ROYAL CENTER — The Lewis Cass Kings gave the Pioneer Panthers a rude welcome to the Class 2A ranks.
The No. 11-ranked Kings defeated the No. 5 Panthers 28-22 on Friday night in a season opening game at the Pit.
Cass ended Pioneer’s 30-game winning streak overall. The Panthers’ last loss came against Linton-Stockton in the 2016 state championship game. They went on to win the next two Class A state championships with dominating undefeated seasons that bumped them up to Class 2A for at least the next two seasons.
The Kings snapped their five-game losing streak to the Panthers. Their last win over them came in 2013. They also snapped the Panthers’ 43-game regular-season winning streak (their last loss was to Winamac in 2014 at Lucas Oil Stadium) and 32-game home winning streak (their last home loss was to Winamac in a 2013 regional game).
The Kings did it with a solid all-around performance — running, passing, defense and special teams.
Gabe Eurit rushed for 106 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries for the Kings.
“I think we just came into the game with a big chip on our shoulder,” Eurit said. “Obviously we wanted to give them their second loss in what was it, three years. So I think we came into the game very confident and we knew there’s certain people we needed to key on and I think we keyed on them well and shut them down.
“I expected that from our offense. We were keying on shutting down the Lewellens and VonTobel and that’s what we did. ... They’re all tough and they’ve got experience.”
Cass senior quarterback Isaac Chambers was 10 of 16 passing for 173 yards and a touchdown.
“It was a great game by both teams,” Chambers said. “We gutted it out and we came out on top and they just fell a little bit short.
“They are pretty tough. VonTobel is a big boy and the Lewellens are fast. They’ve got some stout linemen.”
Joey Humphrey also had a big game for the Kings with five catches for 103 yards and a touchdown.
“He played big all night offense and defense,” Chambers said. “He was able to get some of those big stops and some of those big catches. He just kept on rolling for us. He’s basically a motor for the team.”
The Kings did enough to limit Pioneer’s speedy Lewellen twins, though Ezra Lewellen rushed for 173 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries and Addai Lewellen rushed for 106 yards on 17 attempts.
The final numbers were similar. Pioneer outgained Cass 346-323 in total yardage. While the Kings did more damage through the air (173-58), the Panthers outgained them 288-150 on the ground. But the Kings had a fast start to both halves and never trailed in the contest. They led 7-0 after one quarter, 14-8 at halftime and 21-16 after three.
The Kings started the game strong, forcing a three-and-out and it took them just two plays on offense to score. A 27-yard run by Easton Good was followed by a 46-yard touchdown run by Eurit to give the Kings a quick 7-0 lead.
The Panthers settled in quickly and made a game of it. But an illegal procedure penalty took away a 38-yard TD run by Ezra Lewellen and the drive later stalled.
A 62-yard reception by Caden Zeck set up a 3-yard TD run by Good to put the Kings up 14-0 with 2:10 left in the first half.
But the Panthers started finding some holes in the Kings defense and they put together a much-needed drive before the end of the half. Miles VonTobel scored from 1 yard out with 28.2 seconds left and his 2-point conversion run made it a 14-8 game at halftime.
The Kings again started the second half strong. Facing a fourth-and-7 play in Pioneer territory, Chambers hit Humphrey for a 24-yard TD pass to put the Kings up 21-8 with 7:30 left in the third.
But the Panthers answered back later in the quarter on Ezra Lewellen’s 55-yard TD run. Addai Lewellen’s 2-point conversion run made it 21-16 with 1:00 left in the third.
The Kings responded with a big drive of their own. Eurit hurdled into the end zone from 13 yards up to put them up by two scores with 9:46 left. German foreign exchange student Ludwig Lenz’s fourth PAT of the game made it 28-16.
The Kings stuffed a Pioneer run on a fourth-and-3 play from the Cass 17-yard line. Pioneer forced a punt with 4:25 remaining still trailing by 12 points.
Ezra Lewellen scored from 5 yards out to make it a 28-22 game with 1:38 remaining. But Eurit recovered the ensuing onside kick and the Kings were able to go into victory formation to seal the win.
While Pioneer has had an unbelievable run of success in football, Cass coach Jeff Phillips noted his squad has some talented football players too.
“The guys came in with the right attitude. We came over here to win. The seniors have had a long run of when they were in junior high they went undefeated, they went undefeated as freshmen. They’re wanting to go out on top their senior year. They brought everything they had. I told them we won this game on guts. This came down to gutting it out. Some of them probably had to reach down deeper than they’ve ever had to reach down their entire life to keep plugging way when they were dead tired. We got the job done.”
Adam Berry dropped to 44-2 as Pioneer’s head coach.
“We knew going in it was going to be a hard-fought game, we were expecting a tight battle,” Berry said. “Obviously they were just ready to play a little bit more than us. Lewis Cass earned that victory tonight. They played well all four quarters. It seemed like a lot of times they had 11 guys going hard and we might have only had five or six going hard. Hopefully this is a learning experience for us. We played a lot of guys tonight in roles that prior to the season we weren’t really anticipating. So in the grand scheme of things, hopefully that gives them some valuable big-game experience for us moving forward.”
The Panthers started the game without junior starting guards Mason Schnurpel (torn meniscus, ACL) and Tyler Gaumer (concussion protocol), who are also big players on defense. Schnurpel will miss the entire season, Berry said.
Then the Panthers’ most experienced lineman, senior Jonathan Beckley, left the game after the second play of the game with an ankle injury. But he was able to return in the second half. Berry said some other players left during the contest with cramping issues.
The Kings and Panthers could meet again in the postseason.
“We knew coming over here they’re a good football team and they are a good football team,” Phillips said. “They’re going to get a of wins this year and we’re going to see them again in the sectional. So we’ve got to get better throughout the course of the year. But this is a good start.”
It was a heavyweight matchup in Week 1 for the two Cass County football programs.
“I’ll remember that game for the rest of my life,” Eurit said. “That was one of the most fun games I’ve ever played in. It was awesome.”