UTICA - This certainly wasn't the head coaching debut Phil Pest had envisioned after many years as an assistant coach.
Scoring on the opening kickoff and recovering a fumble in the end zone in the first three minutes of the game gave the Utica Redskins the start they needed in registering a surprisingly easy 45-20 over the visiting Buckeye Local Panthers in the season opener Friday night.
The first-year Panther head coach replaced Anthony Barsch after last season, but is no stranger to the gridiron. Pest has over 30 years of coaching experience, Friday night was the first time he opened a season as the head coach.
Buckeye returns to action on Saturday with its home opener at Memorial Stadium in Yorkville. The Panthers will entertain Pittsburgh Westinghouse.
Winning in their season opener, coach Randy Felumlee's club will return to action on Friday at Granville.
Utica wasted little time avenging last season's 33-16 loss at Buckeye Local. Senior Briar Mueller took the opening kickoff at his own 19, found a seam in the middle and rambled untouched on an 81-yard scoring run. Greg Kiger booted the PAT for a 7-0 lead with just 12 seconds off the clock.
Two minutes later, the Redskins took advantage of a Panther miscue as Trent Vickers pounced on a Buckeye fumble, the result of a snap that sailed over the head of the Panther punter. Vickers recovery in the end zone boosted the hosts lead to 13-0 with 9:45 on the clock.
With 6:07 on the first quarter clock, Mitchell Peck landed on another Panther fumble, this time at the Utica 27. The Redskins then proceeded to put together another scoring drive covering 73 yards on eight plays. A 45-yard pass from Vickers to Ben Hays set the stage for Hays' 19-yard run for the score with 2:07 on the clock.
In the second frame, the hosts stopped a long drive by the Panthers at the six, then proceeded to put together another long drive that featured 14 plays all on the ground capped off by a one-yard scoring plunge by Travis Baldwin with 5:07 on the clock.
Utica closed the half with their fifth score of the night on a five-yard Hays run with 0:43 on the clock. Kiger booted the PAT for a 32-0 lead.
In the second half, Buckeye tried to bounce back by scoring four plays into the third frame. Featuring a 13-yard Chase Hopkins to Andy Stock pass, the Panthers would score with 10:18 on the clock on a superb 36-yard run by speedster Austin Marshal to close the gap to 32-6.
With 3:13 on the board, the Redskins would add another score on a two-yard run by Vickers. The run for a PAT was stopped.
Vickers would strike again with a dazzling 52-yard scamper with 11:47 on the fourth quarter clock. Kiger booted the PAT for a 45-6 lead.
Buckeye would score twice in the final session as Stock hauled in a 24-yard pass from Nathan Kirk with 10:23 left. With 1:56 remaining, Shawn Tustin run in the final tally from the 13.
"That kickoff return and the way they started had us on our eels early," Pest said after the loss. "We had them caught in the backfield for losses of seven and eight yards, but we missed lot of tackles and they seemed to have the quickness to turn it into big gains.
"I was disappointed with our tackling tonight. We need the seniors to step up and lead these kids," he added.
"We need these kids to improve on their intensity and give us more effort. There were times we could have had them third and long and instead they picked up big yardage.
" I was impressed with the effort from of the younger kids. That was bright spot for us."