TIPTON — Western’s football team rode a dominant first half to a 42-28 victory over Class 2A No. 8-ranked Tipton in a Hoosier Conference East Division game Friday night.
The Panthers scored on their first four possessions and racked up 330 yards of offense in building a 28-14 halftime lead.
“We came out guns blazing,” Western coach Alex Stewart said.
The Panthers (7-1 overall) opened the second half with another touchdown to push their lead to 34-14. The Blue Devils (5-2) scored late in the third quarter and again midway through the final quarter to draw within 34-28, but the Panthers put the game away with a run-heavy drive that Jerry Padgett capped with a 14-yard touchdown run with 1:38 remaining.
Padgett finished with 251 yards and three touchdowns on 40 carries. Quarterback Braeden Bryant passed for 187 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 83 yards and another score. All told, the Panthers recorded 536 yards and 27 first downs.
“I felt like our offensive line played really, really well. They got after it up front,” Stewart said. “Jerry did a great job finding the running lanes. We connected on some timely passes that helped extend some drives. We kind of did that all night. I felt like it all came together on the offensive side of the ball.”
Western, Tipton and Hamilton Heights all finished with 3-1 division records to finish in a three-way tie for the division title. Heights won the tiebreaker (fewest points allowed in games involving the three) to determine the division’s representative in the Hoosier Conference championship next Friday.
The Blue Devils opened the game with an impressive six-play drive that saw QB Sam Edwards complete 5-of-5 pass attempts for 55 yards and Eli Carter score on a four-yard run.
But from there, the Panthers controlled the first half.
The Panthers tied the score with a six-play drive. Padgett had four carries for 31 yards and Braeden Bryant had a 28-yard touchdown pass to his brother, Dylan Bryant.
After Tipton went three-and-out, Western struck on the next play from scrimmage. Braeden Bryant bounced outside on a run, worked himself free of the defense and took off down the right sideline for a 71-yard TD run and 14-7 lead.
“That kind of ignited our kids,” Stewart said. “He broke a couple tackles and you don’t always see quarterbacks do that. He wasn’t looking to go out of bounds, he was looking to keep running.”
After Tipton’s next drive ended in another punt, Western ripped off a quick four-play scoring drive. Braeden Bryant found Romey Collins on a crossing pattern for a 57-yard pass to move into the red zone and Padgett followed with a pair of runs.
The Blue Devils seemed to stem the tide when Drew Pearce returned the kickoff 75 yards for a touchdown to make it 21-14 in the final minute of the opening quarter — but the Panthers went right back to work with an 11-play scoring drive. Braeden Bryant’s five-yard TD pass to Hayden Shepherd made it 28-14 with 8:12 left in the half.
Braeden Bryant closed the half with 161 passing yards and two TD passes to go with his 71-yard TD run.
“You look at the quarterback’s stats, I don’t think he’s thrown an interception all year long and he’s throwing to good, fast athletes. It puts a lot of pressure on you,” Tipton coach Aaron Tolle said. “When you have [Padgett] in the backfield, you need as many people in the box to stop him. It puts you in a difficult position.
“They’re a better passing team than they have been in a long time,” Tolle added.
Western went more with the run in the second half as it attempted to take as much time off the clock as possible. Padgett carried the ball on all four plays on a short opening drive. His six-yard TD run made it 34-14.
The Panthers looked ready to put the game away when they regained possession midway through the quarter. They had six straight runs before losing a fumble. Three plays later, the Blue Devils had life when Sam Edwards fired a six-yard TD pass to Pearce.
The Panthers’ next drive covered 14 plays and nearly 8:00, but they turned it over on downs with 6:35 left. Once again, the Blue Devils struck quickly. Sam Edwards connected with his brother, Jayce, for a 78-yard TD strike and just like that, it was 34-28 with 6:03 left.
Western answered with a heavy dose of Padgett to put the game away. He was a workhorse in the second half — 25 carries for 162 yards.
“This was a big win for us,” Stewart said. “Tipton is a great program, it was a good measuring stick for us heading into the tournament. We have some stuff to work on as always, but I’m really proud of our kids and the way they battled for four quarters. We had some guys out and we had some other guys step up in big moments.”
Dylan Bryant finished with four receptions for 62 yards for the Panthers. Collins had two catches for 96 yards.
Sam Edwards passed for 224 yards for the Blue Devils. Nate Powell had eight catches for 94 yards. The Panthers kept the Blue Devils from establishing a ground game.