PANDORA – Going into Friday’s Blanchard Valley Conference showdown with McComb, the No. 1 ranked team in Division VII, Pandora-Gilboa knows they come in as the underdog and they are embracing the role.
Both teams come in with identical 6-0 overall records and unblemished 4-0 marks in the BVC.
“Last year we used revenge as kind of factor,” Rocket head coach Matt Hershey said. “We had been getting beat for a long time and so year and this game in particular it is a why not us mentality. Why are we the heavy underdogs is how we are playing it up.
“Everybody thinks McComb is going to win and they very well might but we feel we are little disrespected that we are not in the conversation.”
Last season, McComb beat Pandora-Gilboa in the regular season 49-27 but the Rockets exacted a little revenge by ending the Panthers’ season in the playoffs, 28-9.
The Rockets, who produced a banner year last season, have continued their winning ways into this season despite losing some talented seniors. However, some of the younger players have stepped up and it doesn’t hurt when you have a quarterback like Jared Breece with standout skilled players around him.
“We expected to be successful this season,” Hershey said. “We had some games circled, Grove, Van Buren and L-B (Liberty-Benton) for sure and we knew there was some tough challenges for us but to be 6-0 is great and we are just happy to be here.”
Happy is one thing but the Rockets have earned their way to an undefeated season. The Rockets are averaging 41.8 points on offense and giving up an average of a little more than three points a game and are currently riding a four-game shutout streak,
The Rockets balanced offense attack is led by senior standout Breece. The Rockets signal caller has passed for 1,002 yards and 19 touchdowns with one interception.
Breece has had a trio of talented receivers to go throughout the season. Travis Maag is the Rockets’ main threat with 16 catches with 390 yards and 10 touchdowns. Riley Larcom has hauled in 18 balls for 270 yards and four touchdowns and Bryce Basinger has produced 195 yards and two touchdowns on 13 catches. Also contributing are Walker Macke who has nine catches for 155 yards and two touchdowns and Silas Schmenk who has seven catches for 75 yards and one touchdown.
“Jared Breece has been effective passing the ball and taking care of the ball. He has one interception and we have guys making plays out there,” Hershey said. “Travis Maag is going and getting the ball and I think he leads the league in touchdown catches and Riley Larcom is as reliable as can be and Bryce Basinger and Silas Schmenk making great contributions.”
Rocket running back Peyton Traxler spearheads the ground attack with 667 yards and 11 touchdowns.
While the skilled players have produced, Hershey added a huge strength of the squad has been the offensive line. The Rockets head coach said coming into the season the line was a concern area but said the front five of Tommy Hovest, Isaac Stall, along with seniors Zeb George, Austin Niese and Gage Hovest have come together as a unit and added that they have developed as one of the best in the league.
“We have a lot of unselfish guys,” Hershey said. “Austin Niese played a skilled position for us last year and wore an eligible number, caught passes and tried to score touchdowns and he didn’t even ask questions. He took the lineman number and took his spot at tackle and moved on.”
Hershey said Stall was another player who played primarily on the defense as the middle linebacker but was asked to assumed the center position this season and Hershey added has done a fantastic job.
Hershey also pointed out the efforts of Dylan Bryan who has been a contributor on both the offense and defensive line.
Speaking of defense, the Rockets have been stellar this season. Pandora-Gilboa has given up 19 points all season and have not given up a point since Aug. 31 in the team’s second game of the season.
The Rockets have recorded seven interceptions.
Stall leads the team in tackles with 32 and Maag has produced 10 sacks.
“Our defense is shutting people down right now,” Hershey said. “We have been successful stopping the run which has helped us. Our front is one of our stronger units. We have been able to force teams to pass and that has helped our young secondary.”
The defense faces its toughest challenge when the face a McComb team that is steamrolling teams.
Against a strong Leipsic defense last week, the Panthers rolled up 380 yards on the ground to notch a convincing 38-7 victory.
Kheaghan Loe ran for 207 yards and three touchdowns on 14 and quarterback Tanner Schroeder had 19 carries for 137 yards.
“McComb is the gold standard in the BVC right now,” Hershey said. “This game has league implications and for the second year in a row now we have the opportunity to play for a league championship.”
Hershey added that he thinks Schroeder is one of the best athletes in the conference who can run, throw and kick with ease as well as produce as a defensive back.
“We are going to need the ball to bounce our way and if we can win the turnover battle that will go a long way,” Hershey said. “Offensively we are going to need a big play. We are going to need something to spark us. Defensively that might be an interception return for a touchdown or something to get us going. If we can match their physicality we have a chance.”