Western’s football team scored early and often in beating Northwestern 64-0 in a Hoosier Conference East Division game Friday night on the Tigers’ turf.

More specifically, Jerry Padgett scored early and often.

Padgett gained 265 yards from scrimmage and scored six touchdowns in the first half to power the Panthers to a 47-0 halftime lead. He watched the second half from the sideline.

The Panther junior, who entered the game leading the area in rushing, ripped the Tigers for 203 rushing yards and five touchdowns on 15 carries. He also pulled in a pass from Jett Engle for a 62-yard catch-and-run score.

“Jerry had a great game,” Western coach Alex Stewart said. “We had high expectations of him coming into this season and he hasn’t disappointed. He ran the ball really well, used his blocking really well and had some big plays for us.”

The Panthers (5-2 overall, 2-1 HC East) went into halftime with a 328-10 advantage in offensive yards. They finished the game with a 426-32 advantage and a 16-3 edge in first downs. They scored on all nine of their possessions highlighted by four two-play drives.

“We didn’t play really well last week [in a 49-20 loss to Lewis Cass], but we responded really this week and came out and got better,” Stewart said. “We worked on a lot of stuff that we need to get better at. I feel like we still have an opportunity to be playing our best football heading into the tournament, which is our ultimate goal.”

Like last year, when Western beat Northwestern 62-0, the Panthers had their way against the Tigers (0-7, 0-3) on both sides of the ball.

The Panthers opened with a seven-play, 66-yard scoring drive with Padgett gaining all 66 yards on six carries. He scored on a one-yard run.

Western’s defense forced Northwestern into a quick three-and-out and the Tigers followed with a three-yard punt. Two plays and 27 yards later, the Panthers scored with Padgett running in from 10 yards for a 13-0 lead.

The Panthers’ next drive also lasted two plays and ended with Padgett with racing in for a 29-yard score.

The Panthers scored four times in the second quarter: Engle to Padgett for a 62-yard TD; Engle to Romey Collins for a 20-yard score; Padgett on a two-yard run; and the capper, Padgett breaking loose for a 71-yard TD run down the side with 1:50 remaining in the half.

“I thought we were in a good rhythm on the offensive side of the ball,” Stewart said.

Collins complemented Padgett with 39 rushing yards and 32 receiving yards. Riley Western replaced Padgett in the second half and ran for 80 yards highlighted by a 47-yard TD.

The second half featured a running clock under the IHSAA’s mercy rule.

The Panthers are trying different players at Nathaniel Liddell’s wingback spot following Liddell’s season-ending injury.

“Overall, we’re kind of going to fill that role by committee,” Stewart said, noting Collins, Western, Hunter Cottingham and Mitchell Knepley as players who could see time at the position, “and we’re going to put a little bit more on Padgett’s plate.”

Also for Western, kicker Skylar Zavala made an 18-yard field goal and connected on 7-of-8 PAT attempts and the Panthers’ defense had three sacks, two fumble recoveries and an interception. Cade Epp returned a Tiger fumble 29 yards for a touchdown with 1:40 remaining.

Northwestern coach Austen Robison knew the Panthers would be hard to handle.

“They’re good. They’re big, they’re physical and they run their offense well,” Robison said. “Like I told our guys, some of it is we’re so young.”

The Tigers’ youth is compounded by a rash of injuries, especially on defense, and it’s come right in the thick of a demanding part of the schedule. Next week brings Class 2A co-No. 10 Rensselaer, which beat Western 28-14 earlier in the season.

“I told the kids, we just have to get healthy,” Robison said. “Now we know, Week 9 [in the Hoosier Conference’s ninth-place game] we have Benton Central who hasn’t won a game and that was our only win last year. There’s a light at the end of this tunnel.”

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