Climb that Hill: Pioneer erases 8-point deficit in 4th, leads to historic win over Chesterton
BY VAL TSOUTSOURIS
Sports Editor, RTC
ROYAL CENTER — As Indiana high school football rivalries are concerned, Chesterton vs. Pioneer might not pop up to the forefront of anybody’s mind.
But the on-field exuberance that Pioneer displayed afterwards — huge embraces and impromptu on-field photo sessions — figure to lead to remember-when-we-played-Chesterton-in-2020 memories decades from now.
Freshman quarterback Cayden Hill accounted for two fourth quarter touchdowns, including the game-winning 23-yard touchdown pass to Ezra Lewellen with 2:50 left, to give the Class 2A, No. 2 Panthers a 20-16 win over the Class 6A Trojans in an instant classic.
Brock Robinson added 147 yards rushing and a touchdown on offense and recovered a crucial fumble for Pioneer, which improved to 2-0. In addition to his two receptions for 32 yards, Lewellen had 15 carries for 91 yards on the ground and also had an interception on defense.
That Pioneer did more than just compete is historic. John Harrell, who keeps an Indiana high school football website that documents scores going back to 1994, tweeted Saturday that this is just the fourth time a Class 2A team has beaten a Class 6A team since the IHSAA instituted Class 6A in 2013. The other three times, it was Providence, a private school, that beat a Class 6A team.
Harrell also said that a Class 1A school has never beaten a Class 6A school. That is noteworthy as Pioneer is only playing in Class 2A due to the IHSAA Success Factor after winning back-to-back 1A state titles in 2017 and 2018.
Per the IHSAA’s website, Pioneer has an enrollment of 288, and Chesterton has an enrollment of 2,063.
“It’s really cool because we’ve never faced any school this big or anything,” Robinson said. “A lot of people
tell us we don't face much competition, but I think this just shows a lot of teams what we’re made of.”
Chris Mullen and Colby Bullock had touchdown runs for Chesterton (0-2), and Jackson Syren kicked a 24-yard field goal.
Sticking to the defensive game plan
Pioneer trailed 16-8 at one point in the fourth quarter. Chesterton had scored on Bullock’s 5-yard run with 10:02 left. Though Mullen is a top college prospect as a passer, the scoring drive featured 12 runs and no complete passes.
Still, Pioneer stuck to the defensive game plan, even with Mullen’s ability to scramble and extend plays.
“That’s what great about the defense that we went to,” Pioneer coach Adam Berry said. “The players don’t have to really think. They just go out and play. Now I will say (assistant) coach (Matt) Vianco did a great job of switching out the coverages. Threw some blitzes out there. A little stunts with the d-line. But really we were just playing defense.”
Hill’s 29-yard touchdown run on a keeper around the left perimeter, which included a cut back toward the center of the field when he got inside the 10-yard-line, made it 16-14 with 8:04 left.
Lewellen’s two-point conversion run attempt failed. So Pioneer needed to get the ball back, and since Pioneer doesn’t have a placekicker, a field goal was not going to be happening.
Pioneer needed to score a touchdown.
They got the ball back thanks to a fumble on a missed exchange on a read play between Mullen and his running back. Mullen dove for the ball on the ground, but a Pioneer defender knocked it away just as he was about to corral it.
“It was a fumbled interaction between the quarterback and the fullback,” Chesterton coach Mark Peterson said. “There isn’t much to say about it. Unfortunately, we fumbled. He was riding the read. He tried to pull it, and he fumbled it.”
And there was Robinson, who pounced on it at the Chesterton 41 with 7:14 left.
“It was just really exciting,” Robinson said. “I saw the quarterback. They sacked him, and I saw the ball loose, and I dove on it as quick as I could.”
The game-winning drive
A Hill quarterback sneak got Pioneer a first down at the Chesterton 30. Then came back-to-back bobbled snaps, and Berry called timeout facing third-and-12 at the Chesterton 32 with 3:48 left.
Pioneer ran a criss-cross handoff with Addai Lewellen handing the ball off to Ezra. Berry said it was the first time they had run the play in five years. It gained nine yards and left Pioneer fourth-and-3 at the Chesterton 23.
