Raiders fall shy of league crownOctober 14, 2017
By COLIN LIKAS
HUNTINGBURG — A first outright Pocket Athletic Conference title since 1985 was on the line for Class 2A No. 4 Southridge on Friday when Class 3A No. 1 Gibson Southern visited in both teams’ regular-season finale. And for 24 minutes, what transpired on the field matched the stakes.
Within a stretch of 10:37 to open the third quarter, however, the Raiders’ depth disadvantage reared its head as the Titans piled up 35 sudden points to take a 55-14 victory and their third consecutive league crown.
“It’s a crappy feeling,” Southridge coach Scott Buening said. “When you get that feeling, it’s not one you enjoy. It’s something I mentioned to (the players) — ‘Don’t forget how this feels.’”
The Raiders (7-2, 6-1) appeared worn out by game’s end, as an up-tempo offense that was averaging 55.1 points per contest entering the night met that mark before the fourth quarter started. The furious attack was paced by running back Dylan Stefanich, who carried for a quartet of touchdowns and added a fifth receiving.
Southridge defensive lineman Jose Chavez, a captain on that side of the ball, said Stefanich was the Raiders’ primary opposing focus. But the senior muscled up for a game-best 127 yards on 15 carries, split almost evenly between halves.
“He was all over the field,” Chavez said. “Definitely tried to get on him a couple times. It didn’t always work out.”
Before Stefanich hit paydirt three times on the ground in the second half alone, Southridge put up more than just a good fight against Gibson Southern (9-0, 7-0).
The Titans struck first on a 26-yard connection between quarterback Isaac Sellers and Stefanich late in the opening half, but the Raiders quickly responded on a 1-yard Tucker Schank plunge. That scoring play was set up by a 71-yard end-around dash by Colin Smith earlier in the drive.
“We had a lot of blockers. It wasn’t just a one-man play,” said Smith, who finished with a team-best 69 rushing yards in addition to 68 receiving yards. “It was definitely the entire team in it. A lot of great blocks kept us together.”
Gibson Southern led 13-7 through 12 minutes after Stefanich bounced into the end zone from a yard out just before the teams switched sides, with a point-after attempt sailing wide. But two plays into the second frame, on a third-and-24 try, Southridge quarterback Jayce Harter perfectly dropped a pass over Titan defender Bailey Neufelder and into the outstretched arms of Grant Maxey. He raced 94 yards to push the Raiders ahead by a point.
“It was a back-and-forth affair. You get in that kind of game, certainly when you’ve got a one-point lead, we were pleased to be where we were,” Buening said. “Then they made a nice play toward the end of the half, and then really that first drive at the beginning of the second half, we just didn’t respond very well.”
The aforementioned first-half play from Gibson Southern saw Sellers hook up with Nic Maurer on a 41-yard touchdown toss with 1:17 to play before halftime. The result put the Titans ahead to stay at 20-14, and things only spiraled from there for the Raiders.
While Gibson Southern’s last drive of the first half included four plays of 12 or more yards, Titan coach Nick Hart said he saw equal momentum come from the team’s previous possession.
“I think more importantly, even the drive before when we didn’t score, we got clicking on offense a little bit, a little more like us,” Hart said of a 13-play jaunt that ended in a turnover on downs with 4:49 to play before halftime. “They’re a great defense. They had a lot to do with us not being in rhythm.”
Once the Titans found harmony, however, there was little the Raiders could do to stop it. Stefanich had scoring runs of 1, 17 and 31 yards, while Sellers crossed the goal line from 2 yards out and hit Dawson Witte on an 80-yard touchdown toss — all in the third quarter.
Both coaches agreed that player personnel wound up having a factor as the game went along.
“Composure is a big deal, and I thought our guys really played hard,” Buening said. “It’s a credit to Gibson. They’ve got great depth on both sides of the ball, and they’re able to wear you down at a point. I thought our guys ... competed, we just didn’t have enough tonight.”
“(At halftime) our message was, we thought we could wear them down a little bit,” Hart added. “We don’t have anybody going both ways. With our tempo and their guys going both ways, we thought we could grind them down a little bit.”
That left the Raiders with a sour feeling on their senior night, a result which Chavez said some of the underclassmen blamed themselves for creating. Chavez said that likely led to Buening telling players in the postgame huddle that there would be no “pity party” in Huntingburg.
“You just can’t win them all,” Chavez said. “They just need to move on and get ready for the next week of practice. Hanging their heads won’t get us anywhere.”
Southridge’s current course is headed to a Class 2A sectional opener against South Spencer (3-6) next Friday night on the Raiders’ home turf. The Rebels dropped their regular-season finale 52-21 against Heritage Hills and lost a 56-7 decision to Southridge earlier in the year.
Regular-season results mean nothing to the Raiders now, though, especially after watching their chance at a league championship slip away in front of their own fans.
“We’re going to have a lot of motivation,” Smith said. “We’re going to come out strong, and Coach definitely told us not to overlook (South Spencer) because the first time doesn’t matter during sectional.”
“I feel like the coaches do a very good job of preparing us,” Chavez added, “but you can’t always underestimate everyone you play. Anyone can win on any given night.”
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