By Dalton Tinklenberg
NORTH JUDSON – The Tippecanoe Valley Vikings were scheduled for a showdown against the Rochester Zebras this week until they weren’t. News broke just before 4 p.m. Wednesday that the game had been canceled due to a COVID outbreak affecting Rochester. Suddenly the Vikings found themselves staring down a matchup against the seventh-ranked 1-A team in the state, North Judson. The Vikings came out on top with a score of 26-10. The matchup marked the 10th time the two schools had met on the gridiron and the contest certainly lived up to the hype.
“Coming in, it’s a weird, different environment than we’re used to,” said Valley head coach Steve Moriarty. “Things like this are what prepare you for the offseason or going into the sectional and regional and such. This is a good place to play and a good hard team. North Judson’s defense is the best one we’ve seen all year. They do a very good job of block down, pinch down.”
The Blue Jays got the ball to start the game and quickly found themselves facing a fourth and one on their own 30-yard line. Surprisingly, the Blue Jays elected to take a risk and go for it rather than punt. The Vikings held and forced a turnover on downs.
It took all of just three plays for Tippecanoe Valley to wind up in its own fourth-down scenario. Branson McBrier dropped back and looked towards Wade Jones. Jones slipped and went to the ground but popped up just in time to make the catch and get enough yardage for the first down. The very next play, Braden Shepherd took a sweep play around the edge for the first score of the night. After a successful two-point conversion, Valley held an 8-0 lead.
The Blue Jays would fail to put together a successful drive on their next possession, ultimately punting the ball back to Valley. The Vikings wasted no time in finding paydirt once again as Shepherd exploded off the tackle for a long rushing touchdown. Failing to add another two-point conversion, the Valley lead sat at 14-0.
Over the next few possessions, the general feeling was one of anticipation. It seemed as though the Vikings were just one inevitable big play away from putting away another opponent early. The Blue Jays had other ideas. After finding themselves in a fourth and long situation, the Vikings elected to punt. North Judson junior Cheyenne Allen received the kick and appeared to be shot out of a rocket. Allen spun through arm tackles and raced down the sideline to put the Blue Jays on the board. The two teams would head to the break with the Vikings still leading by a score of 14-7.
Coming out of halftime, the Blue Jays looked like a team that had a mission. They stifled a Valley fourth-down conversion attempt and took over on their own 49-yard line. The theme of failed offensive drive would continue for the Blue Jays though as they would be forced to punt yet again. On the next Valley drive, several key penalties on North Judson put the Vikings in a great position to score and Jamasyn Virgil took advantage. The senior back galloped into the end zone to extend the Viking lead to 20-7. On the very next possession for Tippecanoe Valley, the Vikings used a screen pass to Shepherd to gain 43 yards and score their final time of the night to push the score to 26-7.
The Blue Jays battled with everything they had, driving to the Valley goal line before settling for a field goal and blocking a punt to get another scoring opportunity from inside Vikings territory with under a minute to play.
“For [our team] to focus so quickly and to watch so much film, we have a tracker on Hudl that can tell when kids are watching film and it spiked on Wednesday night,” said Moriarty. “They knew it was time to turn it on and what a great job by the seniors leading, coming out, and staying focused.”
McBrier finished the night 8-14 with 95 yards and a touchdown through the air. Shepherd tallied 116 yards and two touchdowns on just 11 attempts. The Vikings held the Blue Jays to just 113 yards of total offense on 50 plays.
“The one thing is our defense only gave up 113 yards right off the bat, total tonight,” continued Moriarty. “I thought they did a good job there and was very proud of them.”
The Vikings (5-0) will host Whitko next Friday night as they look to regain momentum in the Three Rivers Conference.