By Mike Deak
SYRACUSE – “We did this for you, Brendyn. We did this for you, buddy!”
The always boisterous Braden Shepherd let his feelings be known, the first of many who hit the Wawasee endzone pointing to the sky Friday night after Tippecanoe Valley’s 42-7 win over the Warriors.
It was a fitting and poignant end to a historical and emotional opening night of football, one that saw Tippecanoe Valley check off several boxes in the first-ever matchup between the two Kosciusko County dwellers.
Shepherd and his teammates were referring to Brendyn Stump, who passed away in the spring after a car accident, a death that rocked the Valley student body and area as a whole. Stump, who would have been a junior and likely on the football team, would have celebrated his birthday Friday night with his teammates and friends. The student section was decked out in their Stump T-shirts, a 4 on the fence adorning the Valley faithful.
That sentiment poured all over the Valley performance, which played inspired football throughout the season-opening blowout of the Warriors.
The Vikings took a commanding 14-0 lead in the first quarter and never looked back, using big runs from Branson McBrier and Jamasyn Virgil to get its second drive of the night inside the Wawasee five. Karl Parker finished the drive with a three-yard touchdown, and as Valley head coach Steve Moriarty noted, the kicking game ‘may not be used for a while’ and called Hunter Eherenman’s name for the two-pointer.
Wawasee’s inability to take care of the ball on consecutive drives allowed Valley to score another touchdown, a fumble giving Valley the ball at the Wawasee 19, which Shepherd scored on the next play on an athletic run to the pylon.
A Wade Jones interception nearly led to another score, but Valley’s drive to Wawasee’s one culminated with a pair of Valley fumbles to end the threat. It was the precedent that irked Wawasee head coach Jon Reutebuch more than anything.
“When you turn it over like we did in the first half, then two more there in the third quarter, holy cow, you can’t score if you don’t have opportunities,” Reutebuch said.
Those two turnovers Reutebuch pointed to in the third quarter were backbreakers for the hosts. Valley opened the second half with a long drive, with Eherenman finishing the almost seven-minute drive with an eight-yard run to paydirt. Wawasee then fumbled the ensuing kickoff, allowing Nate Parker to tally an 11-yard rushing touchdown, the No. 4 jersey of Parker a fitting visitor to the endzone.
Wawasee would fumble away the ball again on its next possession, which opened the door for Dalton Alber to drive in from 11 yards, and after a two-point conversion, it was 36-0 Death Valley.
“You could tell tonight they played with heart and they wouldn’t fold,” Moriarty said. “They just kept going and going. Even after all the injuries, the cramping. We were struggling to be in shape, but we still fought through it for a good victory.”
Both teams exchanged touchdowns in the fourth quarter, Wawasee getting on the board with a 57-yard pitch and catch from Jaxon Brown to Ringler, and Valley scoring on the final play of the game on a one-yard dive from McBrier.
In all, the Vikings rushed for 264 yards, Shepherd leading the team with 90 yards and Nate Parker ending with 69 yards. McBrier threw seven times, hitting five of them for 69 yards, 45 on two catches for Rex Kirchenstien.
The win for Valley was the 300th in its history, which Moriarty said was just a big piece of the opening week pie.
“It’s something special, I told the boys in the lockerrom before we took the field today, that you are about to make history,” Morairty said. “To see that come to life, and have 300 wins and to do that against Wawasee the first time we’ve ever played them, makes it very special. It’s a tribute not only to this team, but to all the other teams coming up through the ranks and got those wins.”
Wawasee managed just 164 yards of total offense, a third of it on the one touchdown pass to Ringler. The Warriors did not run a play inside the Valley red zone the entire night, and committed four total turnovers. The ball also bounced Valley’s way, literally, as Valley had seven fumbles in the game but lost just two of them. And not on the stat sheet, both teams accounted for well over a dozen stoppages in play for cramps and heat-related issues on the steamy Warrior Field turf.
“I thought we would have done a lot better than we did, we absolutely laid an egg,” Reutebuch said. “They took it to us. Credit them for executing their game plan. Our turnovers killed us, but we had a lot of guys cramping, and they did too, but it seemed like it hit us a little worse. We’re going to have to rectify that. We couldn’t go a full game, guys coming off the field all night, and add in the turnovers, and we just didn’t play inspired football.”
Valley opens its home calendar next week in the Three Rivers Conference against Northfield while Wawasee heads to Ligonier to take on West Noble.