By Rick Conrad
For the Pharos-Tribune
ROYAL CENTER —
Pioneer’s football team played host to Midwest Conference foe North White Friday night at “The Pit.” Both teams entered the game with 4-2 records and most in attendance were expecting a fairly decent game — but the Vikings defense had no answer for Pioneer’s high-powered offense as the Panthers rolled to a 64-36 win over the Vikings.
The potent Panther attack ran the ball 55 times in the game for 463 yards. They also went to the air nine times completing six of the attempts for an additional 82 yards for a combined 545 total yards on offense. North White was fairly balanced for the game as it garnered a combined 354 total yards of offense with most of its damage coming in the fourth quarter.
The Panther defense set the tone early in the game, not giving up much real estate at all to the Vikings. Then when Pioneer had the ball on offense, the Panthers pretty much took all they wanted. Justin Mersch scored on the Panthers’ first possession from one yard. His score was set up by a nice 28-yard run early in the drive by JP Smith. Pioneer then scored again in the first quarter on a 40-yard keeper from Sam Kiser. At the end of the first quarter Pioneer held a 14-8 lead.
Pioneer then blew things open in the second by scoring three times — off a 16-yard run by Mersch, a 35-yard run by Smith and a 5-yard keeper by Kiser. On the score by Smith, Kiser actually kept the ball on a sweep and as he was about to be tackled for no gain he pitched to a trailing Smith who went the rest of the way uncontested for the score. When the halftime horn sounded it was Pioneer up 36-8.
The Panthers took the second half kickoff 72 yards in 10 plays as Mersch punched it in from 10 yards to increase the lead. The Panthers scored again with 1:02 left in the third when Mersch once again found the end zone from 5 yards to make it a 51-14 game after three.
Panther coach Mike Johnson then went to his bench for the remainder of the game. With the starters on the sidelines, the Vikings were able to put 22 points on the board in the final quarter but the Pioneer reserves put up 13 of their own. Tyler Hanna was first when he split the Viking defense and took it to the house from 82 yards. Moments later, after a Viking touchdown, Kamrin Buell took the kickoff on the Pioneer 11-yard line and was off to the races as he broke free for a 89-yard kickoff return for the score setting up the 64-36 final.
Mersch had another big night for Pioneer with 23 carries for 140 yards and four TDs. Hanna added nine carries for 122 yards and a score while Kiser chipped in 113 yards on 14 carries and a score. Smith just missed giving the Panthers four players with 100 yards rushing. He finished with nine carries for 88 yards and a score.
Smith led the Panther receivers with 65 yards on five catches. Caleb Kindley added a 17-yard catch.
“I thought our defense played particularly well, especially in the first half of the game. Our lines did their jobs and on the offensive side of things they created some nice holes for our backs to run through. We’ve got four capable backs that can run the ball and when the line did what they did [Friday], it shows what those backs can do. It was nice to see Tyler Hanna step up the way he did. But give credit to North White. They’re a solid club and they fought tonight after trailing big. They kept plugging away and never gave up,” said Panther coach Mike Johnson.