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  • Val T.

Pioneer season in review: Berry: Offseason in weight room critical for improvement in 2024


Sports Editor, RTC

The Pioneer football team won four of their first five games before losing four of their last five. That included consecutive losses to North Judson by a combined score of 73-26 to close out the season.

Rylahn Toloza returned a kickoff for a touchdown, and Cayden Hill had a touchdown run in last week’s 40-14 loss to the Blue Jays in a Class 1A, Sectional 41 quarterfinal.

Pioneer had the ball on the North Judson 2-yard-line trailing 20-14 late in the first half, but they did not score on that possession, and they only had 13 offensive snaps in the second half.

Meanwhile, North Judson quarterback Jesiah McDaniel ran for 130 yards and three touchdowns and also threw for 84 yards and a score.

“This was his first year playing quarterback, but this was his best game, and it just so happened to be against us,” Pioneer coach Adam Berry said.

Coupled with last year’s sectional quarterfinal loss to Triton, this marked the first time since 1989-90 that Pioneer lost their first sectional game in back-to-back seasons.

Berry said the team will have to improve its turnover margin in order to achieve more success in 2024.

“Just overall, our turnover margin is not even close to where we want it,” Berry said. “We did not force very many turnovers, and we had way too many to be successful and to do exactly what we wanted to do this season.”

Pioneer improved from two wins last season to five wins this year, but the next step forward will be without graduating seniors Toloza, Hill, Tyler Zellers and Colton Baker.

“You saw it in the players’ faces,” Berry said. “They were not ready for the season to be over. We’re going to miss the four seniors. They were great for our program the four years. They were very consistent in the offseason showing the younger guys to push yourself in the weight room. But very excited to see what the current juniors are going to do as seniors, but our bigger numbers are in the freshman and sophomore group. If the seventh and eighth-graders stick with it, there in a couple years, I think we’ll be back in the mid to upper-40s in numbers, and that’s where we like to be.”

Meanwhile, Knox, the 2023 conference champion, and LaVille, the 2022 conference champ, are both leaving the Hoosier North for the new Indiana Northern State Conference. North Miami and South Central (Union Mills) will replace them for football.

Berry said he would like to see a “full commitment” to the weight room this offseason. He said getting faster and stronger is the best way his players can improve.

“But I’m very excited about our future,” Berry said. “We still played a lot of sophomores and freshmen this year. … I think the last two weeks, we had a lot of guys in spots. Did we make some mistakes defensively? Yes. But there were also times where we had guys exactly where we wanted them to be, hitting the running back at the line of scrimmage, but you know, we’re just bouncing off them or they’re dragging us for a couple yards. Hopefully, they just have that in the back of their mind this offseason to show we need to get stronger. For the most part, we were where we needed to be; we just needed to get the job done.”

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