By Bryan Ault
INDIANAPOLIS –The Fishers Tigers forced six interceptions in their Week One matchup against North Central in Lucas Oil Stadium, shutting out the Panthers with a 26-0 win and kicking off their 2019 season in dominating fashion. “Our defense was just outstanding tonight,” Fishers Head Coach Rick Wimmer said. “We were outstanding in our secondary. We played the run pretty well, it was just a tremendous job for our defense.”
Despite two nice runs from Dylan Scally, Fishers’ opening drive stalled inside the red zone after a missed field goal in the middle of the first quarter. It didn’t take long for their defense to step up; cornerback Jackson Dunn picked off North Central quarterback Harry Abell. The Tigers afterward took a 7-0 lead when quarterback Marcus Roux threw a 9-yard touchdown to sophomore receiver Jeffrey Simmons with 2:26 left in the first quarter. On the following series, Abell threw another interception, this time to Fishers safety Grant Whetsel, who returned it to the 5-yard line and set up a Jack Phillips 19-yard field goal.
The Tigers started another series with good field position after senior safety Collin Shelton intercepted Abell again. A facemask penalty after a big run from Scally, coupled with a nice rollout pass from Roux to tight end Caleb Gates, put the Tigers back inside the red zone. Roux was sacked by North Central linebacker Thomas Bronaugh, setting up a long third down. One play later, Roux connected with senior receiver Nick Leach on a slant for a 17-yard touchdown.
Whetsel recovered a fumbled punt return, setting up the Tigers with good field position at the North Central 31. Phillips drilled a 48-yard field goal to give the Tigers a 20-0 lead. The Panthers substituted Shamar Dabner in at quarterback, but little changed. Fishers linebacker Geoffrey Brown picked off Dabner and returned it for a touchdown with three minutes to play in the first half. The Tigers led 26-0 at the half, a score that never changed.
“We were hit-and-miss offensively, but when you are playing that kind of defense, you’re going to win a lot of games,” Wimmer said. The Panthers’ defense tightened up in the second half. After forcing a punt on Fishers’ opening series, North Central defensive back Jaden Ward wrapped up Scally for a big loss deep in Fishers’ own territory. But a late hit penalty gave Fishers a first down near midfield, negating a possession.
Abell came back under center for North Central and at first gave some life to the offense in the middle of the third quarter. A tough 10-yard carry from running back David Smith gave the Panthers a much-needed first down. Coupled with a high-hit penalty against Brown, North Central advanced the ball to midfield. A tipped pass resulted in another interception, this time falling into the arms of defensive back Billy Reiter. Whetsel had his second interception late in the fourth quarter, returning it to the 40-yard line with two minutes left in the game.
Friday night was Whetsel’s first game back since missing all of last season due to a hip injury, and he was happy to return, especially in Lucas Oil Stadium. “It felt great to be back out on the field,” Whetsel said. “The atmosphere was something I have never experienced before. I couldn’t have done it without my team. The energy we brought helped us play at such a high intensity.”
“We weren’t sure what we were going to get out of him when the season started,” Wimmer said of Whetsel. “But he’s been real steady for us. He had a really great game tonight.” Fishers finished with 14 first downs compared to just six for North Central. Scally, Roux, and Jack Phillips led the team with more than 100 yards rushing.