SOUTH WHITLEY – It’s not about how you start, it’s about how you finish.
On Friday night the Whitko football team started and ended its with performance with stellar defensive play. The Wildcats defense scored twice off of turnovers against Wabash to spark a thrilling 30-24 over the visiting Apaches.
“Once I intercepted that ball, nobody was going to catch me,” stated Whitko linebacker Zach Baughman. “I didn’t care who it was, I wasn’t going down.”
Baughman made the play of the game for the Wildcats late in the fourth quarter with the game at an ultimate fever pitch. Wabash had tied the game at 24 on its previous possession then the Apaches defense forced Whitko to punt.
Wabash had put together a nice drive and looked as if it would take the led with little to no time remaining in the game. That all changed drastically in one play.
Apache quarterback Chase Dirig dropped back on third and four and threw a pass that Whitko’s Chase Bradley tipped at the line. Baughman took the assist from Bradley catching the tipped pass and returning it 83 yards for a touchdown with just 1:02 to play in the game. Baughman used speed, strength and even some nice footwork on the return as he did a quick stutter step to fake out a Wabash player inside the five yard line to complete the return.
“I thought about trucking that last guy at the goal line,” joked Baughman. “But I decided it would be better to just make a move and get the sure score.” A wise move by the Whitko senior.
Whitko would go for two and be stopped by the Apaches, leaving the Wildcats with just a six-point lead, 30-24. Wabash moved the ball well on the game’s final possession but Whitko held strong, forcing an incomplete pass on the final play of the game. As the fans rushed the field after the thrilling finish, Whitko head coach Josh Mohr could breathe a sigh of relief as his team remained undefeated in Three Rivers Conference play for at least another week.
“We just didn’t have the fire we had last week to start,” said Mohr. “We came out flat and that’s something we’ll have to address this week. But I’m proud of our boys tonight, very proud. They fought through a lot of adversity right here and escaped. We played hard for 48 minutes and gave a lot effort and it took every bit of it.”
Mohr was obviously floored by the interception return by Baughman and the coach made no hesitation to praise his played for the heads up play that was dripping with effort.
“That’s a heck of a play by Zach Baughman,” Mohr began. “He turned on the jets down that sideline and made a move at the end to score. Heck of a play. You could tell that he was bound and determined that he was going to score.”
Tanner Gaff got the Whitko defense going early as he picked up a Trevor Vest fumble in the first quarter and returned it 65 yards for a touchdown to put Whitko up 8-0 early after a two-point conversion by Tanner Hughes.
Hughes led all players with 148 yards on the ground and would score a touchdown in the fourth quarter. Trace Killian would score Whitko’s second touchdown of the day with a 12-yard run in the second quarter. Garrett Elder, Dylan Stump and Hughes would all contribute on two-point conversions.
Wabash (1-4, 1-3) will host Tippecanoe Valley (0-5, 0-3) next Friday. Whitko (3-2, 3-0) will have a marquee contest against Northfield (4-1, 2-1) in a game that will go a long way in determining the final TRC standings.