PAOLI – Indiana High School Football opening day, walking up the steps to Cook Field, greeted by the banging rock music blasting from the stands. A calm chaos of students and parents gathered near the entrance sharing the excitement for the upcoming Paoli Rams and Boonville Pioneers football game. And seated, you take in the picturesque view of the rolling Hoosier National Forest surrounding the Rams’ field. It’s a breathtaking view from the home bleachers.
On August 19th, the Boonville Pioneers traveled the hour and a half trip to face the Paoli Rams, kicking off the season. Both teams had a lot of unknowns to answers, and though there’s still things to work on, the Pioneers were the better team in a 36-8 win over the Paoli Rams.
Paoli elected the receive the ball to start the game and struggled on their first drive. After two negative rushing plays, the Rams fumbled on third down. Boonville’s defensive line won the battle up front early and continued to do so the entire game, a key in Boonville’s victory.
It didn’t take the Pioneers long to score on the next drive. Rushing the ball with ease, finishing the second drive with a Marquis Ballard 15-yard touchdown. Giving a 7 to 0 lead to the Pioneers early in the first quarter.
The rest of the first quarter stalled, as the next five drives ended in punts. The Rams could not find any success up the middle, so switched up to exterior runs that were being swallowed up quickly.
By the sixth possession, the Pioneers were trying to get their passing game started, as their running game was stalling. QB Clay Conner looked a little rusty on the medium to deep passes, failing to hit receivers in stride several times. Leading to another Boonville punt. Followed by another Paoli Punt and into the second.
Clay Conner started the second quarter started with a huge run to the endzone, but unfortunately, the play was called back because of offensive holding. Holding calls on the Pioneers were plaguing the Pioneer offense all night; the Pioneers had over 120+ penalty yards. Several big plays were called back because of it.
Conner was not phased and followed it up with a big pass play, but the Rams defense would come up big, stopping a Pioneer pass on fourth down. The Paoli defense was able to hold the Pioneers several times, which is a testament that this game would have been different if not for the 21 points Pioneers scored off Paoli turnovers.
After the stop, Rams’ senior QB Braxton Elliot comes out hot and caps off a big run for a first down. The Rams were starting to find their strive, finding confidence in the fact that they had held the larger 4A Pioneer program to 7 points going into the half. They could tie this game up.
Following the big run by Elliot, sophomore Fletcher Cole found a seem and broke loose for a forty plus yard run, but a Pioneer defender tripped Cole up, forcing the fumble on the ten-yard line, sending the football lose. Pioneer ball at the twenty.
Boonville never looked back after this.
The Pioneers scored quickly on the next drive, after a frustrated facemask call on the Rams, and loss of focus. Pioneers up 14-0.
The next two drives end with punts from both teams. Paoli then turnovers the ball on their 39 yard line, with 1:24 to go in the half. Boonville starts off close to their own endzone and finish with another rushing touchdown, this time for Pioneer’s Reece Wilder. Pioneer up 22-0, after a successful fake field goal 2-point conversion.
The Rams go into halftime demoralized and shaken, while the Pioneers carry the momentum.
Coming out of the half, the Pioneers had the ball to start. They instantly went to an air attack, and where Conner was rusty in the first, he came together in the second, heaving a passing touchdown to Cooper Aigner on the first drive. Pioneers up 29-0.
Paoli came out fighting as well on their first drive. Rams’ junior fullback Trey Rominger had a big 20+ yard run to the redzone. Rominger had a silent first half, as the middle run game was shut off, but still powered through with good success on minimal overall touches, finishing with 120+ yards and a TD. Look at the sequence below, how many broken tackles do you see all in one play?
But the Rams would fizzle again this drive, and loose the ball on downs.
Pioneer’s next drive featured another huge run by Pioneer QB Conner, only to be called back by penalty. But no worry, Conner follows up for another huge run and pass play, bringing the Pioneers close to the redzone.
The Paoli Rams defense came together to stop the drive, which looked like a sure bet for the Pioneers at that point.
Rams’ offense still could not find their stride on the next possession and failed to get away from their own endzone and force to punt.
Boonville took that punt back to the 7-yard line and scored on the following play on a run by Ethan Smith. Boonville up 36 to 0 in the fourth.
Paoli finally did get on the board in the fourth after a couple huge runs from Braxton Elliot and Trey Rominger, who the latter scored the Rams only 8 points on the night.
SISN Position Grades
These grades are solely my opinion after watching the game and may not reflect how other fans may have felt the game went. While I’m taking pictures and writing notes for the game, I may miss some plays away from the ball. I do feel that I have a pretty good understanding of the game of football though, and I am comfortable giving these position grades for each team. Please comment on this post how your grades would have been different of the same.
