BY DEAN HOCKNEY
KOKOMO, Ind. – This has not been a typical season for Kokomo High School football and head coach Brett Colby. The Wildkats program is accustomed to winning, but at one point in the campaign, they were a mediocre 2-3. Entering the playoffs, they were barely over .500 at 5-4. And yet, four weeks later, they are headed to the programs first-ever IHSAA state championship football game.
The season got off to a rocky start – in fact, the Kats did not even find the end zone in week one’s 24-2 loss to Hamilton Southeastern (3-7) in the debut of the new Walter Cross Field synthetic turf field. Week two had Kokomo defeat a Class 3A Hamilton Heights (3-8) team 19-7 on the road in lackluster fashion. In week three, the Kats traveled to Marion (7-4) and beat a good Giants squad 17-14. But back-to-back losses, a 26-10 loss at McCutcheon (7-4) and a 48-28 defeat against eventual North Central Conference champion Lafayette Jefferson (10-1), had the Kats face-to-face with a potential losing season.
“I was so disappointed and disgusted with this team,” said Colby of the start to the season. “We knew we had it in us and just couldn’t get it together.”
Colby said a multitude of factors played into the slow start for Kokomo.
“Injuries had a big part of it,” said Colby. “And we had some adverse things happening in the locker room. Internal stuff we had to take care of. It just drained this team, but they never gave up. The core was there. Of the 36 quarters we played in the regular season, we had our starters together for six. That is insane to think about and people don’t understand that. We just couldn’t get it to work.”
Colby pointed to an injury to senior Jack Perkins and the move of two-way standout Stevens Edwards as one reason the season started slow.
“It was a gut-check to this team when Steven moved,” said Colby. Fortunately for Kokomo, Stevens returned to Kokomo shortly after the season started. “And it pumped the life into us when he came back. That is when we started our run.”
With Edwards back in the lineup, the ship righted with a pair of home blowout wins – 56-7 against Anderson (2-8) and 48-7 against Logansport (5-5). Despite a 24-7 loss at Harrison (6-4) in a game that was not going to affect the NCC standings, Kokomo closed the regular season with a solid 44-8 home win against Indianapolis Arsenal Tech (3-7).
Coaches will say they want a team to peak at tournament time – and that is exactly what Kokomo has done. They avenged losses to Harrison (13-8) and McCutcheon (37-7) to win its third consecutive sectional title; but in the process, they lost Edwards to a shoulder injury. With Edwards on the sideline, the Kats showed the teams toughness and desire with a near-miraculous 33-21 comeback against Zionsville to win the regional. And last Friday night, the 2017 Wildkats sealed its destiny with a 21-14 semi-state championship victory.
“It is amazing what we have been able to do for this city,” said Colby, looking back on the season and the last three years of Wildkat football. “A lot of kids have set the foundation for where we are at now. Now, this team can finish the job.”