BY DEAN HOCKNEY
INDIANAPOLIS – The Western Panthers entered the 2012 season with a new coach, a new quarterback and a new playbook courtesy of head coach Nate Andrews. So when they traveled to Indianapolis to play Class 3A No. 7-ranked Eastbrook in the Ivy Tech Invitational at Lucas Oil Stadium, many thought the less-experienced Western squad would be overmatched – but that was not the case. Despite a 33-16 loss, Western showed they belonged in the game; they will just need to cut down on the miscues.
“We gained nearly 350 yards in total offense to their 185, and that looks pretty impressive,” said Andrews. “But we let some opportunities slip away. It is misleading. We won every statistical category but turnovers and the scoreboard.”
Turnovers were the key to the game, as four Western interceptions spelled doom for the Panthers. Two proved costly as they were returned for touchdowns – including the first score of the game. Heath Brooksher returned a pick for 51-yards in the first quarter.
“So turnovers doomed us, but we will continue to work,” said Andrews. “As long as these kids keep buying in and working together and building a team concept, which they so long lacked, we will get there. You can prepare the kids for adversity and that is something that we talk about consistently. That is one area that we have been lacking. Not everything is going to be prefect, and how you handle that is what we are teaching. We had a lot of bad things happen last night, but the kids are buying in and we are getting better.”
Trailing 12-0, Zach Simpson put the Panthers on the board with a knuckle-ball 37-yard field goal, but Jacob Singer connected with Mac Zoda on a 45-yard pass to put Eastbrook up 19-3 heading into the half.
James Davis, seeing his first action of the season, found pay dirt for Western in the third quarter to cut the lead to 19-10. Then, following an Eastbrook punt, Western seemed to be driving for a second score, only to see Singer grab his third interception of the game and return it 50-yards for a back-breaking touchdown. Singer would find the end zone for a third time early in the fourth quarter to put the game away for Eastbrook.
“Eastbrook is Eastbrook, and they are going to make the plays they are supposed to play,” Andrews said.
Davis finished with a game-leading 188 yards on 28 carries while Hudson Featherstone added another 43 ground yards. Drew Bellus passed for 52 yards, with Ronnie Smith snagging five catches for 39 yards.
“James is a special back and has earned our trust,” said Andrews of his star runner. “He is a good player, but up front we have to do a better job so he doesn’t have to work as hard.”
Western (0-2) returns to action Friday night against Taylor (0-2), while Eastbrook (2-0) battles Alexandria (2-0).
“We are young and we aren’t doing things the way we expect,” concluded Andrews. “But we are improving, and as long as the kids are representing the school well off the field and are giving everything they have on the field, I am the proudest coach in the world.”