BOURBON — If anyone else has any doubt whether Pioneer can recreate last year’s undefeated state championship run, Triton coach Ron Brown is not one of them.
The unbeaten, top-ranked Panthers pretty much had their way with the host Trojans Friday, continuing their postseason march with a statement-making 66-0 win over upset-minded Triton in the regional championship game in Bourbon Friday night. Afterward, Brown could only tip his hat to the Panthers.
“It comes down to this — they’re going to win state,” said Brown. “They are. And the reason that they’re going to win state is they understand the concept of team. They are selfless, and they understand that it takes 11 guys on the field at all times to be successful, and they did that. Hat’s off to a team like that. More teams in the state of Indiana should emulate Pioneer, and if there’s any doubt who Mr. Football should be, it’s Jack Kiser.”
Pioneer scored a trio of touchdowns to lead 20-0 before the buzzer even sounded on the end of the first period. Two of those came within a span of less than two minutes. And after Pioneer’s initial 75-yard touchdown drive on the opening possession of the game, the Panthers’ offense needed only to move the ball 32 yards to tack on those two other scores, thanks to a pair of costly errors by the Trojans’ special teams.
After Pioneer’s first score — a 35-yard run by fullback Daniel Gregorich at the 5:12 stop of the clock — a fumble on Triton’s ensuing kickoff return and fumble recovery by Brenton Mersch set the visitors up at the Triton 25. Three plays later, and Pioneer quarterback Kiser ran in the first of his three touchdowns from 9 yards out, pushing his team’s advantage to 14-0 with Gregorich’s two-point conversion run around the right side at the 3:31 stop of the clock.
Triton’s next possession stalled out at the Trojans’ own 28, and a high snap on an attempted punt on fourth down resulted in a turnover on downs at the 7-yard line. Kiser’s keeper for the remaining distance into the end zone pushed the Panthers’ lead out to 20-0 with 1:38 remaining in the opening stanza.
“It comes down to the little things kill you, and the little things killed you. I felt like my guys came out and they played tough on defense, but you give them a short field, you can’t expect a different outcome than that. Our offense wasn’t able to get on the field much, and I think that first half it was four plays that really stuck it to us,” explained Brown.
Things didn’t get much better for Triton from there as Pioneer put up two more touchdowns in the second quarter to take a 34-0 halftime lead. Although Triton finally began moving the ball in the second half, the Trojans only really threatened once, marching the ball down to the Pioneer 8 early in the third period before a low snap, a tackle for a loss and a near-interception helped the Panthers hold on fourth down at the 7:30 mark of the period.
In total, Triton finished with only seven first downs and 111 yards of offense, while Pioneer rolled up 410 offensive yards, 339 on the ground. Kiser led all rushers with 110 yards on 14 carries followed closely by Gregorich’s 101 yards in 14 rushes and Addai Lewellen’s 91 yards on just two runs. Kiser also went an ultra-efficient 8 of 9 passing for 71 yards and two touchdowns. And the Notre Dame commit tallied a team-high five tackles on defense to boot.
Triton’s offense wasn’t helped by five total turnovers against the Panthers — four fumbles and one pick by Ezra Lewellen — nor by 151 penalty yards compared to just 22 penalty yards on only two penalties by the fundamentally sound Pioneer squad.
James Snyder was held to an uncharacteristic 3-13-1 passing performance for 13 yards and finished with 25 rushing yards on 10 carries behind fellow senior Delano Shumpert’s 53 yards on three carries. Ethan Berry needed nine rushes to reach 14 yards, meanwhile, while Tye Orsund caught two of Snyder’s passes for all 13 yards and tallied a game-high six tackles.
As rough as the finale was, it still did little to dampen a 9-4 season that included the Trojans’ first sectional title in a decade. Triton football will have some big holes to fill in its lineup saying goodbye to a special senior cast of 16 that set numerous records for the program, a cast that includes Snyder, Berry, Shumpert and Orsund as well as standout linemen Billy Smith and Conner Ousley.
“You’re not going to see it on the scoreboard, and no one other than the people that were here to watch the game can see the effort that our players put out there, but I see it, I feel that. I think our seniors especially have done a great job of representing this program and building it to where it is right now,” said Brown.
“They do a lot of things well on and off the field, and they’ve grown a lot over the last four years, and I’m pretty proud of them for that. Luckily for me, it’s not a college program. We’re not saying goodbye. I’ve got them for the rest of the year; I’ll have them in wrestling. I look for a few of these guys to go play at another school, and I can’t wait to go and watch them play college ball somewhere.”
Pioneer advances to play Adams Central at home in Royal Center in northern semi-state play next week.