You win some, you Luers some: Down 22-0, Knights rally to stun Pioneer in semistate
BY VAL TSOUTSOURIS
Sports Editor, RTC
FORT WAYNE –- As the IHSAA state football tournament progresses, the contrasts in emotion only grow greater.
In the parking lot adjacent to the field, Pioneer players received consoling hugs from families and fans.
Meanwhile, not too far away, Fort Wayne Luers’ Krashaun Menson still had enough energy after a hard-hitting battle to do a backflip in full pads at midfield in celebration.
It was a contrast in emotions one might not have expected at halftime, but the Knights rallied from a 22-0 second quarter deficit to beat Pioneer 42-34 in a Class 2A semistate to advance to the state finals.
Fort Wayne Luers improved to 8-6. No. 3 Pioneer finished 12-2.
Addai Lewellen led the Pioneer rushing attack, carrying 30 times for 196 yards and three touchdowns. Ezra Lewellen had 27 carries for 185 yards and two touchdowns.
Playing without injured junior fullback Brock Robinson, the Lewellen brothers accounted for 57 of Pioneer’s 62 offensive snaps.
Trailing 42-34 and facing a fourth-and-1 from the Luers 26 in the final 90 seconds, Pioneer tried a sweep to the right with Ezra Lewellen, but Menson sped over from his safety spot and upended Lewellen for no gain.
Luers took over on downs and ran out the clock to celebrate their 16th semistate title in school history. They will play two-time defending champ Western Boone in the state title game at 11 a.m. this Friday at Lucas Oil Stadium in the state title game.
“I just talked to the seniors,” Pioneer coach Adam Berry said of his postgame talk to the team. “I loved them. How it’s going to sting for awhile, but once they get a little bit older and even as their senior year goes on, they’re going to look back at this season and think of all the positive memories that we had.
“Pioneer has been pretty darn successful since the mid-’90s, and they made history being the first 2A team to win a sectional, and they obviously made it to a semistate. And I talked to the younger kids, and hopefully, they learned something from this senior group about ther grit and the fight and the determination to never give up. That’s something that’s hard to teach, but the seniors modeled it very well.”
Pioneer led 28-7 at halftime, but Luers scored 28 unanswered points to start the second half.
They took the lead for good when Carson Clark threw a 28-yard screen pass to Ramon Anderson for a touchdown with 10:48 left. Clark hit Anderson in the left flat, who weaved back toward the middle and split Pioneer defenders for the touchdown that gave Luers a 35-28 lead.
Pioneer answered back with Addai Lewellen bursting through the line for a 53-yard touchdown run up the middle. Addai Lewellen tried to go off the left side on a two-point conversion try but was stopped short.
That kept the Luers lead at 35-34.
Pioneer’s Oscar Solano attempted an onside kick, but Luers’ Gio Jimenez recovered at the Luers 46.
Luers then went on a nine-play, 54-yard drive. They converted a pair of third-and-fives before Luers lefty gunslinger Carson Clark hit Johnny Sewell on an 8-yard touchdown toss with 4:12 left.
The touchdown pass was Clark’s fifth of the game. Clark threw for 352 yards. He was 14 for 18 for 216 yards and four touchdowns in the second half alone.
“That’s the stuff we saw on film,” Berry said. “We knew they could score any place and any time on the field. They actually probably had some chances in the first quarter, and they just dropped some balls. Definitely the best quarterback we have seen. He’s everything as advertised. They just obviously made the plays in the second half. In the first half, we were causing some fumbles and making those throws just a little bit harder, but they obviously made some great adjustments at halftime and made the plays when we didn’t.”
Luers coach Kyle Lindsay said Clark was “in a zone” in the second half, reading and picking apart Pioneer’s zone defense.
While Menson’s fourth down stop of Ezra Lewellen essentially ended Pioneer’s chances, it might not have been Luers’ biggest defensive play.
That occurred in the final minute of the third quarter when Brayden McInturf stepped in front of Pioneer quarterback Cayden Hill’s waggle pass to the left and returned it 14 yards for a touchdown. Roel Pineda’s extra point tied the game at 28.
That came after Clark had sandwiched touchdown passes to Menson and Anderson around a recovered onside kick at the Pioneer 38.
“He was awesome like he has been the past couple months,” Luers coach Kyle Lindsay said of Clark. “I think as much as anything, I think we’re proud of the fact that he kept his composure. … The composure he’s shown, the maturity he’s shown with the span of the season, even going back into last year, it’s pretty remarkable, night and day.”
