By JOSH SIGLER KOKOMO TRIBUNE
---- — WEST LAFAYETTE — Heading into Friday’s Class 3A Sectional 28 semifinal against West Lafayette, Western coach Nate Andrews felt the Red Devils brought “a complete package.”
West Side showed why early and often.
The No. 6-ranked Red Devils held the No. 8 Panthers to 77 yards and three first downs in the first half on their way to building a 27-0 lead with a balanced, high-octane offensive attack before coasting to a 34-7 win at Gordon Straley Field.
“They’re an up-tempo offense, big up front and fast on the edge,” Andrews said. “They have dynamic playmakers, and are pretty physical on defense. That’s what I mean by the total package.”
WL limited Western’s ground attack to 66 yards on 22 carries in the first half, while its offense churned out 254 yards (101 rushing, 153 passing) and four scores in the same span.
The Panthers drove into West Lafayette territory once in the first half, reaching the Red Devil 48 on their second drive of the game before it stalled out.
“Our defense was incredible,” West Lafayette coach Shane Fry said. “They were gap sound. [Western is] a good option football team. Their quarterback [Drew Bellus] is a load at 215 [pounds], and our defensive ends don’t weigh 215. They did a great job with assignment football. In the past, we’d see option every other week. But this year we haven’t seen that much option. So, our defense came to play and it was a good team effort.”
After Western went three-and-out on the first series of the contest, WL set the tone with a 10-play, 65-yard drive that tailback Maurice Woodard capped with a four-yard TD plunge with 6:50 to play in the first quarter. Woodard finished the night with 130 yards on 26 carries, including 15 for 80 in the first half.
The Red Devils (10-1) continued to eat clock on their second drive, covering 78 yards in 16 plays with Ronchetto finishing it with a four-yard TD run with 11:38 to play in the half.
Western (9-2) stacked the box in an attempt to slow down the rushing attack, but West Side went to the air. Ronchetto hit Watt with his first long pass, a 49-yard TD bomb with 8:04 left in the half to put the Devils up 20-0.
“Western was in man coverage on our guys, and we felt like it would be tough to cover our guys man for man all night,” Fry said. “We have some weapons on the outside, but you have to come into the game looking to stop [Woodard]. So, I don’t blame them for loading up the box, but we were able to win some of those man coverages.”
A West Side fumble late in the first half gave Western the ball at the Devils’ 40 with 1:49 to play, but Western fumbled the ball back on the next play, and two plays later, WL quarterback Parker Roncchetto hit wideout Brandon Watt for a 62-yard touchdown strike to give the Devils a 27-0 lead at the half.
Ronchetto added a 22-yard TD run with 1:53 left in the third to put WL up 34-0. He finished the night 8 of 15 through the air with 179 yards and two TDs, and added 15 carries for 80 yards and two more scores.
Bellus got Western on the board on an 18-yard TD scamper with 2:54 to play. The senior QB finished the night with 49 yards on 16 carries, and was 4 of 7 passing for 20 yards and an interception. Ryan Alexander led the rushing attack with 87 yards on 16 carries, while fellow senior Ben Lenahan added 40 yards on 10 carries.
“I’m proud of the kids, the efforts they’ve put in behind the scenes to buy into the program and the total concept,” Andrews said. “Their character is getting better, and I’m really proud of the senior group for turning the corner. They’re going to be successful. The young kids are starting to reap the benefits of those rewards. Things are looking up, and it’s because of the efforts this coaching staff has put in. And the seniors and underclassmen who have put in the work, as well.”
The Panthers’ 9-2 final record marks the fifth time in seven years the Panthers had a nine-win season.