- Val T.
Week 13 football preview: Panthers to face accurate Cimino, top-ranked Andrean
BY VAL TSOUTSOURIS
Sports Editor, RTC
Class 2A regional: Andrean (11-1) at Pioneer (11-1), 7:30 p.m.
There’s much to prepare for when a football coaching staff makes a state tournament run.
Pioneer coach Adam Berry said Bremen gave the Panthers many different formation looks offensively and also different alignments defensively in their sectional final last week.
Pioneer still pulled out a 30-14 win to capture their first Class 2A sectional title in school history.
“Our assistant coaches do a great job of breaking it down,” Berry said. “We talk about a variety of formations, but our main focus is on their main stuff. Their key plays, their key formations, and what we think they may do to us. (Defensive coordinator) Matt Vianco has done a tremendous job of preparing our guys. And then we saw on film they throw a lot of defensive formations at us, and that’s a pain to prepare for as well because you just have to take up that much more offensive practice time to prepare for multiple looks. But our offense is based off rules, and I thought our guys did a tremendous job.”
While No. 1 Andrean just won their second straight sectional title and No. 3 Pioneer won their seventh sectional in eight years, both are doing it with new quarterbacks.
Pioneer’s Cayden Hill is a freshman.
Andrean’s Joe Cimino is a senior, but he’s in his first year at Andrean after transferring from Marian Central Catholic in Woodstock, Illinois. He arrived in July and beat out Evan Gilligan for the starting job in preseason practice.
He’s completed 71 percent of his passes, including 11 of 15 throws in a 28-14 win over Rensselaer last week.
“That’s just something we don’t see a lot of within our conference, just a quarterback that will throw it that often to be honest with you,” Berry said. “But a good thing is that we scheduled Chesterton and New Haven, who were more passing teams, so at least we had some exposure to I’m not going to say the same type of offense but similar – a great quarterback who can sling it around the field to his weapon.”
Cimino’s top receiving target is Nick Flesher (45 receptions, 644 yards, nine touchdowns). Junior Alonso Paul has 37 receptions for 456 yards and eight touchdowns. Cam Thornton (20), Jack Salzeider (13) and Dominic Ditola (10) are also in double figures on the season in receptions.
Flesher, who also starred for Andrean on their Class 2A state championship basketball team in 2019, had six catches for 81 yards in Andrean’s 28-14 win over Rensselaer last week in the Sectional 33 final.
“We’re going to have to have a great week of practice with our DBs,” Berry said. “Staying with our coverages, really fine-tuning our coverages and not necessarily going for the interception every play, but it’s OK to knock it down or maybe throw off their timing a little bit. And so obviously, our DBs are going to have to have a great game.”
Both teams are dealing with injury intrigue at the running back spot. Pioneer junior fullback-defensive back Brock Robinson suffered a collarbone injury against Bremen last week and missed the last two-and-a-half quarters of that game.
Berry said Robinson will miss the Andrean game “unless something miraculous happens.” Berry said Beau Mersch will see time at defensive back. Offensively, Berry said Pioneer will go with a “fullback by committee.”
Meanwhile, Andrean top rusher Ryan Walsh has missed the last two games. Andrean coach Chris Skinner said Walsh was injured but did not specify the injury in published reports.
Walsh ran for 2,251 yards last season, including 251 yards and three touchdowns in a 36-14 win over Lewis Cass in last year’s regional.
This year, Walsh has 99 carries for 1,004 yards and 14 touchdowns, though it should be noted that even when Walsh was playing, he had gone from about 20 carries per game last year to 10 carries per game this year.
“He wasn't listed on their two-deep against Rensselaer at running back, but we have heard that he was dressed,” Berry said. “We have to assume that he’s going to play, and we are going to prepare like he is playing in this game.”
Berry said Andrean also has an offensive line that combined size and speed.
“It’s a great offensive line, the best offensive line we’ve seen this year,” Berry said. “But we like our guys. Even though we’re going to be out-sized, we still think we have the quickness advantage, and we’re going to have to use that.”
Defensively, Andrean has allowed only 20 points in three sectional games combined, and 14 of those 20 came last week against Rensselaer in the fourth quarter after they had already built a 28-0 lead.
Only three of Andrean’s defensive starters are seniors.
“Those sophomores and juniors, they can play football,” Berry said. “They are an attacking defense. Tremendous athletes. But we are hoping that our style of play can throw them off a little bit. They have seen some run-dominant teams that they were very successful against, but I still think our offense can throw them off a little bit.”
The winner will play the winner of the Fort Wayne Luers-Tipton regional game in the semistate. If Pioneer beats Andrean, they would play Luers on the road or Tipton at home.
Seniors on the Pioneer football team celebrate on the field following their 30-14 win over Bremen in the Class 2A, Sectional 34 final Nov. 6. Pioneer has won 12 sectional titles in the last 24 years.