It was an historical game for Castle, but it was their history that got them in the end.
Bloomington South took to the field against the Castle Knights in a rematch of last year’s regional game, but this year, the Panthers were the victors. The team who fell to the Knights last year made a quick job of retribution.
Bloomington won the toss and elected to defer, leaving Castle to receive first in the game. The Panthers defense, led by senior inside linebacker Sam Helm, stood toe-to-toe with the Knights. Helm came out of the game with nine total tackles.
In the first possession, the Knights only gained 15 yards on the Panther’s defense before being forced to punt. On the resulting Bloomington South possession, it only took the Panthers three plays to find the end zone. Junior running back Kristian Pechac stole the show, gaining the Panthers a total of 67 yards on their first drive. Pechac would end up with 368 yards from 29 carries in the game overall.
With only two minutes down in the game and the Panthers ahead, 7-0, the Knights took back possession. In the first play, senior quarterback Dayne Keller looked to his man on the ground, sophomore running back Noah Taylor, but the Panthers were ready. So Keller put the ball in the air. He found senior wide receiver Noah McLean in the air for two quick passses and an overall gain of 11. But the Panthers were ready for Castle’s dynamic duo as well. While Keller and McLean were able to gain ground, the Panthers brought heavy pressure. On fourth and two, the Knights decided to take their chances to gain a first down. A play fake couldn’t bring Keller time and the only sack of the game was brought by Bloomington South senior Blake Newcomb.
With 7:15 left in the first quarter, the Panthers regained possession. It didn’t take junior quarterback Gavin Yeskie and Pechac long to find the path to the end zone. After knocking less than two minutes off the clock, Yeskie set up a fake and a screen pass to senior inside line backer Tommy Richardson in the end zone. With a point-after cleared, the Panthers led the Knights 14-0 with 5:22 still left on the clock in the first quarter.
Another Castle possession was met with a prepared Panthers defense, resulting in a three and out for the Knights. Castle was forced to punt away the ball with 3:54 left in the first quarter.
Bloomington South was met with the Knights defense, but they couldn’t hold back Pechac. Pechac ran for three plays in the drive and came up with 42 yards gained for the Panthers. Yeskie held on to the ball and crossed into the end zone for another touchdown in the first quarter. This time the point-after was no good, but the Panthers led the Knights 20-0 in the first quarter.
The Knights held onto their possession into the second quarter. After a gain of a first down on a pass to McLean, Taylor was finally able to break through the Panthers defense for a gain of a 11 to start the second quarter. Another pass, this time to junior wide receiver Dresden Payne, gained another first down for the Knights on the drive. Moving the chains, Keller sought to hit junior wide receiver Triston Wilkinson, but threw a little too high. The pass was incomplete. With 10:41 left in the first half, Keller threw the ball, intending to hit Wilkinson again, but missed and this time, Helm was ready. Helm intercepted the ball and regained possession for the Panthers.
On the drive, both sides of the ball were eager to make a change. First, a flag came for encroaching on Castle, giving five yards and a gain of a first down to Bloomington South. Then, after a big gain from Pechac, the Panthers were brought back on an flag for offensive holding and started again with a first and 24. The Panthers couldn’t beat those odds and ended up punting the ball away with 8:00 left in the half.
With this possession, the Knights were marching. Keller mixed plays and receivers to move the chains down the field. First a 19 yard gain on a pass to sophomore tight end Brodey Heaton, then a hand off to Taylor for a gain of 14, another pass to Heaton for a gain of 16, a pass to junior wide receiver Cale Mattingly for a gain of 22 and in the end a pass to McLean in the end zone. The Knights were on the board with 5:43 left in the first half, trailing the Panthers, 20-7.
A long kickoff put Bloomington South deep at their own 16. Yeskie found senior wide receiver Luke Jager for a quick pass, but Jager couldn’t hold on to the ball. The Knights recovered the fumble at the 39 yard line and were back in business with 5:25 left on the clock for the first half.
