Panthers’ defense dominates in conference opening victory over Mississinewa

A week after giving up 42 points in their loss to Delta, the Eastbrook defense looked to make a statement.

In their first CIC contest of the season against Grant County rival Mississinewa, they did exactly that, forcing five turnovers, two of which went for touchdowns, and capitalizing on a number of short fields in a 36-14 triumph over the Indians. 

The Panthers improved to 2-1, 1-0 in the CIC, while the Indians fell to 0-3 on the season. 

“We did a great job of getting to the ball,” Eastbrook Head Coach Jeff Adamson said. “So many of the scores were directly because of the defense or set up by the defense, and that’s fantastic. Coach [Nate] Brown had the guys really prepared, and I thought they really wanted to play well. We weren’t consistent last week, so it felt good.” 

The Panthers forced Mississinewa quarterback Landry Rock into three interceptions, while also recovering a pair of fumbles. 

“They are a phenomenal defense and they are a phenomenal program,” Mississinewa Head Coach Kyle Buresh said. “They are extremely disciplined and really tough. They are going to be really good this year. Huge credit to their staff and to their football program.”

While the Panthers’ defense was the main factor in their victory, it was their special teams that allowed Eastbrook to set the tone of the contest. After the Indians went three-and-out to start the game, the ensuing punt was blocked by Braxton Bowser, who recovered the ball at the Indians’ two-yard line. 

On the next play, Isaiah Dalton scored from two yards out, giving the Panthers a lead they would not relinquish. 

“At times, it felt sluggish for whatever reason, but there were a lot of big plays from defense or special teams that led to some very quick scores for us,” Adamson said. 

Eastbrook’s second possession also went for six points, as quarterback Jett Engle capped up a 12-play, 72-yard drive with a two-yard touchdown run.

Eastbrook got the ball right back a mere eight seconds later, forcing a Hayden Nelson fumble and recovering the ball at the Indians’ 28-yard line. 

The Panthers’ ensuing drive eventually stalled, but they added to their lead on a 34-yard field goal from Lucas Shilts. 

Eastbrook closed out the first quarter with an interception, as Engle took a Rock pass down to the Mississinewa four-yard line. One play later, Collins punched it in from four yards out, giving the Panthers a 23-0 lead. 

The Panthers’ final two touchdowns were courtesy of the defense. Justin Starr scored on a 20-yard fumble return, while Alden Miller closed out the first half with a 45-yard pick six. 

“We had poor decision making, a lot of inexperience, and guys who just aren’t doing their job and don’t understand how to do their job right now,” Buresh said. “Our effort is really not there.”

The Indians did score two touchdowns in the second half – one on an 80-yard punt return from Carson Campbell and another on a 62-yard run from Nelson – and forced three fumbles against Eastbrook’s second and third units. However, with the running clock, the Indians were unable to muster much of a comeback. 

Eastbrook compiled 190 yards of offense. Engle completed six-of-11 passes for 67 yards while rushing for an additional 30. Miller caught two passes for 24 yards. On defense, Starr led the Panthers with six tackles, while Bowser, Starr, Ryan Slater, and Issac Rans combined for six sacks. 

The Panthers will travel to Oak Hill next Friday night, and Adamson hopes that the kinks will continue to be worked out as the conference portion of their schedule progresses. 

“It’s just an accumulation of so many things that make everything feel out of place,” Adamson said. “I know everyone is feeling that way right now, but I think we’ve got a long way to go. Even though we have so many guys that are back, there is just so many things that we normally have in place by this point in the season, and it just sometimes feels awkward because we’re not there yet.” 

For Mississinewa, the goal is to refocus and refresh heading into their Week 4 matchup against the Madison-Grant Argylls. 

“We are going to keep fighting,” Buresh said. “It’s a process. It’s a culture change. It’s a scheme change, everything. But we just have to get our guys to fight. Ultimately, that’s the most important thing, to fight, to give great effort, play physical, and play tough.”

“We are going to start from square one next week. We are going to go back to everything culture-wise, scheme-wise, you name it. We are literally going to start from square one, get the expectations reset, and get everything recharged for the rest of conference play.”

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