So much for any growing pains from the Pennfield football team.
Despite returning only one starter from last year’s playoff squad, the Panthers picked up where they left off with an impressive season-opening win over Kalamazoo Hackett in Saturday’s KVA Classic at Western Michigan University’s Waldo Stadium.
Pennfield ran away with the lopsided affair, winning 56-25 behind 502 yards on the ground. The Panthers have never lost to Hackett and have played the Fighting Irish each season since 1991.
“We had some seniors who never played much, and they stepped up and did the job,” said Pennfield head coach Nick Koenigsknecht. “So that was really nice to see our seniors. I know people have been questioning there, and they came through and had a big first game for us.”
Pennfield got a fortunate bounce to begin the game, as the opening kickoff went off the facemask of a Fighting Irish player and the Panthers recovered. That set up senior running back Jeremy Purcell for a 4-yard touchdown run a mere two minutes into the game.
Pennfield, known for their success running the wing-T offense for years, showed no signs of slowing down in the first half.
Panthers’ Junior fullback John Damon ran in a 15-yard score in the first quarter and fellow junior fullback Nick Burnett added a 7-yard touchdown run in the second quarter to help put the Green and White up 21-0.
Hackett finally responded when quarterback Dan Thayer found receiver Jake Buday for a 22-yard touchdown pass to make it 21-7.
Pennfield senior fullback Dominic Arredondo capped off his impressive first half with a 20-yard touchdown run. By halftime, he rushed for 103 yards on eight carries.
“I feel like we performed really good, and our blocking was really excellent,” said Arredondo, who ran for a game-high 159 yards. “We were just amped up to play at Western… We were just really ready to play.”
The Fighting Irish continued to fight to stay in the game, with Corey Burdgick returning a punt 37 yards for a score with four minutes to play until halftime.
The Panthers had an answer though, with senior quarterback Hunter Hoogakker scampering into the endzone for a 10-yard score with only eight seconds left in the second quarter to help give Pennfield a 35-13 lead.
Purcell found paydirt for the second time in the contest midway through the third quarter, scoring on a 5-yard touchdown run. Pennfield senior halfback Davontae Miller added another score in the quarter on a 24-yard touchdown run.
Miller ran for 147 yards on 14 carries, while Purcell and Hoogakker had 46 rushing yards apiece.
Connor Clark capped off the scoring for Pennfield when his 7-yard touchdown run forced a running clock with 9:42 left in the fourth after the Panthers’ lead reached 56-19.
The Panthers were led defensively by senior linebacker Sam Duckham and senior defensive back Travis Hartung with five tackles apiece. Hartung also had an interception and a fumble recovery.
Hackett did bust some big plays in the game, notably from GeoVante Weston who rushed for 120 yards and a score.
“We had a good week of practice on offense, and it showed. I thought our execution was good,” Koenigsknecht said. “We’re very basic. We don’t have many plays, but we wanted to run them and execute and run them correctly, and for the most part we did that. That says a lot for our freshmen and JV coaches. These kids came up and knew what to do. Defensively we have some work to do. I was was afraid of their great back there. They kind of showed us that we’re not the fastest team, but we hung in there and made some plays when we had to.”