The Knights were ready to move after the turnover, but the Panthers defense was not going to have it. On fourth and five, Keller and the Knights went for the first down. A pass to McLean was incomplete, but a bad move by the Panthers lent a call for pass interference and the first down was awarded. Keller sent out a pass meant for Heaton, but instead it landed in the arms of junior defensive back Quantrell Porter.
The Panthers would take back possession with 3:43 left in the first half. The Knights defense gave the Panthers a battle, but on fourth and three, Bloomington South went for a 21-yard field goal attempt and came back with three more points, leading the Knights, 23-7.
The Knights didn’t have time to fuss. Junior running back Jadrien Higginson took the kickoff and ran. Higginson ran over 60 yards through the Panthers defense to put the Knights in position with only 21 yards between them and the end zone. With only 12 seconds left in the half, Keller fought to put his men in the end zone, but couldn’t beat the coverage from the Panthers. In the end, junior kicker Ben Welp sent the ball into the uprights on a 36-yard attempt, bringing the score to 23-10 at half-time.
The second half is what Bloomington South had planned for. The Panthers received the ball first and didn’t waste time. After just over a minute into the second half, Pechac parted the Knights defense and soared into the end zone. A cleared point-after brought the score to 30-10 with almost 23 minutes of football left to be played.
The Knights weren’t ready to give in. Keller sent the ball to McLean on a cross route for a gain of 15 and then again for a gain of four. After a loss on a handoff, another pass to McLean brought a gain of 20. Two handoffs to Taylor failed against the Panthers defense and an incomplete pass to Wilkinson put the Knights at fourth and six with 30 yards between them and the end zone. Once again, the Knights went for the first down. Keller found McLean downfield and sent the ball into the end zone. A good point-after brought the score to 30-17.
Pechac and the Panthers took the field again and, again, took advantage of the possession. Pechac ran for 13 yards and Yeskie ran the ball himself for the other 22 before Pechac found his ground again for a 44 yard run into the end zone. The score was 37-17 with 6:22 left in the third quarter.
The Knights continued to fight, with Keller mixing up receivers to make up for the incredible coverage on McLean. The first two passes to Payne gained the Knights 16 yards, then a handoff to Taylor only gained a yard, a pass to Taylor gained seven and a pass to Wilkinson gained nine and put the Knights in a position to score. Keller sought to find Wilkinson in the end zone, but the pass soared over his head. A pass to Taylor was juggled and lost. On third and 10, Keller sent the ball into the end zone, but the ball fell once again into the arms of Bloomington South. Senior defensive back Tyrell Williams grabbed the ball and carried it to the 25 yard line, giving the Panthers back possession with 3:44 left in the third quarter.
The Panthers stuck to quick gains and ran the clock down, carrying their possession into the fourth quarter. On fourth and nine, a major catch by junior wide receiver Chris Bomba gained the Panthers a gain of 13 and a first down. Pechac took the ball the rest of the way to the end zone, bringing their lead to 44-17 with only 9:59 left to play.
McLean carried the kickoff to the 30 yard line before Keller sought to find Wilkinson, but the ball flew over Wilkinson and into the hands of Bloomington South’s junior defensive back Phillip King. Just like that, the Panthers took possesssion again.
With a lead of 27, the goal for the Panthers was to kill the clock. In the end, Bloomington South would punt, but would leave the Knights only 6:30 left to play.
The Knights fought their way down the field, Keller firing at all targets to move down the field. A pass to Taylor brought the Knights into the end zone. Castle went for a two-point conversion, but couldn’t bring it in. The score was 44-23 and there was only 1:26 left on the clock.
Castle went for the onside kick, but failed to make it past the required 10 yards. The Panthers had possession. After a handoff play, the Panthers let the remaining minute tick away as they celebrated their revenge and regional win.
The Panthers improved to 11-1 while the Knights ended at 8-4.
The Panthers will go on to play Columbus East Friday night in a semistate showdown. Fort Wayne Snider will also take on Westfield. The winner of the two games will fight for the state title on Saturday, Nov. 26.