The Panthers threw the kitchen sink offensively at the Kings but to no avail. Quarterback Sam Kiser rushed 47 yards on six carries and was 3 of 11 passing for 48 yards.
But he was sacked four times, twice by Kyle Dwiggins and once each by John Hartley and Cody Campbell. Pioneer fullback Justin Mersch was also held to just 12 yards rushing on 10 carries.
“We did some different things,” Johnson said. “We went to the gun-type of stuff and tried to do some things out of that and run some wing-T stuff. I’m not so sure if that was the problem. It’s just that Cass is just well-coached, they’re just good. It’s tough to get a win against Cass.”
The Kings fumbled away their first possession of the season but were able to stop the Panthers from converting on a short field. The big play was a Dwiggins sack that may have saved an early score.
The Kings were able to take advantage of a short field after a Pioneer fumble and Payton Young scored from 2 yards out late in the first quarter for the first touchdown of the year.
Young added a 14-yard touchdown run in the second quarter as the Kings started to wear out the Panthers, and the 6-1, 160-pound senior made several big plays from his outside linebacker spot on defense.
“Payton’s a play-maker,” Mannering said. “We moved him to outside linebacker and really he was disciplined tonight. He stayed on the edge and kind of took away their outside game to his side. He just had a big game all-around. It was really a good night for Payton.”
Owen Ohman, in his first start at quarterback the Kings, scored on a 1-yard QB sneak on a fourth-down play in the third quarter and added a 17-yard TD pass to Leland Bowling on the first play of the fourth quarter to make it a 29-0 game.
Fullback Gabe Welch led the Kings with 113 yards rushing on 12 carries. Brendan McGehee had 57 yards on seven carries and Young added 40 yards on eight totes.
The Kings punted just one time entering the fourth quarter, and with their first-team defense on the field the entire game forced seven Pioneer punts in pitching the shutout.
“I think Pioneer’s going to win a lot of games this fall,” Mannering said. “They’re a very solid team, particularly on defense. So I was real pleased we were able to put some points on the board tonight.”
Johnson said he didn’t think that depth was a factor and said his team can’t use that as an excuse even against a bigger school like Cass.
“We told our kids we’ve got to quit crying around about depth. They’re always going to be bigger than us, they’re always going to be stronger than us, they’re going to have more of them. We’ve got to quit crying around about that and figure out a way to get it done,” he said.
“It’s the first game, we’re not done. We tell them we love them no matter what before the game starts, the scoreboard has no indication or change of our plans. So no, we’re going to get right back at it and watch the tape. It’s probably going to be ugly. But that’s how you learn and get better. So like I said, I feel good about our team. We got beat by a better team tonight.”