Berry used his last timeout with 2:57 left. With many players playing both ways on a muggy night, they needed a break.
“I’d say all the timeouts we called were for breathers tonight,” Berry said. “To be honest, some of those injury timeouts came at perfect times because there was an injury timeout after a called timeout.”
While Berry was letting his players get a breather on the sideline, assistant coaches implored Berry to call a play that would allow Hill to get outside the pocket on a bootleg. With three or four Chesterton defenders following Ezra Lewellen on every play, Hill would have the option to either run or pass.
“I have to give credit to our coaches up top,” Berry said. “You know, I called the coaches over into a little huddle, and they’re the ones that sell it. They said, ‘If you move the fullback over and get that jump motion, they are all flying that way for Ezra.’ And you know, it’s like, let’s see what our freshman quarterback can do. And the coaches called it, and the players executed it.
“And so we were actually thinking Cayden, our quarterback, can be able to run for a first down. … We like to say the wing-T was the original run-pass option. So our quarterbacks are always attacking the flank. And we say, ‘If you can run, take off.’ And it was fourth-and-three. If he would have ran, it probably would have been close. But they did contain him well.”
Hill rolled left and winged a laser beam of a pass deep in the end zone that Ezra Lewellen ran down for a touchdown. The ensuing two-point conversion failed, but Pioneer led 20-16.
“I thought he overthrew Ezra, but Ezra’s speed showed, and he got under it, and I can’t want to see it on film,” Berry said.
Hill threw a 30-yard touchdown pass against Lewis Cass to Addai Lewellen in the previous game, but he had only nine yards passing in the game prior to that point.
“We run it sometimes in practice,” Hill said. “Coach came out, and he had full trust in the team. We were ready to go, and I was just excited to have a chance to make that pass.”
The last defensive stop
Then Pioneer needed one last defensive stop. Facing fourth-and-17 from their own 28, Mullen somehow scrambled for 19 yards and a first down.
Chesterton had no timeouts left. Mullen downed the ball. The next pass was also incomplete. Then Derrick LeGrand sacked him for a loss of seven yards. It was fourth-and-17 again.
Mullen then scrambled right and found Mochen, but he was dragged down two yards short of a first down with 31 seconds left.
Hill took a knee. It was time to celebrate.
“We put in the work all week at practice,” Hill said. “And I think the results showed.”
‘What a win for our program’
“What a win for our program,” Berry said. “We told our guys on Monday in our team meeting that we would not have scheduled this opponent if we didn’t think we could compete.”
Chesterton drove down to the Pioneer 16 on its second possession, but Ezra Lewellen picked off a Mullen deep ball on the Pioneer 5-yard line with 2:29 left in the first quarter.
On the first play of the next drive, Berry called a fullback trap. Robinson hit the hole, and a Tyler Gaumer block sprung him free with only Cass County pasture ahead. Robinson had gained 45 yards the first time they ran the play, and this time it reaped even greater rewards.
“The same play, I broke loose earlier,” Robinson said. “That time, I was really just trying not to get caught. I had a burst of energy, and it took me all the way.”
Said Hill of Robinson’s long run: “That got us pumped. We came into this game thinking we were going to do great. And that just boosted our energy times 10. That was amazing.”
The wing-T is unlike the offense that Chesterton typically faces, according to Peterson.
“Hats off to Pioneer,” Peterson said. “They do some great things on offense. We don’t see an offense like that more than once a year, so it’s hard to prepare for. I think those were some great successes for their offense tonight, and we didn’t probably drise to the challenge as much as we needed to.”
Next up: New Haven
Earlier Friday, Pioneer athletic director John Bingaman announced that Pioneer will host New Haven at 7:30 p.m. this Friday.
New Haven, a Class 4A school, is 2-0 after wins over Garrett and Mississinewa.
New Haven replaces LaVille on Pioneer’s schedule. Chesterton replaced Winamac. Both LaVille and Winamac have suspended their seasons due to coronavirus outbreaks in their respective communities.
Headed for No. 1?
Class 2A, No. 1 Eastbrook lost to Delta 42-28 Friday. The next Associated Press football poll will be released Tuesday.