Raiders come from behind to clinch 2A titleNovember 25, 2017
By JONATHAN SAXON
INDIANAPOLIS — It was not pretty. It was not easy. But it’s the kind of story that will be told across Indiana football fields for generations to come.
It took a fourth-quarter drive with less than three minutes remaining in the game for it to happen, but the Southridge Raiders returned to Huntingburg as state champions after coming from behind to defeat Woodlan 15-14 on Saturday afternoon at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
After senior cornerback Jacob Masterson intercepted Warriors’ quarterback Justin Durkes, the Raiders (13-2) trailed 14-7 and started their final drive with an 11-yard rush by junior Tucker Schank. Senior quarterback Jayce Harter connected with senior Grant Maxey for five yards but threw two incompletions on his next attempts down field to bring up fourth down.
Harter walked up to the line on fourth-and-5, and stepped into an 8-yard completion to junior Matt Price to keep the drive alive. On the next play from scrimmage, Harter found Schank on a well-designed screen pass and the wingback took it 42 yards up the middle of the field to the end zone to bring the Raiders within one point at 14-13.
Southridge coach Scott Buening said the Raiders decided to forgo any thoughts of overtime and lined up immediately for the 2-point conversion. Harter found No. 8 again, this time angling to his right toward the goal line, and Schank dived into the end zone.
Schank finished the game with 52 yards rushing and 121 yards receiving in the game, and said they had been practicing the screen pass for a few weeks in anticipation of using it in a crucial moment.
“Turns out it helped us in the most crucial time. Coaches were confident with that (play),” he said. “We were playing for our careers, for our season. Playing to see what would happen and it worked out for us in the end.”
It was a storybook ending to a magical season for the Raiders. In a game when a lot of things did not go as planned, Buening was over the moon in describing what it meant to watch his players, who had not been able to get a lead up to that point, march down the field and complete the season in the fashion they had preached all season: legendary.
“You don’t ever prepare yourself for what it’s going to be like to win your last game of the season,” he said. “For as good as the players that we have (are), that game was won on pure guts. You give us one play to win it, and we’re going to do it. It’s just amazing.”
Southridge won the coin toss and chose to defer to Woodlan’s offense, which came into the contest averaging 429 yards and 40 points a game. It took the Warriors only four plays to score.
Woodlan came out guns blazing, attempting a trick play on the very first play from scrimmage that certainly would have scored if the intended receiver Aaron Hahn had held onto the ball. The senior redeemed himself a play later when he cradled in a pass from Durkes which covered 54 yards and placed the Warriors right outside the red zone. Senior running back Jack Rhoades finished the drive when he took it in from 27 yards out to score a touchdown and give the Warriors the lead, 7-0.
The Raiders remembered that they had been in this position before, as recently as a week prior in their 24-7 win against Indianapolis Scecina in the semistate, and knew that their best chance to win meant keeping a cool head and sticking to their plan.
“We had to keep calm, because we knew we were in a tough situation,” said senior Colin Smith. “And we knew that if we did what we’re supposed to do, we were going to get the job done.”
The offense sputtered in their first drive out on the field. But after the defense forced Woodlan to punt, Southridge finally breached the goal line on a six-play, 71-yard drive, which was cemented by Smith after he carried it in from 8 yards out to tie the game, 7-7.
“We knew what we had to do, and we decided to get the job done,” said Smith. “We knew that the coaches wouldn’t let us down on the play calling. We knew that we had to stick together, and do what we do like we have been all season.”
The next three quarters would see the game turn into a display of championship defense, as both teams took their turns trying to move past each other’s curtains of defenders.
Woodlan’s third drive ended the first quarter and opened the second. The Warriors drove down to the Raiders’ 21-yard line before Maxey intercepted Durkes in the end zone for a touchback. However, the tide swiftly shifted back to the Warriors after Harter lost a fumble on the next play from scrimmage. The Raiders suffered five turnovers during the game, but Buening never lost faith.
“We just kept preaching, ‘Just keep playing, keep working, something will go our way,’” he said.
Southridge’s defense went out on the field once again, and held Woodlan to 14 yards. The Warriors attempted a 22-yard field goal, but senior Luke Crilly, who won the semistate with a last-second field goal from 28 yards, missed this attempt wide right.
Harter said that Buening kept drumming on the same sideline sermon in the locker room during halftime: Just keep playing.
“Coach B came in here and said, ‘Hey, things aren’t going our way and it’s still a tie ballgame’,” he said. “He said keep playing the next play and a good thing will happen. Keep playing resilient and something is going to go our way.”
“So many things just weren’t going right,” added Buening. “ (But) you make your own breaks.”
Southridge got the ball on offense to start the third quarter, but Harter was picked off for the first time by senior defensive back Tyler Turnwald.
Woodlan was able to drive down to the Raiders’ 11-yard line, but Durkes ensuing pass on fourth-and-seven to senior tight end Donald Guerrant was batted down by Maxey to force a turnover on downs. The Raiders held against Woodlan five times inside the redzone.
“We’ve been in those situations before,” said Maxey. “That’s not the first time we’ve been pressured defensively. But the stakes were a lot higher, so you’re going to have that in the back of your mind.”
After Southridge punted for the second time, Woodlan engineered another drive that would bridge two quarters, driving 10 plays for 72 yards, capped by a 13-yard touchdown pass from Durkes to senior wide receiver Ah’Lan Howard to give the Warriors a 14-7 advantage to start the fourth quarter.
No team achieved much in the next four drives. The Raider defense stepped up one final time, by intercepting Durkes to give the Raiders the ball back with 2:40 left to play. The rest is Huntingburg history.
Buening heaped all the praise he could on the defense keeping the Raiders within striking distance of the Warriors, despite all the offensive struggles the team suffered during the game.
“Our defense kept us in there,” he said. “They were on the field for so long in that football game.”
“Play like metal; that’s the idea. Bend real hard, but don’t break. That’s the mantra of Raider football,” added senior defensive lineman Mitchell Carter, who also said that the team had come too far at that point to quit.
“We put in all this time and work. We just kept asking each other, ‘How bad do you want it? How bad do you want to be legendary?’”
That is how it went for the Raiders, and that is how it will be remembered by a Dubois County small town with a population of about 6,000. As the team soaked in the moment of completing a season-long mission to be legendary, there were a few that could not help but reflect on what would be their last football game of their careers. Some did not want it to be over, while also being grateful that, since it had to end, it ended with Southridge going out on top.
“I always loved those football movies where they end up winning by one point at the last second like we did,” said Harter, who finished the game 11-of-23 for 202 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions.
“It’s a dream come true. Pretty bittersweet moment playing my last game. (But) to come out doing it for the state championship, it was awesome.”
“It’s the last time I don my Raider pads, but it’s been a pleasure to do everything I’ve done,” added Carter.
“I’ve had an awesome career here. The coaching staff, my friends, family and community all back us up. It’s been phenomenal. It stinks that we’re done, but it awesome to go out on your own note.”
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