By Tyler Fenwick
For The Times-Post
RUSSIAVILLE — The Pendleton Heights football team got off to a perfect start in its sectional semifinal game against Western on Friday, Oct. 27, but the Arabians wouldn’t produce any more highlights on their way to a 35-7 loss.
Senior Payton Burmeister returned the opening kickoff 98 yards to give Pendleton Heights a 7-0 lead.
The Arabians (7-4) were going for their first appearance in a sectional championship game since 2015.
They will instead be Western (7-4) playing Mississinewa for the sectional title.
Pendleton Heights knew it would need to have an answer for Western senior quarterback Tyler Knepley, but the Panthers’ most potent offensive weapon drove his team on three scoring drives to take a 21-7 lead.
The Arabians had a chance to cut into the lead near the end of the half, but senior kicker Thomas Quiroga missed a 24-yard field goal.
On the next play, Western used an 80-yard touchdown run to secure a 28-7 lead at halftime.
Western scored the game’s only other touchdown in the fourth quarter.
The Arabians struggled to move the ball on the ground, with junior Taylor White being the only player to finish with positive rushing yards (six).
As a team, Pendleton Heights totaled -16 yards and rushed for -0.8 yards per carry.
“Western’s defense did a very nice job,” Arabians’ head coach Jed Richman said. “Especially up front.”
Junior quarterback Christian Conkling finished the game 15 of 29, passing for 209 yards and an interception.
The other Pendleton Heights turnover was a fumble by junior Tristen Spinks, and it led to a Western touchdown.
Despite coming up short, Pendleton Heights is only one year removed from a 3-8 season that saw it lose four games in a row for the first time since 2014.
Richman is now 10-12 through two seasons at Pendleton Heights.
“We made a lot of improvements this season,” Richman said.
“I’m excited for the future.”