Russiaville — With a chance to turn the Mid-Indiana Conference football standings on its ear Friday night, Western ran into a formidable opponent in Mother Nature.
With standing water visible on the turf between the hash marks and a steady rain throughout the Panthers’ showdown with Class 3A No. 4-ranked Hamilton Heights, a slippery track and slippery football led to four first-half fumbles and three turnovers for Western.
Those turnovers helped Heights sprint to a 26-0 lead by the half, and the Panthers never recovered in a 33-0 loss to the Huskies on senior night.
“The weather definitely hurt,” Western coach Nate Andrews said. “Some people were saying that it was going to help us. You never know when you have a group of kids, a group of young people. But, we definitely did not get off on the right foot. And, because of that we could never regain our momentum.”
Western suffered its first shutout loss since a 57-0 loss to Frankfort in Week 1 of the 2001 season.
After Heights (7-1, 6-0 MIC) scored on the game’s third play from scrimmage on a 55-yard run from Conner Faulkner, Western put together its best drive of the night, marching 59 yards in eight plays down to the Heights 17-yard line, but could not connect on a field goal attempt.
The Panthers (4-4, 4-2) forced a three-and-out on Heights’ next possession but fumbled the ball away two plays later. Western fumbled away two of its next three possessions. Those fumbles sandwiched a bad long snap on a punt which set Heights up deep in Panther territory.
The Huskies capitalized with a pair of touchdown runs from Faulkner in that stretch, while Grant Weatherford’s 50-yard punt return for a touchdown with 5:44 left in the first half put Heights up 26-0.
Faulkner scored his fourth TD of the night on a four-yard run to cap the Huskies’ first drive of the second half. The junior finished the night with 165 yards and four TDs on 19 carries.
Heights wrapped up at least a share of the MIC crown with Friday night’s win. The Huskies can win the title outright with a victory over Peru next Friday in Arcadia. Cass is a game back of Heights.
The Panthers wound up out-gaining Heights 249-219 for the game, but the Huskies won the turnover battle 4-1. Senior fullback Hudson Featherstone ran for 116 yards on 28 carries for Western, while classmate James Davis finished with 97 yards on 18 carries on what could be the final home game of the current senior class’ careers, depending on the outcome of Sunday’s sectional draw.
With one game left before the postseason, Andrews wants to see his team put Friday night in the rear-view mirror and focus on what it still has to play for.
“Unfortunately, that’s the only thing we can do,” Andrews said about bouncing back. “We can’t sit here and dwell on this. We can learn from it and try to cry to correct not necessarily our mistakes, but all the things that add up to this performance. The great thing about the state of Indiana is that everyone has a postseason, so that’s what we have to look forward to.”