No. 2 Reitz offers best performance yet by shutting out No. 3 Memorial to stay perfect

Kyle Sokeland
Evansville Courier & Press

EVANSVILLE — Cory Brunson didn’t have to say much in the postgame huddle.

Not that he could. His voice was nearly gone and dwindling with each word. But this effort didn’t require much to be said. Friday's performance was arguably what the Reitz coach and many others were anticipating for weeks.

The Panthers’ best effort came in their biggest game to date.

Class 4A No. 2 Reitz answered whatever questions remained in its 34-0 victory over No. 3 Memorial in a battle of previously unbeatens on Friday at Reitz Bowl. This was a complete performance against its top competition not only in the Southern Indiana Athletic Conference but the local sectional.

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Reitz’s Ben Davies (14) eyes the end zone as the Reitz Panthers play the Memorial Tigers at the Reitz Bowl in Evansville, Ind., Friday Sept. 29, 2023.

It was a clear-cut sign this team is putting the pieces together.

“We played a much more complete game,” said Brunson. “Took another step in the right direction. I’m very pleased.”

This isn’t to say the first six weeks were lacking. Reitz (7-0) is undefeated and the numbers suggest it has one of the top defenses in the state. Yet, there was always something missing. They'd only played one good half most weeks.

Not this time. The Panthers controlled the game from the start, scoring on their first play from scrimmage. Their defense didn’t allow a red zone trip until the final drive. This was much closer to the team many anticipated.

Memorial (6-1) is missing key names to injuries. It still has a talented roster otherwise. Reitz brought it from start to finish to leave zero doubt.

“I’d say that was our best showing all around,” said quarterback Ben Davies. “It shows we’re ready for the big game. We’ve come a long way from last year. We’re ready to go for them.”

Davies is a key piece of the puzzle for the Panthers' success. The junior was more efficient in this victory with a pair of touchdown strikes to Hayden Summers (52 yards) and Roland Vera Jr. (53 yards). Davies also found the end zone with his feet late in the third quarter.

It’s been a steady climb this fall from the quarterback. He wasn’t cleared to throw until July following a shoulder injury last year. Turnovers have been a notable mark for unevenness in victories. This was a positive step.

Davies was unofficially 12 of 17 for 162 passing yards, plus 38 on the ground. His lone mistake was an overthrown ball for an interception to start the second half. Still, the offense operated smoother. Vera Jr. also ran in a late touchdown to put the Panthers up 21-0 at halftime.

Reitz’s Roland Vera Jr. (9) runs the ball as the Reitz Panthers play the Memorial Tigers at the Reitz Bowl in Evansville, Ind., Friday Sept. 29, 2023.

“(Ben) did a good job when things weren’t there to get out of the pocket,” said Brunson. “He played a much smarter ball game. Memorial’s defense is great and made us work for it. The guys up front, as the game went along, got better."

The defense also deserved credit with its second shutout of the season. The Tigers finished with 149 total yards with most coming in the fourth quarter. Nehemiah Madison preserved the zero on the scoreboard with a 97-yard interception return in the final seconds.

Memorial was 1 of 11 on third down attempts. Reitz is now fifth in the state with only 6.4 points allowed per game.

“We got everything working,” said Madison. “They’re a great team. Yeah, they’re missing a couple of guys but that’s a great shutout. We just practiced hard.”

"The defense has played well all year and showed it again," added Brunson. "We still have to play well and do a lot of good things.

Reitz’s Jasseum Ussery (25) runs the ball as the Reitz Panthers play the Memorial Tigers at the Reitz Bowl in Evansville, Ind., Friday Sept. 29, 2023.

Reitz went undefeated in the regular season last fall. The first six weeks felt like waiting for that team to emerge again. A victory here gives the Panthers first place in the SIAC with two weeks remaining.

There are still details to improve with Brunson still waiting for a game with no turnovers. But with the postseason around the corner, Reitz offered its best performance to date. Exactly what it’s been building towards.

“We’re definitely turning up at the right time,” said Davies. “I’m knocking off rust and that’s a big part of why the offense is hitting full stride. We’re opening the playbook more and letting guys do what they’re best at. Great coaching and great playing by everybody.”

Follow Courier & Press sports reporter Kyle Sokeland on X (formerly Twitter) @kylesokeland.