Addai flies high, leads Pioneer to regional win over top-ranked Andrean
Lewellens both rush for over 100 yards; next: at Fort Wayne Luers, next Friday in the semistate
BY VAL TSOUTSOURIS
Sports Editor, RTC
ROYAL CENTER –- Pioneer senior Addai Lewellen is a robber, but there was nothing criminal about what he did for his team with 1:09 left in their Class 2A regional football
game against No. 1 Andrean Friday at The Pit.
Rather, given where the game was going, where Andrean had the momentum, it was a story of redemption and, at least in the football sense, heroism.
It was Lewellen, who less than two minutes after losing a potentially devastating fumble, intercepted Andrean quarterback Joe Cimino in the end zone for a touchback with 1:09 left to secure a 24-21 win and the school’s fifth regional title in the last seven years.
“We were expecting this type of game,” Pioneer coach Adam Berry said. “We weren’t expecting to come out and blow them out of the water. We knew it was going to be tight. I’m super proud of our guys. When things weren’t going right, they weren’t getting down on each other. They kept their heads up and made the big plays when we had to.”
Pioneer improved to 12-1. They have won eight regional titles in school history, including five in the last seven years. But this is their first regional title in Class 2A, and it comes one week after winning their first sectional title in Class 2A.
They will visit Fort Wayne Luers for a semistate game next Friday. Luers eliminated Tipton 36-17 in the other 2A north regional.
“It feels great,” senior Mason Schnurpel said. “We’ve been working all season for this. We’ve
been practicing our butts off, and we deserve it.”
With the win, Pioneer is assured of staying in Class 2A for the 2021 and 2022 state tournaments per the IHSAA Success Factor.
Lewellen ran 26 times for 149 yards and the touchdown that put Pioneer ahead for good with 4:48 left in the third quarter. He also had a pair of two-point conversion runs. Ezra Lewellen, who lined up as both a wingback in the wing-T and a shotgun quarterback in some wildcat sets, ran 19 times for 92 yards.
Freshman quarterback Cayden Hill ran for a touchdown and threw a 5-yard touchdown pass on a bootleg to Logan Smith on a fourth down play that gave Pioneer a 24-8 lead with 9:42 left.
Ryan Walsh had a pair of touchdown runs, and Joe Cimino threw a touchdown pass to Nick Flesher for Andrean, the Northwest Crossroads Conference and Sectional 33 champion. The 59ers had their 11-game winning streak snapped and finished 11-2.
Andrean finished the game with 13 unanswered points and took over again on Addai Lewellen’s fumble with 2:43 left on their own 43.
They converted a third-and-10 on a Pioneer pass interference penalty that gave them a first down at the Pioneer 42. Two plays later, Walsh ran for 10 yards and a first down. A Noah Pearson sack for Pioneer moved the 59ers back to the Panther 34, but Cimino found Flesher for a 14-yard reception to get Andrean to the 20.
On the next play, Cimino floated a deep fade along the left side, but Lewellen, who helped over, leaped and secured the ball for the game-clinching interception.
“After that fumble, I knew I had to go back and make up for that mistake,” Addai said. “We practiced all week if the ball is up, go get it. And I didn’t want to let these guys down. They’ve worked so hard, and I wanted them to see their success, so I had to get that ball.”
While the earlier pass interference penalty wasn’t ideal, it gave the Pioneer defense a preview look at what was going to happen later. And it gave them a chance to show off what they had been practicing.
“We were in cover-four (defense) if I remember right, so it was a deep ball, and we do work on that,” Berry said. “We had our cornerback, who was basically playing under and Addai to play the robber. And we had a similar one a couple plays prior, but we got a pass interference, but you know what, in high school football, it’s 15 yards. And so we were OK with that, and I think it was about the same exact play, and Addai adjusted and obviously came down with the interception to seal it.”
In addition to being the robber on defense, Addai Lewellen added another unusual title on offense – fullback.
That’s because Pioneer played without starting fullback Brock Robinson, who suffered a collarbone injury in a 30-14 win over Bremen in a sectional final win on Nov. 6. Berry said that the fullback spot would be held down by committee, and the chairman of that committee was often Lewellen.
