Pioneer maintains streak against LaVille, advances to sectional final
BY VAL TSOUTSOURIS
Sports Editor, RTC
LAKEVILLE –- Prior to their Class 2A, Sectional 34 semifinal against LaVille Friday, Pioneer coach Adam Berry said that they had to make sure they block LaVille outside linebacker Ayden Doyle if they were to have offensive success.
On their first play from scrimmage against the Lancers, quarterback Cayden Hill handed off to fullback Brock Robinson in between the center and left guard. Doyle, who had lined up at right end, positioned himself for the tackle.
Pioneer right guard Mason Schnurpel pulled to his left and was there to meet him.
Wham. Doyle was not going to be a factor on this play.
Robinson cut back to the right, got to midfield, made a hesitation move, and he was gone for an 80-yard touchdown run.
This play might have been symbolic of what happened Friday. It might have been symbolic when these teams get together. Just as Doyle ran into Schnurpel, a successful LaVille program keeps running into Pioneer.
The No. 3 Panthers prevailed 52-14 to improve to 10-1 and earn a sectional final date against Bremen this Friday.
Game time is 7 p.m. this Friday at Bremen. The No. 13 Lions routed Wabash 63-13 in the other semifinal to improve to 9-2.
LaVille finished 6-2. Since the start of the 2015 season, LaVille is 48-19. They are 0-7 against Pioneer and 48-12 against everybody else. All seven of the losses to Pioneer – five regular season games and a 2017 Class 1A regional game -- have been by at least 22 points.
Ezra Lewellen and Hill each had two touchdown runs. Addai Lewellen and Brian Gluth also ran for scores. Pioneer also converted five of seven two-point conversion attempts.
Ezra Lewellen ran for 150 yards on 12 carries. Robinson had 12 carries for 145 yards. Addai Lewellen ran for 77 yards on six carries. Hill had 46 yards on six carries.
Pioneer did not attempt a pass.
Andrew Dill and Paul DeWitt each had 1-yard touchdown runs for LaVille. DeWitt’s touchdown run with 4:25 left in the third quarter and a two-point conversion pass from Lucas Plummer to Doyle cut the lead to 28-14.
LaVille then recovered a subsequent onside kick, but they went three-and-out, and Pioneer responded by scoring on their final three drives.
“That was obviously a momentum shift to their side,” Berry said. “Hindsight, but I probably should have had our hands team out there. It was probably pretty obvious that they were going to go for an onside kick, but credit them for getting it. But our defense came together and got a big stop when we needed it, and that’s what our defense has done the entire year.”
Hill fumbled the opening snap of the fourth quarter but quickly picked it up and 24 yards for a touchdown around the left perimeter. A Robinson two-point conversion run made it 36-14.
After 30 yards worth of Pioneer personal foul penalties gave LaVille a first down on the Pioneer 47, the Panthers forced LaVille to turn the ball over on downs, and Addai Lewellen ran 46 yards for a score. Addai Lewellen’s leaping catch in traffic for a two-point conversion made it 44-14.
Brian Gluth’s 3-yard touchdown run and Tyler Zellers’ two-point conversion run completed the scoring, and the final 59 seconds were played with a running clock.
“My gosh, our guard play was fantastic this game with Mason Schnurpel and Tyler Gaumer,” Berry said. “What a time to have your best game of the entire season. … Just watching them be able to kick out those outside linebackers was fantastic. We were able to get our buck sweep going and just really opened up some things for us.”
Dill’s 1-yard touchdown run on the first play of the second quarter made it 8-6, but Noah Pearson stopped Dill on a two-point conversion attempt that would have tied the game.
Addai Lewellen returned the ensuing kickoff to the LaVille 34, and the Pioneer offense, which might be more well known for big plays, followed with a more methodical drive.
Hill capped off the 10-play drive – no play was longer than seven yards – with a 1-yard run off left guard with 5:47 left in the half. Hill’s two-point conversion run made it 16-6.
After a LaVille three-and-out, Pioneer took over with 3:35 left from their own 2-yard line.
Three plays later, Ezra Lewellen took a counter and headed right. The LaVille outside linebackers had walked up to the line to make it look like a five-man front. Doyle was in position but got walled off again, this time by left guard Tyler Gaumer.
Ezra Lewellen was in the secondary and in the clear. He went 86 yards for a touchdown to make it 22-6 with 2:11 left in the half.
“That was a counter,” Ezra Lewellen said. “Addai was going in a jet (motion), so we had a fake jet that way (to the left) and counter back with me getting the ball, and I was just winding it back … the safety and I think the linebacker were to the right. So I had to cut it back to the left to avoid them. And it was great blocking too, so that helped.”
As for the Pioneer defense, they held LaVille to 200 total yards.
Berry commended his team’s tackling afterwards. Missed tackles were rare, and when they did occur, a bevy of defenders were there to help out a teammate.
“I think that’s been a positive the entire year,” Berry said. “Our team defense, we use our speed to our advantage, our quickness to our advantage. We get multiple guys to the ball, and I think that’s a nice security blanket for the first person to get there because the guy knows he’s going to have teammates right behind him for the tackle.
“Our team tackling has been tremendous this entire season.”
Of the 200 total yards, 53 of them came on a pair of gadget plays on the Lancers’ opening possession. On the first play of the game, Leyton Czarnecki found Owen Smith for 25 yards on an option pass.
Four plays later, Evan Bettcher was the up man on a punt and took the snap and shoveled it to Noah Richhart for a 28-yard gain on fourth-and-6 at the Pioneer 44.
The possession ended with Czarnecki launching a 46-yard field goal try that hung in the air before hitting the crossbar and bouncing back.
On the next play, Robinson exploded into the LaVille defensive backfield.
“We have seen their kicker almost make a 54 or 55-yard field goal, so we were fortunate for him just to be short,” Berry said. “And like I said, having Brock score on that first play, I thought that was a huge momentum shift in our favor. I think it calmed our guys down a little bit, and they were ready to go after that.”
Answered LaVille coach Will Hostrawser when asked if there was a momentum change: “It’s hard telling. We wanted the ball to go down and score early. I told the guys the play before that we had to get yards because we were right on that verge. Leyton’s got a very strong leg, and it definitely would have given us a shot of momentum, but it wasn’t in the cards.”
Field goals as long as 46 yards are rarely even attempted in high school football. That Czarnecki came so close to making it was seemingly a dodged bullet.
“It was a huge momentum changer,” Lewellen said. “That missed field goal and that run for that touchdown, it really got our spirits up. It got us hyped. So it was a huge turn of events for us.”
Pioneer 52, LaVille 14
Pioneer 8 14 6 24 – 52
LaVille 0 6 8 0 – 14
PIO – Brock Robinson 80 run (Ezra Lewellen run)
LV – Andrew Dill 1 run (run failed)
PIO – Cayden Hll 1 run (Hill run)
PIO – Ezra Lewellen 86 run (pass failed)
PIO – Ezra Lewellen 25 run (run failed)
LV – Paul DeWitt 1 run (Ayden Doyle pass from Lucas Plummer)
PIO – Hill 24 run (Robinson run)
PIO – Addai Lewellen 46 run (Addai Lewellen pass from Hill)
PIO – Brian Gluth 3 run (Tyler Zellers run)