SOUTH WHITLEY – Friday night’s Three Rivers Conference showdown at Ryan Huff Memorial Stadium had it all.
Two teams with very different, but very effective offensive attacks and a rivalry game escalated with a share of the conference title on the line in front of a near capacity crowd. The showdown between Tippecanoe Valley and Whitko was not just any typical high school football game. It was Friday night under the lights at its very best.
The highly anticipated game lived up to the hype it had been receiving all week as Whitko out-muscled Valley 34-21 to claim a piece of the 2013 TRC crown.
It was a game that centered around physicality and the Wildcats made it clear early on that they were not going to be pushed around by their rivals.
After blocking a Viking punt on the game’s opening drive, Whitko kept spirits high on offense with a scoring drive capped off by a one-yard touchdown run from Tanner Hughes. The Vikings responded on their next drive as Ben Shriver found Tanner Andrews for a quick touchdown to knot the game up 7-7.
After powering its way down the field, Whitko switched things up and went to the air with a 25-yard strike from Ethan Nicodemus to Devin Gerding. Gerding finished with two receptions for 29 yards and the score and added 58 yards rushing on 10 carries.
Whitko took the 14-7 lead into the second quarter where they would score yet again. This time it was Trace Killian who dodged his way through the Valley defenders and found the end zone giving his team a 14-point lead.
Feeling the heat of the two-score deficit Valley head coach Jeff Shriver dialed up some trickery and his team executed it perfectly. Ben Shriver completed a pass to Brandon Webster who immediately lateraled to Nolan Sponseller who took it in for six. That’s right, the hook-and-ladder play made a successful appearance in South Whitley. 21-14 would be the score as both teams headed to the locker room.
In last week’s game against Rochester, the Wildcats held a 9-0 advantage at halftime but ended up losing the game. First-year Whitko head coach Josh Mohr was determined to not let his team experience the same against Valley.
“Last week was a learning experience for the guys,” stated Mohr. “We talked about it all week and at half time, ‘Don’t let it happen again.’ Our guys were determined and just relentless out there. Valley had some long drives and some big plays our guys kept fighting for 48 minutes and that was the message all week.”
The second half did not start out as planned for Whitko as Nicodemus lost a fumble on the opening drive setting up the Vikings with great field position. The Wildcats were forced to lean on their defense that had already given up to big drives. But this time the defense answered the call as Sam Silor intercepted a Shriver pass to put the ball back into Nicodemus’ hands.
The senior signal caller redeemed himself of his earlier turnover by finding Garrett Elder for a 15-yard score on the ensuing drive giving Whitko a 28-14 lead, and seemingly all the momentum one team could handle. Nicodemus finished his aerial attack completing four passes on six attempts for 42 yards, the two scores and no interceptions, putting his quarterback rating at a practically immeasurable status.
“This was for the TRC, we knew what we had to do,” stated an ecstatic Nicodemus. “We were just so much more focused this week in practice and had a better mentality. At half we just kept talking about finishing the game. We all remembered what happened last week and we were not going to let it happen again.”
Following another interception, this time by Gerding, Nicodemus used his feet to give Whitko its final score on the night with a three-yard scamper. Valley’s turned the ball over five times on Friday night after having zero turnovers in its last four games.
Shriver found Andrews once more for a late Vikings score but it was too little, too late as Valley would watch its rivals keep bragging rights and a TRC co-championship. Whitko will share the 2013 title with Rochester who also finished 6-1 in the TRC. Shriver finished the night 9-19 for 166 yards, two scores and two picks. Andrews had six receptions for 128 yards and two scores.
Coach Shriver was disappointed with the loss but proud of his team and the way they fought.
“Hats off to Whitko and Coach Mohr,” stated Shriver. “We didn’t make plays and they did, that’s just what it comes down to in a championship game. We didn’t bring our best game tonight and we’ve got to go to work and get ready for next week. Whitko is a physical team and they made plays when they needed to. I told my guys after the game that I love them and that I would not trade one of them for anything. Not for any other player or for a conference title. Obviously we are disappointed but we just need to get back to work.”
Both teams will have a lot of work to do in preparation for tough sectional match-ups. Whitko (6-3, 6-1) will play host to Bellmont (4-5) at 7 p.m. Tippecanoe Valley (5-4, 5-2) will welcome in Jimtown (7-2) also starting at 7 p.m.