His touchdown run combined with Ezra Lewellen’s two-point conversion run made it 16-8 after Andrean had given up the ball on downs on a fake punt attempt at their own 42.
The drive included an Ezra Lewellen 10-yard run on fourth-and-8 from the 11, where Ezra took the wildcat snap at quarterback.
“We actually didn’t practice it too much, just here and there, but I’ve been quarterback, so I know the plays, and CK (Hill), he knows a little bit of running back, so he knew what to do, but for the most part, we really did not need to practice it too much because we already knew what we were supposed to do,” Ezra said.
After an Andrean three-and-out, Pioneer took over on their own 48 after a 14-yard Drayk Bowen punt.
Pioneer then drove 52 yards in nine plays. On fourth-and-goal from the Andrean 5, Berry called timeout and called for a Hill bootleg to the left. He found Smith for a touchdown, and Addai Lewellen tacked on the two-point conversion run to give the Panthers a 16-point lead.
“We had a timeout and we told Cayden the play, and he kind of looked at us, and we (said), ‘We trust you, buddy,’” Berry said. “We figured they were going to bite on Addai and Ezra because that was who got us down the field. … Logan got just enough separation and great placement, and we are excited to have Cayden for three more years.”
Meanwhile, the Pioneer offensive line continued to open holes against Andrean’s sizable defensive front. Andrean runs a slanting defensive scheme with its front, which is similar to what Pioneer does.
“They were huge,” Schnurpel said. “They were the biggest team we’ve seen by far. Their o-line was massive. Their d-line was fast, and they slanted hard. They were pretty difficult to block, but we got the job done.”
Cimino’s 15-yard touchdown pass to Flesher with 8:10 left made it 24-14, but Ezra Lewellen stood up Walsh inches before the goal line on a two-point try to maintain a two-possession lead.
A Pioneer three-and-out followed, and Andrean drove 37 yards in six plays on their next drive.
While a Cimino screen pass to Dominic Ditola was called back on an illegal block penalty that occurred downfield, Andrean did gain 16 yards on the play, and Walsh scored on a 9-yard run with 5:04 left to make it 24-20. Nicolas Tovar’s extra point cut the deficit to a field goal.
If the second half was defined by Addai’s Lewellen’s defensive play, then the first half might have been defined by Ezra Lewellen’s defensive play with 1:36 left in the first quarter.
On a play in which Cimino squirted out of the pocket and cut back for a 47-yard gain, it was Ezra Lewellen who hustled from behind and poked it out of Cimino’s hands for a fumble that Smith picked out of midair at the Pioneer 22.
Berry said it reminded him of a play that Tayt Odom made in a 1997 regional game against Whiting. Berry was a fourth-grader back then.
“When I saw that, it brought back great memories from being in fourth grade,” Berry said. “Hopefully, a lot of these kids in elementary and junior high will see that play by Ezra and say, ‘Never give up.’”
Hill’s 1-yard touchdown run on a quarterback sneak capped a 78-yard drive that gave Pioneer an 8-0 lead with 5:25 left in the half, but Andrean answered with a 10-play, 72-yard drive for a score that Walsh finished with a 1-yard run.
When Cimino hit Flesher with a two-point conversion pass, the game was tied 8-8 with 32.3 seconds left in the half.
And Andrean was about to get the ball again to start the second half.
Pioneer 24, Andrean 21
Andrean 0 8 0 13 – 21
Pioneer 0 8 8 8 – 24
PIO – Cayden Hill 1 run (Addai Lewellen run)
AND – Ryan Walsh 1 run (Nick Flesher pass from Joe Cimino)
PIO – Addai Lewellen 1 run (Ezra Lewellen run)
PIO – Logan Smith 5 pass from Cayden Hill (Addai Lewellen run)
AND – Flesher 15 pass from Cimino (run failed)
AND – Walsh 9 run (Nicolas Tovar kick)
The Pioneer football team celebrates with the Class 2A regional trophy following their 24-21 win over No. 1 Andrean Friday. Pioneer, ranked third, will travel to Fort Wayne Luers at 7:30 p.m. this Friday for the semistate.