PAC showdown goes sideways for Southridge

Ariana van den Akker/The Herald
Southridge’s Aidan Michel, left, Logan Sollman and Baden Pund listened to their coaches after Friday night’s 31-21 loss to Gibson Southern at Raider Field in Huntingburg. The Titans led by a touchdown at halftime and chalked up the first 10 points of the second half to pull away in a clash that decided the Pocket Athletic Conference champ.


Herald Sports Writer

HUNTINGBURG — It was a matchup both teams and their respective communities had circled for weeks.

Two undefeated Pocket Athletic Conference squads, both ranked in the top five in their respective classes, both plowing through their schedules. Two offenses powerhouses with opposing, effective styles. Southridge: a smashmouth, lower-your-shoulders and run-for-the-corners ground game vs. Gibson Southern: a pass-happy, hurry-up attack straight out of a Texas playbook.

It was a game in which the outcome was decided by one or two plays and, as Southridge players knelt in a semicircle around coach Scott Buening, the sting of a few missed opportunities still hung in frustration on their faces.

A dropped touchdown pass, a rare Luke Stetter interception, three sacks allowed, an early fourth-down attempt that failed — it was a handful of misplays and miscues for the Class 2A No. 4 Raiders, who surrendered a 31-21 defeat to Class 3A No. 2 Gibson Southern for the PAC title.

“When you have good teams playing for conference champions, you can’t leave opportunities on the field,” Buening said. “And we did, and we didn’t play well enough. I tip my hat to my Gibson Southern. They’ve got a hell of a football team and they came in here and they earned this win.”

It wasn’t the high-flying showdown anticipated in a matchup between two offenses averaging more than 40 points a contest. Instead, both squads were intent on picking away small chunks of yards at a time. Southridge (7-2, 6-1), a unit that has made a habit of big plays all season, had just two plays worth more than 20 yards. And after one quarter, both teams remained scoreless.

Gibson Southern struck first with a 25-play 80-yard drive, capped off by Dalton Armstrong’s 2-yard plunge. In a season in which the Titans (9-0, 7-0) blitzed teams through the air for more than 200 yards a game, Gibson Southern flipped the script on the Raiders, running for 248 yards on 48 attempts.

“We came in thinking they were going to pass all over us and came out in a pass defense, obviously,” Raider senior Aidan Michel said. “I guess it caught us off guard.”
In fact, the Raiders were so prepared for a passing attack, that running back Connor Craig made a rare start on defense for added pass coverage.

“They won the pits tonight and that’s something we take a lot of pride in, and that’s going to be something that we’re going do our best to never let happen again,” Buening said.

Ariana van den Akker/The Herald
Gibson Southern’s Griffin Scheller and Southridge’s Cody Thompson both competed for a pass intended for Thompson that wound up incomplete. 

The Raiders allowed one more score in the second, a 22-yard run from Austin Peyton, to cap another 80-yard drive. Down two scores against the 12th-ranked offense in the state, the Raiders needed a big play from one of their trio of backs, and it came from a senior who has been flying under the radar all season.

On the first play from scrimmage, Alex Householder ripped off a 50-yard run, using a kick-out block to turn the corner and race up the sideline. The next play, Michel rattled off an 18-yarder straight up the middle and with just over a minute left befor halftime, a Raider team that been held scoreless finally found itself within striking distance.

Stationed at the 8-yard line with no timeouts, the next series of plays had to be fast and effective. A 1-yard run for Craig. A 2-yard loss from Stetter. On third down, a pass interference penalty in the end zone moved the ball the to the 4-yard line. Another third down, a sweep to Craig that put the Raiders at the 1, and, with the clock still running, a crowd screaming to hike the ball, Stetter lined up and handed the ball to Michel for a 1-yard score on fourth down. The Raiders entered halftime down just seven and with the first possession of the second half.

“(The touchdown) definitely helped the morale of the game. It definitely pushed us, got us going, let us know we were still in it,” Householder said.

With Craig bottled up in the first half, Householder and Michel picked up the slack. Householder led all Raiders with 85 yards on 10 carries and Michel trailed right behind with 70 yards on 11 tries.

“I can’t say enough about Alex Householder,” Buening said. “He is one of the most unselfish players I’ve ever coached. ... People got a taste of what we knew all year, what we see in practice. The kid is a heck of a running back.”

The game turned in the third quarter. The Titans scored after an initial Raider three-and-out to go up 21-7. On the ensuing drive, Stetter threw his second interception of the year. The Raider defense held the Titans to a field goal, but Southridge never got closer than 10 points for the remainder of the game.

After a Raider score on a Stetter 1-yard sneak at the end of the third, Gibson Southern answered with a 13-yard rumble of its own. Southridge rolled down the field again, but failed to convert on a fourth-and-1 set up by a Cody Thompson 19-yard reception with under five minutes remaining. The Raiders scored one more time on another Stetter sneak, but it was too little too late, and Gibson Southern ran out the clock with help from Peyton (107 yards) and John Kissel (94 yards).

Without Craig, who left the game in the third quarter with an injury Buening called “nothing serious,” the Raider offense could not manufacture enough big plays as the clock whittled down. Craig finished with 57 yards rushing and 15 yards receiving for his first game this season under 100 total yards.

The coaches had one message for a disappointed Raider team that, despite holding Gibson Southern to its lowest point total this season, finished behind the Titans in the PAC race for the second straight year.

Turn the page.

“I want them to soak it up a little bit tonight,” Buening said. “We’ve not had this feeling too often, and it stinks. I imagine that’s going to be the fuel for our engines next week as we come to practice. We just need to refocus, come back and get back to what we do and get better at we do. ... We know who we are, we’ve just got to be better at it next week.”

The Raiders will travel to Tell City (6-3) in their sectional opener next Friday in a rematch of Southridge’s 24-21 regular-season victory.

“It’s history now,” Householder said. “Of course you’ve got to look back and see what you can fix, but then it’s next Friday. It’s all about next week.”

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