Week 7 preview: Hill, Rans to share time at QB for Pioneer vs. Knox
BY VAL TSOUTSOURIS
Sports Editor, RTC
Pioneer (2-4, 2-2 Hoosier North) at Knox (3-3, 2-2), 7:30 p.m.
Caleb Sweet started the last three games of 2021 and the first six games of this season at quarterback for Pioneer before coach Adam Berry and his staff needed a change.
Sweet is now playing tight end, and Cayden Hill and freshman Micah Rans played quarterback against Triton in a 35-12 loss last week. Pioneer plays out of the shotgun when Hill is in at quarterback and under center when Rans, a freshman, is in.
When Rans is at quarterback, Hill stays in as a receiver, and in fact, he caught a 36-yard pass from Rans.
“Caleb, he is a tremendous blocker, and we simply missed that from either the tight end spot or wingback spot,” Berry explained. “So we thought he’s a solid quarterback for us in our offense, but he’s a tremendous blocker and receiver for us. It’s just one of those decisions we made as a staff where trying to put guys in the best position to help us succeed.”
Berry said Rans managed the game and “did not hurt us whatsoever.” He said two early possessions in which Pioneer could not score after getting the ball in the red zone were crucial.
Berry wants opponents to be worried about all of the backs, not just Rylahn Toloza. He believes opponents will have to concern themselves with Hill when he lines up in the shotgun. Toloza had 120 yards rushing against Triton, but Berry does not want Toloza carrying the ball 25 or 30 times if he does not have to.
Defensively, Pioneer allowed 319 yards rushing against Triton, including 175 to fullback Anthony Schuh. Berry said his team got 11 defenders around the ball early but “simply stopped tackling” in the fourth quarter, when Triton scored 21 points.
Now they will try to handcuff a Knox option offense that averages 37 points per game. Knox lost to LaVille 21-20 last week, failing to convert a two-point conversion try in the final minute in an attempt to take the lead on a top five team in Class 2A.
Still, the 20 points were the most allowed by the typically impenetrable LaVille defense in a regular season game since a 36-14 loss to Pioneer in September 2019.
“It’s stuff that we’ve seen from Knox in the past,” Berry said. “They want to get a lot of bodies through the hole. I’d say their strategy is very similar to ours. They want to control the ball on offense. If they don’t have to pass, they won’t. They want to try to get their 3.5, 4 yards (per carry) and get an explosive play here or there, control the clock and play great defense, and that’s very similar to what we want to do, and that was how they were a two-point conversion from going up on LaVille with 30 seconds to go in the game.”
Knox Hall of Fame coach Russ Radtke will rely on quarterback Cohen Watson to make the correct reads from the option. Top running back threats include sophomore Jake Conroy and freshman Myles McLaughlin.
“They run his system really well, and they want to control the ball, and that’s a challenge,” Berry said. “They have big bodies. Once again, they get a lot of bodies through the hole, and we’re going to have to play a physical football game.”
Silas Rouch suffered a fractured collarbone and will be “out for awhile,” according to Berry. Peyton Schnurpel suffered an ankle injury against Triton, but Berry said the injury was not as severe as first thought. He is day to day.
Pioneer is 7-0 against Knox since the schools became conference rivals in 2015. Only one of the seven games, a 12-7 win in 2019, has been a one-possession game.