By Mike Deak
SOUTH WHITLEY – Tippecanoe Valley outscored Whitko 39-6 in the final 27 minutes of Friday night’s Three Rivers Conference matchup to pull away for a 57-24 victory.
A wild first half was covered up in what looked like a Viking slaughter on paper. The contest was tied at 18 after Whitko kicker Austin Kreps willed a 33-yard field goal over the crossbar at the 3:35 mark of the second quarter. Whitko then had Isaiah Kyles pick off a potential go-ahead Valley score on the goalline.
But after Whitko was forced to punt on the ensuing possession with just 1:00 left in the half, Valley marched right down the field for a backbreaking touchdown. Alex Craft rumbled on a long run into the Wildcat red zone, and after Jamasyn Virgil caught a pass to the Wildcat nine, Jacob Davis made a nice catch for a nine-yard score with just 26 seconds left on the clock. Craft’s two-pointer put the Vikings up 26-18.
“That was a rough first half,” said Tippecanoe Valley head coach Steve Moriarty. “That was one of the most stressful wins that we’ve had, at least for me.”
It was all Vikings in the second half.
On fourth down, Branson McBrier hit Craft down the seam for a 23-yard score. After Whitko cut the lead to 10 on a 39-yard pass to Cade Berg, Valley would strike through the air on a 27-yard score to Virgil and 54-yard bomb to Rex Kirchenstien. Virgil later added a 17-yard run late in the fourth.
“The kids played hard to the end, but we aren’t making any excuses that we are what we are, and some teams are just going to be more physical than we are,” Whitko head coach Phil Jensen said. “We’ve come a long way in a year and a long way this season. We just have to keep getting better.”
Whitko had opened the game on a high note, Gavin Ness taking the opening kickoff 91 yards for a shocking 7-0 lead. Valley found itself down 15-6 at the end of the first quarter, having committed five false start penalties and chasing Kyles on a 53-yard touchdown pass.
A touchdown from Kirchenstien on a 26-yard pass and two Craft runs of 15 and five yards put Valley back up 18-15.
Valley would stack up 518 yards of offense in the contest, McBrier with a solid quarterback showing going 13-19 for 273 yards and five scores through the air. Craft would add 115 yards on the ground and 99 through the air and Virgil piled up 118 more total yards. Kirchenstien had four catches from 105 yards and the two scores.
“All the credit goes to the kids coming back out in the second half and finally waking up,” Moriarty said. “They’re that good then they finally just buckled down and started driving. Their attitudes in the second quarter, you could see it had changed.”
Ethan Schuh completed 11 of 20 passes for 191 yards and the score, but was on the run all night in the backfield as Valley’s pressure produced three sacks, and both Craft and Wade Jones had second half interceptions.
Whitko managed just 12 yards rushing on the night, which didn’t sit well with the historically stubborn rushing guru in Jensen.
“When I got here, it wasn’t a secret that this team needed to try something new,” Jensen said. “We weren’t scoring enough points. We’ve scored more this year than we did the past three years, maybe combined. And it’s helped us win some ballgames. And we need to keep it up, but we can’t let down in another of the three phases of the game. And for spurts tonight, we had some letdowns that really hurt us.”
Valley moves to 4-2 overall and 4-1 in the TRC, with a big game next week at Death Valley against Maconaquah. Whitko drops to 3-3 and 2-3, facing a trip to Manchester next Friday.