BY MARK SALUKE
GAS CITY —
All season long, the senior tandem of James Davis and Hudson Featherstone has provided the 1-2 punch of Western’s ground game.
With Davis sidelined for Friday’s Class 3A Sectional 19 semifinal at Mississinewa, it appeared the Panthers’ dynamic-duo rushing scheme was in jeopardy.
Ben Lenahan wore the cape just fine.
The Western junior rushed for 206 yards and three touchdowns on 28 carries as the Panthers ousted the Indians from the postseason for a third straight year, 47-26.
“I can’t lie, I was nervous,” Lenahan said. “James is a great back, and I knew I had to step up and play big for my team. I had faith in my line and faith in myself. Our offensive line, they man up on everybody, and they did a great job of opening up holes for me.”
Featherstone also credited Western’s O-line, while also making sure to give Lenahan accolades.
“He really stepped up when we needed him to,” Featherstone said of Lenahan’s performance. “He couldn’t have filled in [for Davis] any better. I’ve got a lot of faith in Ben. He’s just a great asset. He really stepped up.”
Featherstone complemented Lenahan with a stellar performance of his own, finishing with 132 yards and two touchdowns on 20 totes.
“I thought with Hudson, we were going to have to put a lot on his shoulders,” Western coach Nate Andrews said. “I figured he was going to have to carry the bulk of the load and we’d sprinkle Ben in a little bit. It turned out the other way, and that’s pretty impressive.”
Western (6-5) advances to face Eastbrook (8-3) at Russiaville next Friday. The Grant County Panthers, 35-20 winners at Yorktown Friday, defeated the Russiaville Panthers 33-16 in a Week 2 clash at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Featherstone and Lenahan split carries from the get go as Western started hot out of the gate, going up 12-0 in the first three minutes on scores from each of the backs.
“I think we shocked them a little bit with the fast start,” Andrews said. “I’m really proud of the way we started off.”
Western led 19-0 at the half, building a 33-0 third-quarter lead before Mississinewa (7-4) started showing signs of life.
The Panthers’ defense kept the Indians off balance for much of the game, recovering two first-half fumbles and picking off a third-quarter pass before Ole Miss could find the scoreboard. The Panthers held Mississinewa running back Blake Dailey, who entered the game with 1,629 yards, to a mere 21 over most of the first three quarters.
“Our defense was tremendous for much of the night,” Andrews said. “We swarmed the ball for three quarters.”
Near the end of the third, the Indians tacked on two quick scores to make it a 33-14 contest heading into the final 12 minutes.
“We started to lose concentration, and they’re a good team,” Andrews said. “I was waiting for them to catch a spark. Once they did, they did some good things to make it a closer game.”
Ole Miss was able to get no closer as the Panthers and Indians traded scores in the fourth quarter.
Western finished with 350 yards on the ground and another 92 through the air as quarterback Drew Bellus completed 3 of 7 attempts, including a 50-yard touchdown toss to Ronnie Smith.