ARCADIA — As much as the Week 5 loss to Maconaquah took the winds out of the sails of Western’s football team at the time, the Panthers knew they still controlled their own destiny in their quest to win a Mid-Indiana Conference football championship.
Western redeemed itself in a big way Friday night.
The Panthers dominated the line of scrimmage and time of possession, pounding 3A No. 4-ranked Hamilton Heights 35-14 to spoil the MIC-leading Huskies’ senior night and create a two-way tie atop the league standings with one week left in the regular season. A Western win over Cass next week will ensure the Panthers at least a share of the conference title.
“Maconaquah — we didn’t show it,” Western coach Nate Andrews said. “It’s all about preparation. Hopefully, we learned a little bit of a lesson. I think we’ve been building a little bit since then. It’s not like we were lights out the next week. Last week we were a little better, and this week we were pretty sharp. Hopefully we can continue to do that. We have to do that next week against Cass as they continue to be Cass, especially at the end of the season.”
Western (7-1, 5-1) was a well-oiled machine offensively, finishing the night with 337 rushing yards on 71 carries, only being dropped for a loss on two of its 76 offensive plays. Four of its five scoring drives lasted over five minutes.
“The execution of our offensive line was excellent,” Andrews said. “We have a senior-laden offensive line. They’ve been doing it all year with cohesion and working together. They don’t get enough credit. Guys like Brett Boswell, Dante Graham, Sydnee Allen, Logan Shepherd, David Grimme and our tight ends Kyler Vail and Skylar Braden. Those kids plug away and do a great job.”
Heights (6-2, 5-1) was limited to 30 offensive plays, in contrast. Outside of its two touchdowns, a 57-yard pass from Monte Reed to Grant Weatherford in the first half and a 54-yard run by Conner Faulkner in the second half, the Huskies managed 87 yards of offense.
“[Western] puts you in so many gaps you have to defend,” Heights coach Mitch Street said. “You have to be very disciplined. We’ve had issues up front at times this year in stopping the run, and it showed. Western was more physical than us [Friday] night, at least. We didn’t answer the bell very well when we kept getting hit in the mouth. We just didn’t get enough stops, and when we did, we turned the ball over. You can’t do that against a team like Western, or the score ends up like it did [Friday] night.”
TD runs from running back Ben Lenahan (27-yarder) and quarterback Drew Bellus (two-yarder) gave Western a 14-7 halftime lead.
Kendal McDonald intercepted Reed on HH’s first possession of the second half, while Corey Hinkle recovered a fumble after sacking Reed on the Huskies’ next possession.
Lenahan cashed in McDonald’s interception with an eight-yard TD run to put Western up 21-7 with 10:44 to play in the third.
Bellus later capped an 11-play, 65-yard drive with a two-yard TD plunge to put the Panthers in front 28-14 with 9:00 to play.
Lenahan intercepted Reed on the next play from scrimmage, and Bellus cashed in again, capping an eight-play, 64-yard march with a five-yard TD run with 4:25 to play.
Bellus ran the option well, finishing the night with 72 yards and three TDs on 21 carries. Ryan Alexander added 75 yards on 18 carries.
Lenahan led the ground attack with 150 yards and two TDs on 22 carries, and added the interception to prevent Heights from developing any momentum in the second half.
“This means so much to me and my team,” Lenahan said. “I couldn’t do any of this without them, especially our offensive line. Our defensive line stopped the run and our secondary stopped the pass. It was great. To come here on their field and to play how we did, I’m pumped.”