Pioneer’s 31-game Hoosier North Athletic Conference winning streak is in jeopardy tonight.
The Class 2A No. 8 Panthers (1-1, 1-0 HNAC) travel to No. 7 LaVille (2-0, 1-0) for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff.
The Panthers are 31-0 all-time in HNAC football games.
“Those are things we really don’t look at. This is a totally different team than what we’ve had in the past,” Pioneer coach Adam Berry said. “We improved tremendously from Week 1 to Week 2. Win streaks are great and obviously we want to continue that on and continue on with HNAC victories, but we know it’s going be tough and we’ve had a great week of practice and I think we’ll be ready to go.”
The Panthers are coming off a 50-0 league win over Winamac.
The Panthers’ last conference loss was to Winamac in a 2014 Week 2 Midwest Conference game played at Lucas Oil Stadium.
How good have the Panthers been in conference play overall over the last decade plus? Pioneer lost in back-to-back conference games to Winamac in 2013 and 2014 but prior to that had won 47 straight MWC games. Pioneer later avenged the 2014 loss to Winamac in regional play. Pioneer won 90 of its final 93 MWC games in addition to winning 31 straight HNAC games.
LaVille is a program on the rise that tied with Knox and Triton for second in league play last season. They lost to Pioneer 66-19 a year ago but were one of just four teams to score against the Panthers the entire season. The next highest point total was 7. The Lancers lost to Pioneer in regional play the year before.
“LaVille, they played a lot of younger guys last year,” Berry said. “They scored some points on us and it’s a game I vividly remember being physical. They have some guys who will come up and hit you. The blocking was physical. They have home run power at any point with their skill guys.
“If you look at their average, they’re explosive plays. The [Andrew] Dill kid is one that comes to mind. He’s more of a receiver for them but when he touches the ball he can go at any time. With their defense they have the [Robby] Pope kid at linebacker. I believe he’s averaging 14 tackles a game after the first two games. Watching him on film he flies to the ball. So we’re going to have to know where he is. Then he has 10 guys around him who are disciplined and they know what they’re doing and they’re coached extremely well.”
Following the season opening loss to Lewis Cass, the Panthers moved Ezra Lewellen to quarterback full-time instead of rotating him in with Miles VonTobel, who is now at wingback full-time where he is a three-year starter.
“We moved Ezra to quarterback. He threw the ball pretty well,” Berry said. “His completion percentage wasn’t quite there after last game (3 of 7 for 85 yards) but he’s putting the ball where it needed to be. It’s something where we’re trying to get him out to the flank to be honest where he can see things better. He’s not a drop back passer, so we want to move him around. But really offensively we can still do everything we were doing with Miles.
“Having Miles at wingback provides us with just another great blocker for us. I think he’s feeling more comfortable. He’s playing a little more loose Week 2 than he was Week 1. I think we’re trying to find our 2019 identity.”
Berry added that senior starting tight end/safety Koby James is questionable tonight with an ankle injury suffered this week in practice.
BENTON C. (0-2) AT CASS (2-0)
The Kings roll into their home opener with a No. 3 ranking in Class 2A behind just Indianapolis Scecina and Evansville Mater Dei.
Kickoff for the game is at 7 p.m. tonight at Owens Memorial Field.
The Kings will be without their starting quarterback, as Isaac Chambers is out with a lower ankle injury after a big start to the season.
“He’s getting better each day,” Cass coach Jeff Phillips said. “He will not play this Friday. Our expectations are for him to be ready to go next week [against Tipton].”
Chambers will be replaced by Easton Good, who brings plenty of athleticism to the position as a Miami of Ohio baseball recruit as well as being a standout basketball player.
“Easton Good will get some reps this week. There’s some things with Easton we can do with his athleticism back there,” Phillips said. “Keegan Lytle will probably see playing time as well at the quarterback position.”
Benton Central is a non-divisional Hoosier Conference opponent. The Bison went winless last season and have opened with a 29-0 loss to Delphi and 61-21 loss to Seeger.
