Seconds after his Panthers suffered their first loss of the season at the hands of visiting Paoli, Corydon Central head coach Darin Ward gathered his players at midfield and told them to take a good look in the mirror if they wanted to see who was responsible for the 28-6 setback.
Ward pulled no punches during his post-game speech to his club, saying they’d practiced flat all week and deserved to lose the game.
‘I can tell you now that you should expect more of this the rest of the year,’ Ward said to the players. ‘We haven’t been practicing with any effort.’
After allowing only 6.6 points a game through its first five contests of the season, Corydon Central gave up four touchdowns Friday and may have given up five had Paoli coach Brian Balsmeyer not called off the dogs with less than a minute to play and just a few yards away from paydirt.
‘They out-everything’ed us tonight,’ Ward said. ‘Their effort was far better than our effort. They were a better football team than us tonight.’
The two clubs swapped possessions a couple of times in a scoreless first quarter, which was highlighted defensively by an interception by Corydon Central’s Brayden Lander on a tipped ball. The Panthers (5-1) were unable to capitalize, however, as play moved into the second quarter.
Paoli (4-2) finally broke the tie at the 10:10 mark of the second quarter after a six-play, 62-yard drive that was capped by an 11-yard run by junior quarterback Brett Balsmeyer, who added a two-point conversion plunge following back-to-back offside penalties against the Panthers.
After a three-and-out by Corydon Central, the Rams scored again when Balsmeyer, who is the coach’s son, connected with 6-5 senior split end Tanner Wroblewski for a 20-yard strike on fourth and 14 with 5:48 left in the half. Garrett Strange’s point-after kick was good for a 15-0 lead.
‘That was huge, and it came on fourth down,’ Ward said. ‘We were hoping to maybe get a stop there and go into the locker room only down 8-0 and then get the ball back to start the second half.’
The start of the third quarter was d’j’ vu as the Panthers started with a three-and-out, and Paoli countered with another touchdown. This time it was senior running back Tanner Kameda who took a sweep around the left end 42 yards for the score. Strange added the PAT to make it 22-0.
Corydon Central’s only score of the night came with a ground-and-pound mentality on its next possession.
Sophomore quarterback Lannis Buck had one of the longest runs of the night for the Panthers when he attempted to run through a hole on the left side of the Rams’ defense then cut back against the grain and around the right end for a 26-yard romp. Running backs Ezra Paden and Alex McAfee alternated seven consecutive carries to drive to Paoli’s one-yard line. McAfee, a senior, punched in the score with 4:20 left. The PAT run failed, trimming the mark to 22-6.
Not to be outdone, Paoli went with what was working all night: its potent option-read offense. Starting at their own 30, the Rams went 70 yards in 12 plays, with the Balsmeyer-Wroblewski connection hooking up again with 10:48 left for the score from eight yards out. Strange’s kick failed, however, setting the final score at 28-6.
Statistically, the game was as lopsided as the score. Paoli rushed for 265 yards, with Balsmeyer leading the way with 112 yards, Kameda gaining 80 and Luke Becht notching 62. Balsmeyer was 8 for 10 passing for 106 yards and one interception to go along with two touchdowns. Paoli ran 64 offensive plays and had 27 first downs (Corydon Central had just six) and the Rams were 7-12 on third downs with six penalties for 35 yards.
‘(Balsmeyer) was the best player on the field tonight,’ Ward said. ‘He’s the prototypical coach’s son. He’s scrappy and smart and, when he rushes, he falls forward two yards.
‘Their effort, by far, was better than our effort in all phases of the game,’ he said. ‘Sometimes you have to be critical. You get to 5-0 and start to feel good about yourself and you lose your focus on what needs to be done.’
The Panthers ran only 37 plays, gained 112 yards on the ground, with McAfee gaining 54 and Ben Woodward gaining 37, including a 28-yard romp to end the first half. Buck was just 2 for 6 passing for 16 yards. Corydon Central had six first downs, was only 3 for 11 on third downs and had eight penalties for 60 yards.
Defensively, Logan Behagg had 16 solo tackles, four assists and a sack, Travis Phelps had 10 solo tackles, Jason Wisman had eight tackles and McAfee, Nathan Schmitt and Lander had seven tackles apiece.
The last non-Mid-Southern Conference loss on the Panthers’ record (outside of the state tournament) also came at the hands of Paoli in October 2009, 34-14. In the series, Paoli had a three-game losing streak coming into Friday’s affair.
Ward said the season isn’t lost with the recent setback, but his players will have to regain their focus this week in practice.
‘Now, we get to take a good, honest look at ourself and see where we are,’ Ward said. ‘We can’t beat anyone with the effort we gave tonight.’
The Panthers look to bounce back Friday when they return to MSC play in a trip to defending sectional champion Charlestown (4-2), which is coming off a 35-0 shutout of Salem.