After an exchange of punts to start, Pioneer drove 69 yards in six plays for the game’s opening score. Ezra Lewellen had runs of 18 and 30 yards on the drive on identical buck sweep plays. Ezra Lewellen finished the drive with a 2-yard touchdown run and a two-point conversion run to make it 8-0.
After another Luers punt, Pioneer embarked on a 16-play, 76-yard drive. A 13-yard Addai Lewellen run on a jet sweep to the left got the ball inside the red zone, and a 5-yard Addai Lewellen run on third-and-3 got the ball inside the 10. An Addai Lewellen 6-yard run capped off the drive, and Addai’s 2-point conversion run made it 16-0.
On the third play of the ensuing drive, Clark hit Glenn for 13 yards and what could have been Luers’ initial first down. But Hill stripped him, and Addai Lewellen recovered the fumble and returned it 13 yards to the Luers 34.
Pioneer followed with a nine-play scoring drive that included Addai Lewellen converting a fourth-and-seven on a sweep to the left and Addai Lewellen scoring from the 3 to make it 22-0. Pioneer also ran a variation of the blast play multiple times during the drive with Ezra Lewellen turning up inside on jet motion and Addai Lewellen using him as a lead blocker.
But the scoring drive came with a cost: Tyler Gaumer, Pioneer’s first-team all-Hoosier North guard-linebacker, suffered a right knee injury and had to be helped off the field. He did not return. Wes Hopkins replaced him on the offensive line.
“Obviously that hurt us,” Berry said. “He’s the heart and soul and the emotional leader on our team. And we had to move some pieces around there and move some pieces around on the defensive side, moving Wyatt Marshall to a linebacker position he played last year. But we missed his quiciness on the defensive line. … I’m just proud of our team for never giving up.”
After an exchange of turnovers, Clark threw a 6-yard touchdown pass to Brody Glenn with 50.7 seconds left in the half. That came two plays after Clark hit Menson for 45 yards.
But on the first play from scrimmage on the next drive, Ezra Lewellen took a counter to the right for a 70-yard touchdown. The two-point conversion failed, but Pioneer had a 21-point lead.
The Lewellen brothers combined for 262 yards rushing in the first half and 119 in the second half. Luers switched from a six-man defensive line to a five-man line in the second half and hemmed in the Panther sweep.
Luers also moved their safeties closer to the line. Their job was to stop the sweep.
“That is a heck of an offense,” Lindsay said of Pioneer. “The precision with which they run it is pretty remarkable. Up front, that’s one of the best offensive lines we’ve seen all year, and we’ve seen some big, aggressive offensive lines this year. I was proud of the adjustments that we made and the kids being able to execute.”
As for the Lewellens, Lindsay said they both had “Division I-type speed and athleticism,” but they impressed with their strength as well.
“Those two runners… holy cow,” Lindsay said. “They gave us nightmares watching film. I think what struck us most was just how strong of runners they were.”
Meanwhile, Pioneer was trying to make counter adjustments.
“They were capturing the edge a little bit more where obviously we were having success with that,” Berry said. “We got into some formations ... with personnel we weren’t quite used to. No excuses there. But we gave ourselves a chance at the end. Even when we got down, we come down and score and obviously miss on the two-point conversion. (We were) driving at the end to give us a chance, and we just don’t convert a fourth-and-one that we have been all year, especially in big games.
“It just stinks the way the season ended, but it’s definitely going to be memorable.”
Like Pioneer’s Robinson, Luers leading rusher Sir Hale missed the game with a collarbone injury.
The 34 points were the most Pioneer has scored in a loss since a 44-40 loss to South Newton in 2006. It’s also the most points Pioneer has ever scored in a postseason loss.
Pioneer is 5-3 all-time in semistate games. They also lost semistate games in 2001 (to Southern Wells) and 2002 (to Southwood). They had won their previous four semistate games prior to Friday.
Fort Wayne Luers 42, Pioneer 34
Pioneer 8 20 0 6 – 34
FW Luers 0 7 21 14 – 42
PIO – Ezra Lewellen 2 run (E. Lewellen run)
PIO – Addai Lewellen 6 run (A. Lewellen run)
PIO – A. Lewellen 3 run (run failed)
FWL – Brody Glenn 6 pass from Carson Clark (Roel Pineda kick)
PIO – E. Lewellen 70 run (run failed)
FWL – Krashaun Menson 13 pass from Clark (Pineda kick)
FWL – Ramon Anderson 4 pass from Clark (Pineda kick)
FWL – Brayden McInturf 14 interception return (Pineda kick)
FWL – Anderson 28 pass from Clark (Pineda kick)
PIO – A. Lewellen 53 run (run failed)
FWL – Johnny Sewell 8 pass from Clark (Pineda kick)