“They’re 0-2 now. They’re doing the same thing we’re doing which is trying to get better,” Phillips said. “In Week 2 they played better than they did in Week 1. They run spread offense which we’re expecting to see. Defensively they run a 3-4 package. We’re trying to not get too wrapped up on our opponent and we’re focusing more on what we can control ourselves.”
HARRISON (1-1) AT LOGAN (1-1)
It’s the North Central Conference opener for both teams.
The Berries are coming off a 35-12 win at Frankfort where they implemented a new two-platoon system and had a lot of young players on the field.
They’re facing a Harrison team that is ranked 16th in Class 5A in this week’s coaches poll. The Raiders have split a pair of games with a loss to Class 6A No. 10 Westfield and a win over Culver Academy this season.
“Harrison has gotten kind of rolling. They’re defending sectional champions. They played really well last year,” Logan coach Mike Johnson said. “They run a run type of offense that we have to be very disciplined to stop defensively. And really from top to bottom they are a really solid North Central Conference team, a very solid 5A team. And I’m sure soon to be a 6A team with their numbers. Coach Peebles has done an outstanding job over there. Coach Urban of course is over there. And they’ve done a nice job with their program.”
The Berries are led by senior running backs Drake McLochlin and Josh Manfred, who are averaging 7.1 and 8.3 yards per carry, respectively. Junior quarterback Garrett Barron has averaged 17 yards per completion and is also a threat with his legs running for 101 yards and 3 TDs.
The Berries lost another starter last week. Junior guard Eli Starkey is out until late in the season with a hamstring injury. Sophomore defensive end Noah Worsham suffered a broken arm during last week’s game.
“He has good size. Noah Worsham is about 150 pounds, 6-3, 6-4. He’s out, so we didn’t need any more injuries,” Johnson said. “He’s saying they think by the end of the season he can come back. But I think he’s probably out until next season.”
Senior Caleb Risher will step into the starting defensive end role.
Berries fans might want to get there a little early before the 7 o’clock kickoff as athletic director Brian Strong is scheduled to deliver the game ball via sky diving down to the field.
WINAMAC (0-2) AT N. WHITE (0-2)
Winamac is relying on a lot of sophomores and on top of that have played two of the toughest teams on its schedule to start the season in Knox and Pioneer.
Coach Craig Barr saw some positives from the 50-0 loss to Pioneer.
“There were a lot of positives. We moved the ball well, we just couldn’t finish drives. We missed opportunities to score on the first three possessions,” Barr said. “We got stopped on the 15-yard line by mistakes on our part. On our second possession we dropped a pass in the end zone and were wide open. On the third possession we fumbled at the 6-inch line. The kids just didn’t finish.
“It’s tough playing and developing young kids and playing a program of the prestige of Pioneer. We just weren’t ready to jump into that quite yet. ... I felt leaving the game the kids felt like they could compete with them. They weren’t consistent enough throughout the game to get over the hump.”
North White has opened with a couple of close losses, 63-50 to Taylor and 30-22 to Frontier.
“They have a good quarterback, good passing game, big linemen,” Barr said. “They’re just dangerous. They’ve got a chance to score any possession. Their quarterback can run it as well as throw it.
“Our kids have had a good week of work. If they play the way they’re capable and play for four quarters we’ll be in good shape on Friday.”
CASTON (0-2, 0-1 HNAC) AT TRITON (1-1, 0-1)
It’s been a tough start to the season for the Comets, who lost a heartbreaker to West Central and were blown out at North Judson last week.
They’re already down two starters due to injuries, as senior guard Aiden Sarver suffered a torn ACL and his replacement, freshman Cain Schanlaub, suffered a broken arm during weight lifting class and will be out for awhile as well.
The Comets are hoping things get better tonight and they can compete better against Triton. The Trojans are dealing with some heavy losses to graduation from last year’s nine-win, sectional championship season. They have opened with a 26-24 win over South Central (Union Mills) and a 59-14 loss to LaVille.