BOURBON — Triton had trouble finishing what it started Friday night.
In four trips inside the red zone, the Trojans came away empty-handed each and every time — their only touchdown was scored by their defensive unit on a pick six early in the fourth period. And the result was a season-ending, 21-8 loss to visiting Northfield in the two teams’ Sectional 44 opener in Bourbon.
“Unfortunately, it’s been kind of the theme this year. This team is so close; we just couldn’t get over the hum,” said Triton coach Rodney Younis. “A lot of that is with inexperience, but when you get to this point in the season, you’ve gained some experience, and like I just told them, the underclassmen need to let that be their fire and desire for the offseason, to correct those things. It’s unfortunate, but hat’s off to Northfield. Their senior quarterback, he’s a good player, he’s a leader, and when the game was on the line he took over.”
The Norsemen got on top early with a 45-yard run by senior running back Graydon Holmes, followed by a 25-yard touchdown connection from quarterback Levi Fulkerson to junior Alex Haupert just 43 seconds into the game.
The Trojans marched all the way to the Northfield 10 on the ensuing possession but came up short on a fourth down conversion attempt with a yard to go at the Norsemen 7-yardline — foreshadowing three more scoreless trips inside the visitors’ 10 at the game. Triton had a chance to even it up again later in the period when Lucas Cabrera recovered a Jarret Shafer fumble at the Northfield 31, and Connor Pitney connected on long passes to Jacob Snyder and Hunter McIntyre to set the Trojans up on first and goal at the Northfield 2. But they ultimately turned over on downs, and the home team still trailed 7-0 at the first quarter break.
The Norsemen widened their lead to 14-0 at the half, going 99 yards in 15 plays and eating up nearly seven minutes of clock in the process, punching it in on a pitch from Fulkerson to Haupert from 9 yards out with just 50.5 seconds remaining before the break.
Triton’s next, best chance came midway through the third, when the visitors inexplicably gambled on a fourth and 12 at their own 15, and the Trojans held firm, taking over on downs and giving the home team a short field to work with. But Triton’s own fourth down conversion attempt failed a little over half a minute later on fourth and 3 at the Northfield 7, and the Trojans came away empty-handed a third trip inside the Norsemen 10 at the 6:39 stop of the clock.
Triton did finally find pay dirt when a Fulkerson pass to Haupert was tipped up, and Triton senior defensive back Quentin Amsden came down with the ball, returning it 29 yards up the Trojan sideline at the 10:29 mark of the fourth period. McIntyre’s two-point conversion run cut the home team’s deficit down to six at 14-8.
Unfortunately, the Norsemen answered right back with an eight-play, 65-yard scoring drive culminating in Fulkerson’s 3-yard keeper into the end zone with 6:38 left to play.
Amsden nearly put up another score for his team with a 90-yard return on the ensuing kickoff, but the touchdown was called back on a holding call on the other side of the field. The Trojans did march down to the Northfield 6 on the drive, but Pitney was picked off by Jaydan Goshert in a backbreaker with 3:02 remaining to play.
“Connor had a lot of pressure on him. He rushed his progression. I felt like we had some things underneath that we were trying to hit, but when you get that pressure in your face, your instinct is to throw it up, and that’s what he did,” explained Younis of his senior quarterback, who finished 13-for-29 with four interceptions and 122 passing yards.
Amsden had a big night for the Trojans with one reception worth 15 yards, a team-high seven tackles,a fumble recovery, three kickoff returns worth 26 yards each, his pick six and his would-be kickoff return score in the fourth.
“Quentin, he’s one of those kids that has just got a lot of competitive spirit. He made some mistakes early on in the game, but he turned around and corrected those and came up big for us. He had that kickoff return called back on a hold that wasn’t even part of the play. He really did play a good game,” Younis said.
D’Angelo Shumpert made four catches worth 43 yards to lead the Trojans receiving corps, and McIntyre hauled in three catches worth 23 yards as well as pacing his team’s run game with 68 rushing yards in 12 carries for Triton, which was out-gained 185 yards to 463 by the Norsemen.
Fulkerson completed 8-of-12 passes for 141 yards and a touchdown. Shafer gained 147 yards in 23 carries, and Holmes ran for 105 yards in just six rushes. Haupert caught three passes totaling 79 yards, and Clayton Tomlinson made another three catches worth 44 yards for Northfield.
“It’s just the whole offense with the option. You’ve got to be disciplined,” Younis said. “It’s assignment football, and when one kid doesn’t do their assignment, they get caught looking, thinking somebody else has the ball. You’ve just got to do your assignment.”
Northfield improves to 6-4 and advances to play Southwood — a 21-12 winner over Churubusco — in the sectional semifinals next week. Triton closes the year at 2-8 and will say goodbye to a number of seniors, including Pitney, Amsden and Shumpert.
“They’ve had a great four-year run. Some of these kids, they were role-players the last couple of years on our teams that were successful,” Younis said. “This year it was their turn to, so to speak, lead this team, and they were a good group. They weren’t big in numbers, but they had great attitudes. They don’t miss; they’re always here. I’m proud of them, and I wish them nothing but the best for their futures.”