Away Team Grades: Boonville Pioneers
QB Grade: B
Boonville’s QB Clay Conner is a very tall, athletic player that had the ability to take over the game when needed. He will need to work on his medium and long passing accuracy going forward, as a lot of these passes missed the mark to open receivers. Once Conner is out of the box, he is a danger and capable of picking up big yards on the ground. Against larger 4A schools, he may put up a few interceptions, and might not be able to break wide against more athletic backs.
RB Grade: B
Pioneer RB Reece Wilder was a real terror combined with Conner. Wilder put up 103 rushing yards and 1 touchdown. Boonville’s rushing attack really did well on the outside, but struggled on the inside, and beside a few big runs, were held short a lot of the game by the Rams’ front line. I would have expected more from a 4A program.
WR Grade: B
The Boonville receivers did well this game. They are a very sneaky bunch, getting open behind the Rams’ backfield many times. The QB and receivers will need to work on route timing to better hit each other in stride. Boonville short passing game and crosses really sealed the deal. Cooper Aigner had 62 receiver yards and 1 touchdown.
OL Grade: C
The OL sealed and contained well but could never get a good push on the interior. As the larger team, I would want to see more domination on the line.
DL Grade: A
The Boonville Pioneers’ defensive line was the clear difference in this game. Yes, Conner and Wilder provided a lot of offensive firepower, but it was the D-line that continued to get into the Rams backfield and completely disrupted the offensive gameplan.
LB Grade: B
The entire Boonville defense was solid. The linebackers attacked the ball quick and were a good tool to minimize the exterior runs from the Rams.
DB Grade: B
The Boonville backfield did not allow many caught Rams caught passes, I’m trying to remember if the Rams completed any passes this game, and I don’t think they did.
Home Team Grades: Paoli Rams
QB Grade: C
Rams QB Braxton Elliot contributed several large running plays to the game but failed to stay consistent through the contest. To no fault of his own, he found many of his outside plays stopped instantly. He didn’t have too many passing opportunities, but when he did, Elliot failed to see the open man, threw an inaccurate pass, or was chased down. Elliot is a very athletic and talented player, a great rusher, but will need to work on his passing and downfield vision. Needs to look more to the middle of the field.
RB Grade: B
The Rams rushing corps struggled for most of the night as they failed to find any openings to run through. They were being hit near the point of handoff, but you must give it to their tenacity as they continued to fight all night long. Trey Rominger led the way with the only TD for the Rams and breaking over the 100-yard mark, but there were others breaking for large plays as well.
WR Grade: NG
There were not enough receiving attempts to fairly give a grade for the receivers. I did notice several of them open, waving their arms, but were not seen by their QB.
OL Grade: D
The Rams offensive line struggled to contain a larger, quicker Boonville line. I do think they that they got better as the night went on, which is a great sign against a much larger team. Honestly, I’m not too concerned about the line going forward. They will get better each game, and if they continue to fight like they did against Boonville, they’ll only get stronger. The OL needs to be the best component of this Rams team, as everything relies so heavily on them.
DL Grade: C
The DL may have lost the battle upfront, they still held their own against a much larger OL and performed as good as to be expected. I think the potential for improvement is there and will be much better against similar sized schools.
LB Grade: C
I’d like to see more from the linebacker squad, as some of the more athletic Rams players are slotted here. Boonville was able to break it out wide many times, drawing the Rams LB to pull back and chase after WRs. Working on the technical side of things will really propel this athletic linebacker group to the next level. When the linebackers synced up together, they were a force.
DB Grade: D
The Rams backfield found themselves lucky many times by opposing receivers dropping or overthrown passes. The opposing receivers easily got behind the last line of defense multiple times. The Rams DB excel at stopping the WR screens but will need to work on communication on who to cover on deep/medium routes and option plays.
It would be difficult for any 2A, besides maybe Linton and Mater Dei, to come in totally prepared to face a 4A school.
While many may think that Rams have a lot to work on, and they do, I do not believe all is lost. I was impressed with their constant tenacity. They got better as the game went on, stayed strong, and shown great maturity for a team who lost 16 starters last season. Yes, there are gaps, but I’m seeing positive things. If it weren’t for costly turnovers, this game could have been a lot closer.
The Rams should keep their heads up as the game was closer than what the score really shows.
It will be hard to say for Boonville going forward. They looked good playing against Paoli, but they also looked like they had some areas where they should be better.
Especially with the schools in their sectional. My counterpart, Chris, covered the Jasper and Evansville Memorial game last night. And just looking at the videos of that game, those schools looked like a totally different class.
I don’t think Conner will get free as much on larger schools and will need to be careful with his passes. There were a few that a better backfield team would have taken for a pick six. I also would expect total domination from their O-line, and that is something I didn’t see.
I enjoyed watching both teams play and will continue to follow along with Boonville’s success as they go into the “Evans Bowl” taking on the other Evansville schools and Jasper in the Sectionals.
I hope you enjoyed the write up, made possible by our Sponsor Rominger Farms out of Paoli Indiana. I will be in Paoli next week as the Rams take on Corydon. Stay tuned for game preview later in the week.