Raiders escape, advance to championship

Photos by Marlena Sloss/The Herald
The Raiders celebrate their victory after Friday’s football game in Huntingburg. Southridge defeated Gibson Southern, 30-27. For more photos from the game, click here.


HUNTINGBURG — Quinn Barnett has played a pivotal role for Southridge with his play on the offensive line in 2020, but he helped save his team's season late in the Sectional 32 semifinal on Friday.

Gibson Southern scored a touchdown with 42.1 seconds left that trimmed Southridge's lead to 30-27 after an extra point by senior kick Ryan Ziliak. Ziliak attempted an onside kick for the Titans, but Barnett recovered, allowing the Raiders (11-0) to escape and advance to their sixth straight sectional championship game, 30-27. 

"That was just a hell of a play on his part," Raiders coach Scott Buening said. "And when he fielded that thing, it was well, the next thing in my mind was, 'Alright, let's don't fumble. Let's don't screw the snap up (Hearty laughter.)'"

The Raiders were knocking on the door of their endzone earlier in the quarter, but with fourth down, two yards to go and a 23-20 lead, something needed to go its way.

That's when Gibson Southern jumped offsides that gave the Raiders a fresh set of downs. The Raiders pushed senior quarterback Chase Taylor in on a two-yard keeper to send the Southridge faithful into a frenzy and make it a two-possession game again.  However, the Titans drove and got first downs, even after penalties and junior quarterback Brady Allen getting sacked multiple times. Junior Roy Heltsley caught his second touchdown reception of the night. An extra point by Ziliak made it 30-27.

It was the second time the Raiders knocked off the Titans this season. It wasn't quite the shootout the 48-28 game was Sept. 18 in the regular season, but the result remained the same. Senior Camden Gasser didn't go off against the Titans on Friday night like he did in his six-touchdown performance against them in the regular season, but again, his performance proved pivotal in besting the Titans. Gasser hauled in three touchdown receptions - one in each of the first three quarters, to help stave off Gibson Southern from taking a lead it never held. He brought in a 5-yard reception after seniors Matt Springer and quarterback Chase Taylor moved the ball on the ground in the first quarter. Gasser caught a 57-yard Taylor bomb, and was gone in he second quarter. He also hauled in an 18-yarder in the third quarter that made it a two-possession game.

Allen once again showcased his arm Friday night, but the Raiders defense also made life difficult for him at times, just like they did Sept 18. Southridge picked Allen off twice in the first quarter, with the first pick turning into Gasser's first touchdown.  Despite never trailing, the Raiders were heavily penalized. They committed six penalties for 50 yards in the first half alone, and were penalized 11 times for 90 yards total, and the Titans capitalized.

Buening told the Herald on Friday that it was among the most stressful games he's ever coached.

"(The procedural penalties) are ones we need to clean up," he said. "The other ones are playing hard and being aggressive — we can live with those, but we do have to clean up some of the procedural stuff, and we'll work on that this week, and hopefully do a much better job next week."

Heltsley caught his first touchdown pass with 13.2 seconds to go in the first half. That made it 14-12 Southridge, and Gibson Southern had been in position after the laundry came out for the Raiders. However, a failed two-point conversion attempt prevented the Titans from tying the game. The Titans also came close to tying in the fourth quarter, but a bad snap led Ziliak to missing a kick with 9:32 to play in the game that stopped the Titans from tying it, 23-23.

Southridge’s Camden Gasser catches a touchdown over Gibson Southern’s Brayden Malone during Friday’s football game in Huntingburg. Southridge defeated Gibson Southern 30-27. For more photos from the game, click here.

Buening said a sixth straight appearance in the sectional championship game is a matter of his players respecting the process, respecting one another, respecting their opponents and being bought in to getting better each day.

"We really don't try to get too caught up in who we're playing in any kind of magnitude, in any kind of game," Buening said. "Certainly, naturally, that's going to be a part of it, but these guys, they're resilient. We lost momentum a couple of times tonight, and for them in this game, in this atmosphere and against such a good football team, to be able to get that back; and that last drive — I think that last drive really epitomized what that football team's all about."

With a win Nov. 6, Southridge would capture its third sectional championship in the last four years. Buening has talked to some people about Salem, who have said the Lions are a really good team.

"I know they're playing well, I know they've won a lot of football games," he said. "I know they've got some really good players from what I've heard from some of the people I've talked to. To win the sectional, it's the hardest trophy in the tournament to win. You got to win three weeks in a row, and they've their part the best two, we've done our part these first two, and this third one is going to be quite an experience."

For more photos from the game, click here.

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