Reitz completes back-to-back undefeated regular seasons with tense win over Mater Dei

Kyle Sokeland
Evansville Courier & Press
  • Final: Reitz 14, Mater Dei 10

EVANSVILLE — What you heard from Reitz Bowl's home side was a sigh of relief.

How many truly imagined this scenario? Undefeated Reitz on its heels in the fourth quarter. Mater Dei just one play from the upset of the season.

Another tense battle in a storied rivalry.

Class 4A No. 2 Reitz survived a surprising result with a pair of late defensive stops in a 14-10 win over Mater Dei on Friday. Undefeated regular season? Check. City title? Check.

“This game will always come down to one or two possessions,” said Reitz coach Cory Brunson. “We’re a senior-led group. These guys have been making plays since sophomore year. In big moments, we expect them to make big plays.”

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

Reitz (9-0) already had the Southern Indiana Athletic Conference title on ice. Mater Dei went six weeks without a win until last Friday. A different result here sends shockwaves across the state.

Scoreboard:Here are the Week 9 Evansville-area high school football scores

A combination of factors were at play. One, arguably the best effort from the Wildcats this season. Two, a slow first half and several penalties from the Panthers. Finally, throw in some rivalry magic. Mater Dei was driving inside the Reitz 30 twice in the final eight minutes.

Roland Vera Jr. intercepted a pass in the end zone on the first close call. The second ended with a fourth-and-1 stop by inches at the 25. Much like it has the entire season, the defense came up clutch. The Panthers are eighth in the state in points allowed.

“We had to keep our heads up,” said Vera Jr. “We came out way too slow. No energy. Keep grinding throughout the game. We had to bring our ‘A’ game every single time or we’d lose like we almost did.”

There was, however, a stern message postgame. This overall effort can’t happen again.

Reitz’s Ashton Leach (6) celebrates with Hayden Summers (7) after Summers scores as the Reitz Panthers play the Memorial Tigers at the Reitz Bowl in Evansville, Ind., Friday Sept. 29, 2023.

Reitz has been a second-half team for much of the season. Its ability to adjust was on display trailing 10-7 at the break. The Panthers took the lead on the first possession of the third quarter with a 20-yard pass from Ben Davies to Hayden Summers. Vera Jr. had another 100-yard game on the ground. The Wildcats (2-7) didn’t score after halftime.

Those are positives. But what happens if such a scenario happens moving forward? The results truly matter in the state tournament. It begins next week against Boonville at the Bowl.

“We do that again and we’re going home,” said Brunson. “I’m not ready to go home."

It was also an encouraging night from Summers. The senior wide receiver has somewhat flown under the radar compared to last season. He missed time and played through an injury earlier this fall. Summers scored both Reitz touchdowns, the first on a double pass from Vera Jr. in the second quarter.

He has found the end zone in five straight games.

“It’s a team game,” said Summers, who had four receptions. “Roland really got going when I was out. We’ve been riding what works. When my time to shine comes, I’ll make big plays.”

Mater Dei's Tate Mallory (3) passes as the Mater Dei Wildcats play the Harrison Warriors Friday, Oct. 6, 2023.

On the flip side, Mater Dei found something in this game. A young roster struggled against the meat of its schedule but played well in week nine. The run game was effective most of the evening. Sophomore quarterback Tate Mallory, who threw a score to Spencer Turner, made good decisions.

If the Wildcats replicate this, the Class 2A sectional gets interesting.

“It doesn’t matter what the record is,” said Brunson. “They played a hell of a game. We were getting everybody’s best (this year). It’s one of the best, if not the best conference in the state.”

Reitz has won 18 straight regular season games, this night punctuated with another lifting of the West Side Nut Club Golden Acorn Trophy. Each week the Panthers were a marked team. Each week they found a way.

The Panthers completed back-to-back undefeated regular seasons for the first time since 2010.

“We don’t always play our best football but we adjust well,” said Summers. “We come back stronger.”

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