by Rick Conrad
For the Pharos-Tribune
ROYAL CENTER —
The shootout that took place at “The Pit” Friday night didn’t involve the Earps or the Clantons, this one was between the Rebels and the Panthers. When it was over it was the Pioneer Panthers claiming their first win of the young season with a 66-28 win over the visiting South Newton Rebels.
“We did move the ball tonight and I’m hoping that’s a sign that we’re getting better,” Pioneer coach Mike Johnson said. “I don’t think we’ve made that big an improvement, I’m guessing it’s the competition there. Lewis Cass and Winamac are two of the strongest teams we’re probably going to face. Not to take anything away from South Newton though. We still have to execute better on both sides of the ball.
“Defensively, we’re going to give up a lot of points until we learn to tackle. Right now that kind of concerns me.”
Pioneer (1-2, 1-1 Midwest Conference) wasted no time in setting the tone in this one. The Rebels’ first possession ended on a three-and-out. On fourth-and-3 at the Panthers’ 25, Pioneer’s Zach Mason broke through the line to partially deflect the punt giving the Panthers the ball on their own 19.
On the second play from scrimmage Justin Mersch took it in from 9 yards out at the 10:17 mark. Panther QB Sam Kiser ran in the conversion giving Pioneer a quick 8-0 lead.
The Rebels (1-2, 1-1) were again forced to punt on their next series and once again Mason found his way up the middle and blocked the punt, recovering it on the 7-yard line. On the first play it was again Mersch scoring from 7 yards out making it 14-0 with 8:21 to go in the first quarter.
Pioneer would score two more times in the quarter. With 6:53 to go it was Kiser breaking free from 35 yards out for the touchdown and then keeping it for the conversion. Then with just 19 seconds left it was Tyler Hanna scoring from 25 yards out. At the end of the first quarter of play Pioneer was in control 28-0.
South Newton finally got some offense going in the second quarter when QB John Dafcik found Sam Applegate from 7 yards out for the score at the 6:26 mark. Moments later though the Panthers responded. With 3:52 left in the half J.P. Smith bounced it in from 9 yards out for the score. Kiser’s pass to Smith on the conversion was good and it was Pioneer up 36-6.
But the Rebels had plenty of time left before the half and they took advantage of it. With :21 left before the break Dafcik found Trevor Lowe for a 10-yard touchdown pass. The Rebels’ conversion attempt was good and Pioneer took a 36-14 lead into the locker room.
Both squads showed no signs of letting up in the second half as Pioneer scored three more times in the third quarter while South Newton also got on the board. On the first play from scrimmage in the third quarter Mersch broke free and scored from 75 yards away while Hanna’s conversion was good. The Panthers then put it in with 5:54 left in the quarter when Kiser scored on a 9-yard run. Wrapping up the scoring in third was again Kiser from 19 yards out at 1:53 to make it a 60-20 game going into the final quarter.
The Panthers wasted no time again in putting their final score on the board in the fourth quarter when freshman Austin Harmon took it in from 3 yards out with 10:40 to play in the game.
South Newton scored its final points of the night with 4:38 to go when Dafcik bounced it in from 6 yards out. The conversion was good making it 66-28. With Pioneer again moving the ball and near midfield with 2:54 to go in the game, the field’s automatic sprinklers activated. After a few moments the game was called with the Panthers claiming the 66-28 win.
Leading the way for Pioneer was Mersch with 174 yards rushing and three scores. Kiser added 104 yards and three scores also in the win.