FRANCESVILLE — The Pioneer Panthers continued their winning ways in dominant fashion yet again Friday night when they traveled to West Central winning their seventh straight, 55-7, and heading into sectionals red-hot.
No sooner than the “Star Spangled Banner” finished, the Panthers already had 7 on the board, as Nick Price took the opening kickoff to the house. The trend however had been set weeks ago. The Panthers have started fast and finished off their last seven opponents by an average of 47 points in consecutive weeks. Things are going well in Royal Center to put it mildly.
It’s not just the Panther offense either, the defense showed its prowess yet again by keeping the Trojans under five plays per (meaningful) drive and blanking them in the first half. West Central running back Parker Fritz was completely taken out of his game by the Panther front seven giving him no clear lanes to run through — holding the speedster under 5 yards rushing in the half.
Jacob Lytle noticed the strong play on both sides of the ball saying, “We played really fast tonight,” and continued, “Fritz is a great back and he’s really fast. We just got great push, clogged his running lanes and had great pursuit all game.”
The offense had its fun as well racking up over 260 yards in the first half, along with two touchdowns from Price, a 43-yard touchdown run from Payton Smith and two short yardage scores from quarterback Sam Kiser. Kiser was also successful through the air connecting with his receivers three times for 54 yards in the first half.
Lytle reflected. “Again, we were getting great push, got to the second level and took their linebackers out of the play and our backs were able to get some traction — it’s just so important for us (lineman) to do our jobs to get them into space.”
When the first half finally mercifully came to an end, the Panthers held on to a 42-point lead looking finish the last half of the regular season on a high note.
The second half did however begin with some much needed fight from the Trojans. Quarterback Nate Neeley orchestrated a seven-play, 70-yard scoring drive that was highlighted with a 42-yard touchdown pass to receiver Dylan Ingram, putting them on the board for the first time of the night.
But just like they’ve done so many times before, the Panthers’ offense responded with a long drive of their own, knocking their lights out. No, seriously – just as the Panthers were about to run the ball into the endzone for their own touchdown, the lights went out at the field.
The pitch darkness lasted for about 20-25 minutes or so and featured a playful back and forth between the West Central crowd and the visiting Panther faithful who traveled so well.
Then it was back to football and before anyone’s eyes could re-adjust, Panther running back Keith Nies blasted into the endzone from 6 yards out and the rout was back on.
Attempting to continue the success in the passing game, the Trojans started their next drive with a 30-yard pass from Neeley to Ingram. Two plays later Kiser intercepted a deep jump ball that all but ended any thoughts of a comeback.
The Panthers would then go on a long and drawn out 12-play, 80-yard drive, capped off with a touchdown pass from Kiser to Nies that ended the scoring for the night.
Pioneer coach Mike Johnson was very pleased with his team’s play saying, “We wanted to make sure we had some eyes on Fritz, to where we always knew where he was at and we did a good job getting him slowed down. We had a lot of tackles for loss, won the battle up front and were able to keep their thousand-yard passer from hurting us too much – and we made plays.”
The Class A No. 5 Panthers (8-1, 6-1 Midwest Conference) finished second behind No. 1 Winamac in the final year of the MWC. No. 13 West Central (6-3, 5-2) finished third. All three schools will compete in the Hoosier North Athletic Conference beginning next season.
The Panthers will start sectional action next Friday facing off with Tri-County, a re-match of last week’s game in which the Panthers won 63-28.
Matt Danely is an Indianapolis Colts Team Journalist for Pro Football Spot. Follow Matt (@MDanely_PFS) and Pro Football Spot: Colts (@Spot_Colts) on Twitter, as well as Google+