The key to a perfect month for No. 2 Reitz football? Defense has stepped up each week

Anthony Kristensen
Evansville Courier & Press
  • Final: No. 2 Reitz 24, North 7

EVANSVILLE — Ball on the one-yard line. First-and-goal for North. Reitz held a 17-point lead that was in danger of falling to a two-possession ballgame.

The Class 4A No. 2-ranked Panthers looked all but certain to concede points, it was just a matter of how many went on the board and how many plays it’d take. The Huskies went with a run play to punch it in but came up worse than they started.

Reitz’s defensive line, as it often has throughout the early season, came up big. AJ Coates saw the ball come from under some legs and pushed his man back to knock it loose and Alex Sitzman scooped it before the rest of the opposing linemen could pile on. The Panthers had the ball and, at that point, firmly controlled the game.

“I just want to thank God for everything he’s gifted me with, but this was a team effort,” Coates said. “The coaches put me in the right position to get there and make the right play.”

High school football:Find all of the Week 4 Evansville-area scores here

“It could’ve been a lot closer ballgame,” Sitzman said. “Big players have to make big plays at big times. I have confidence in our defense to stop anybody from the one-yard line and I don’t think many teams are gonna score much more than seven points on us at all.”

Reitz’s first-half offensive barrage in its 24-7 win over North, which included three Roland Vera Jr. touchdowns, could have overshadowed its defensive strengths. While that brought the points, the other guys kept a Husky offense that dropped 52 points on Harrison seven days prior to a single score.

That effort extended Reitz’s regular-season unbeaten streak to 14 games, a run that reaches 700 days next Friday.

“The defense right now has stepped up each week,” coach Cory Brunson said. “I’m glad during all weeks of practice, offense going against these guys is pretty hard.”

Reitz’s Alex Sitzman (26) leads the Panthers to the field ahead of their game against the Jasper Wildcats Reitz Panthers play the Jasper Wildcats at the Reitz Bowl in Evansville, Ind., Friday evening, Sept. 2, 2022.

As impressive as that unbeaten streak may be, the playoff blemish in Boonville still looms — “They’re hungry from last year and how that ended,” Brunson said. The Panthers came into the night, despite the distance between regular-season losses, having dropped three of their past four games against North. The defensive effort was a huge reason Reitz has flipped that into consecutive wins against the Huskies.

“We know what we’re capable of,” Sitzman said. “We’re not worried, we just gotta make plays (and) play ball no matter what.”

The goals, though, are larger than a regular season home game in early September. As Brunson said, last year’s season-ending loss to Boonville still resonates with his players. The defensive showings thus far have given the Panthers something to build on.

“I think it just brings the team together, the defense being so good right now,” Coates said. “It’s a team sport, so we’re gonna get there.”

Reitz Head Coach Cory Brunson calls a play as the Panthers play the Mater Dei Wildcats for the West Side Nut Club trophy at the Reitz Bowl in Evansville, Ind., Friday evening, Oct. 14, 2022. Reitz won, 14-7.

There are still areas of improvement: Needless flags and some talking. “Being smarter,” Sitzman said. That being said, from last week’s showing that led to Brunson having his players run and do pushups after the win at Jasper, Reitz has gotten closer to putting everything together.

Brunson was far more pleased with Friday’s home showing than that of a week ago and that largely comes down to the defense. 

He wants to see more points from the offense but also noted North’s defensive strength to this point. The Panthers have conceded 21 points in the season’s opening four weeks and held North’s run-heavy offense to a 3.2-yard rushing average Friday.

Those are the makings of a good team and, potentially, one that’s still getting better.

“(Strong defense) takes the pressure off offensively. You don’t have to score 45 points, so I’m definitely pleased with what the defense is doing,” Brunson said. “They’re flying around, making plays: It definitely makes some things simple.”