The Pioneer football team dropped to No. 3 in the Class 2A ranking following a narrow loss to Class 4A New Haven after being the unanimous No. 1 last week.
The Panthers (2-1, 0-0 HNAC) will look to bounce back tonight against Caston (1-2, 0-2) in a series they have dominated over the last two decades plus. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. at the Pit.
It might not be fair that Pioneer dropped in the rankings after facing teams with seven times (Chesterton) and 3.5 times (New Haven) its enrollment in back-to-back weeks. But the likes of Andrean and Eastbrook — whom the Panthers might have a chance to play in the tournament this year — are ranked ahead of them.
Pioneer coach Adam Berry watched the New Haven tape from last week’s 32-28 loss and again saw his squad had its chances to win.
“We just made more mental mistakes against New Haven than we did the previous week,” Berry said. “It wasn’t for a lack of effort, it wasn’t like we were being lazy, we’re still playing hard every snap. It was just the mental mistakes we didn’t have the previous weeks. Obviously the turnovers hurt us and we didn’t get that big turnover when we needed.
“I thought we had a very good week of practice. We slowed some things down to correct those mistakes. I think it was good for the players. It was probably the best week of practice we’ve had.”
Berry said that star running backs Ezra and Addai Lewellen were both dealing with ankle injuries this week and are game-time decisions tonight.
“They’re both saying it’s feeling better throughout the week but it’s something we’re just going to evaluate on Friday,” he said.
Caston has a win over West Central this year and played Triton to within 14-12 last week.
“Just looking at them you can tell that they’re playing hard,” Berry said. “It seems like their team speed is quicker than it has been the last couple years. They’re taking their new coach’s philosophy and running with it. It’s still a run-based offense that Caston is known for over the years, but with some variations. Our defense is going to have to be very disciplined or they’re going to get 4 yards per carry down the field and just keep driving and controlling the clock. So that’s something we’re going to try to prevent.”
Caston coach Will Porter said the Triton game was winnable.
“In the start of the second half we went up 12-0 and were doing well and then they fought back and got two drives together and were able to punch it in twice. We were on the verge of driving it in ourselves but then a mishap on the final play led to us running out of time,” Porter said.
The Caston coach added there was a controversial finish. The Comets were 19 yards from paydirt when they recovered their own fumble and they were out of timeouts with 15 seconds left. Porter said the player that recovered the fumble was hit in the back of the head and was hurt, but the officials decided not to stop the clock and the rest of the time went off the clock.
“The kid that recovered had been hit in the back of the head and was laying there and the official stood there and was looking at us, not setting the ball or calling a timeout for the injury to get the kid up. Time ran off and we weren’t able to get the last play in,” Porter said.
He added that sequence didn’t decide the outcome of the game, but the Comets would have liked to have one last try to win it. They would have had time to clock the ball had the injury not occurred.
Damian Sullivan had a 91-yard punt return for a touchdown and Sam Smith had a rushing TD. Grant Hickle had a good game at quarterback and will stay there this week. Landon Shafer is returning from his back injury but will move to wide receiver/tight end and will be the backup quarterback.
“[Hickle] just gives us a little bit more footspeed to run the option, which is crucial. So we’re going to continue to run with him,” Porter said.
The Caston coach added freshman lineman Pete DuVall was injured in practice this week and is out tonight.
The Comets know they have their hands full with the Panthers, who have never lost a game in HNAC play.
“It’s definitely a really tough opponent for us. They’ve played two really quality opponents in Chesterton and New Haven and looked really good in both of those games. So we’re working hard trying to figure out how we’re going to attack them,” Porter aid.
TECH (1-1, 1-0 NCC) AT LOGAN (1-2, 0-1)
Logan will look to bounce back from last week when it hosts Tech. The Titans are coming off a 15-7 win over Richmond after a 28-13 loss to Terre Haute North.
The Berries struggled last week against Class 5A No. 6 Harrison, and they’re presented a new challenge this week against Indianapolis Tech, which now has an enrollment of 2,600.
“Tech has athletes and speed that we will have to deal with,” Logan coach Mike Johnson said. “Their quarterback is 6-5, 215 pounds and can throw it and can run it. He’s their guy really on offense. Last year they had some talent and were honed in. It looks like they don’t have maybe as much D1 talent as they had a year ago, but their quarterback is certainly someone who is special who makes things happen for them on that side of the ball. We’re going to have to be able to get him on the turf, that’s the bottom line. So hopefully we can do that and play better on defense.”
Johnson is looking for a better performance from his squad this week.
“When the game’s going on you always think you’re not playing hard enough,” he said of the Harrison game. “There were probably times we were disappointed. I think the kids got on themselves that they weren’t ready to play, they weren’t in the right frame of mind. But we didn’t quit, I wouldn’t say that. Harrison’s pretty good. It was a mismatch really. Their running back is really good, their offense is really good. They’re just a really good, ranked 5A opponent that has had a lot of postseason success the last two years. They have 22 seniors and they’re having a good season. We faced a good team. We wished we would have been more competitive but we weren’t. That’s why we get another week to play.”
Johnson added his squad is in good shape after dealing with injuries the first three weeks.
“We’ve got some bumps and bruises from that game but we should have everybody back. We’re just about at full roster now,” he said.
CASS (1-2) AT TIPTON (1-1)
Clayton Mannering picked up his first win as the head coach of the Kings last week at Benton Central. He now only trails his father, Scott, by 222 wins.
Mannering likes the improvement he’s seen from his squad this year.
“I was really proud of the guys. We did the same thing we did the first two weeks, we’ve gotten better each week,” he said. “But we’re finally gratified with seeing results on the field. We were able to move the ball, that makes such a difference to the offense and the defense. We ate up a lot of clock and were just able to sustain drives, even the ones we couldn’t finish. I feel we are definitely moving in the right direction. We’re starting to get a better picture of our offensive weapons and who are playmakers are on defense. So I’m really just hoping to carry that enthusiasm and progress into this week.”
It’s the Hoosier Conference opener for both teams tonight. Mannering knows the level of competition goes back up against with Tipton, which is ranked No. 10 in Class 2A in the coaches’ poll.
“It doesn’t get any easier. This is another really good team, really polished and heavy with upperclassmen on the roster,” he said. “It’s going to be from a talent standpoint a lot closer to South Adams and Pioneer to the team we played last week. They’re very well coached at Tipton always. They run a similar style defense to us, their offense is fairly different. They will have plenty of challenges for us, that’s for sure.”
LAVILLE (0-0) AT WINAMAC (1-0)
It’s the HNAC opener for both teams and the season opener for LaVille, as COVID-19 related issues caused a delay to the start of the season for both teams.
“Without them playing a game and not seeing them, that makes it a little tough,” Winamac coach John Hendryx said. “But we’re pretty familiar with them and know a lot of their kids they’ve got back. They’re going to be very athletic. We thought going into the season they were going to be one of the top teams that we’ve played — speed all over the place, big linemen. Will [Hostrawser] does a great job with them. They’re going to be pretty good.”
LaVille senior quarterback Ayden Doyle will be out tonight with an injury, Hendryx said.
Hendryx picked up a win last week in his debut on the sidelines with his alma mater, as the Warriors routed North White 42-0. He said it was good to see his squad go up against an opponent and play well.