Bizarre battle a prelude to Raiders’ showdown

 

Dave Weatherwax/The Herald
Southridge’s Alex Merkel, left, joked with Luke Siddons after Merkel accidentally tripped Siddons after he recovered a fumble on Friday at Huntingburg. On a night full of strange occurrences at Raider Field, Class 2A No. 7 Southridge cranked out its usual result as the Raiders steamed to a 55-10 victory. They’ll host Class 3A No. 3 Gibson Southern in a clash that will decide the Pocket Athletic Conference champion. For a gallery of photos, click here.

By JOE JASINSKI
Herald Sports Writer

HUNTINGBURG — Well, that was weird.

Sandwiched within an opening kickoff returned for a touchdown, a forced fumble and simultaneous fumble recovery by the same player (without the ball ever hitting the ground), a landmark rushing moment, penalty flags, an onside kick recovery, a muffed punt, a blocked field goal, homecoming pomp and a powwow among a few Raider players who watched the Raider band wrap up a 28-minute halftime, Southridge sailed once again.

The Raiders’ 55-10 dismissal of Pike Central on Friday night in Huntingburg offered an undertone distanced from normalcy. Sure, the margin of victory sufficed. And the result granted Southridge the opportunity it has craved for some time. But this one was odd.

“I don’t really know how to describe it,” Raider junior Jeremiah Mundy conceded. “It was different.”
Added senior Andy Fischer: “Just a weird night.”

“I felt like I was in the Twilight Zone,” Raider coach Scott Buening said.

Call it abnormal or unconventional, it also ended with the result the Raiders so desperately longed for looking forward.

“Still got the win,” senior Luke Siddons stated.

And with that, the Raiders solidified the matchup “that a lot of people have been looking forward to, although there were a lot of obstacles in everybody’s way to get through,” Buening said.

Class 2A No. 7 Southridge. Class 3A No. 2 Gibson Southern. A battle of unbeatens — the Titans unscathed altogether at 8-0 and 6-0 in the Pocket Athletic Conference — that will decide the league’s champ next Friday at Raider Field.

They now look ahead, though perhaps in a slight daze from the bizarreness through which the Raiders (7-1, 6-0) paved their way — a seemingly unconnected checklist of happenings on a warm evening in mid-October at Raider Field.

The circus jump-started in the first 14 seconds, as Connor Craig raced 87 yards on the opening kickoff to put the Raiders ahead 7-0. From there, the Chargers  (1-7, 1-5) came no closer than after a field goal with 5:48 left in the first quarter — their only points until the last minutes of the third quarter.

Craig dazzled. As in, four-touchdowns, 140 rushing yards (on five totes). With his first carry from scrimmage — a 57-yard touchdown run — the junior became the first Raider to eclipse the 1,000-yard plateau in a season since Kyle Holzbog in 2009.

One carry. Simple, right? Not so much.

After Craig scampered to the endzone of the initial kickoff, the Raiders muffed a punt return — which led to the Charger field goal — and failed to recover a Pike Central onside kick immediately afterward.

“A couple times, I put my helmet on and then, ”˜Oh, no, we don’t have the ball,’” Craig joked. “And then came back off. It was just kind of weird.”

Alex Merkel then blocked the Chargers’ 41-yard field goal try, finally permitting Southridge to run its first offensive play of the game with 2:17 left in the opening period.

The defensive plays arrived repeatedly. The most bizarre being Siddons’.

As Pike Central’s Dakota Walker barreled forward, Siddons contacted the 220-pound fullback. A split-second later, Siddons had snatched the ball and was sprinting in the opposite direction, only to be tackled after a 7-yard return.

“I tripped over (Alex) Merkel’s feet,” Siddons explained with a grin about his teammate. “I would’ve been gone if he wasn’t in my way.”

That play came four minutes into the second half, before which Siddons, Javier Canales, Aidan Michel and Joey White sat together on the sideline following homecoming ceremonies at halftime, listening to the Raider band perform as the rest of the team waited by the gate to the track.

The songs warbled fluidly. As did the Raider offense.

Luke Stetter remained in sync with Craig (four catches for 91 yards) and Cody Thompson (two receptions for 29 yards), but his 58-yard touchdown connection with Michael Boyd in the fourth quarter brought the loudest roar all night. Alex Householder scored two touchdowns on his seven carries. Even on the Raiders’ most herky-jerky drive of the evening, which smacked Southridge with 40 penalty yards within a seven-play span, Craig sealed the choppy sequence with his second rushing score — a 13-yarder that made him the first Raider since 2007 to accrue 20 touchdowns in a season.

“I’m just going,” Craig said coolly. "I’m hot right now, I guess you could say. Running wild.”

Equally unleashed was the Raider defensive line, including Ethan Schwoeppe, Merkel, Mundy and Fischer. The Chargers averaged just 1.7 yards a carry. And Pike’s dual-threat signal caller Chase Eaton, though effective (11-of-17, 139 yards), slowly began to show the wear and tear from absorbing countless hits by Raider defenders.

When Eaton called his own number midway through the third quarter, Mundy infiltrated the backfield along with another Raider defender. The tandem teamed to force a fumble, which Mundy recovered. The next series, Fischer threw Eaton to the ground for a sack, and Schwoeppe and Canales followed suit three plays later. Even when Eaton connected with Walker for a touchdown later that drive, Schwoeppe had driven the quarterback to the turf so hard that Eaton stayed stationary on the ground for a couple seconds before limping to the sideline.

As Buening explained, human nature had the Raiders thinking about Gibson Southern before this one was over — and perhaps before it had even started. As much as they tried resisting the thoughts, the prospect of such a clash naturally invaded the mind. And now, even the Raiders’ ”˜One game at a time’ mantra points to nothing but the bout that’s been anticipated for some time.
“Like Coach said, two great teams going at it,” Mundy said. “And it’s whoever wants it more. It’ll be a battle.”

Contact Joe Jasinski at jjasinski@dcherald.com.




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