Archive for October 29, 2011

KATS SHOCK UNDEFEATED HOMESTEAD; WESTERN, NORTHWESTERN ADVANCE

 

The Kokomo Wildkats celebrate its 44-41 upset win over No. 4 Homestead Friday night.

(SPORTS JOURNAL WEB EXCLUSIVE)   BY DEAN HOCKNEY

FT. WAYNE – In what might be the biggest upset victory in the history of the Kokomo High School football program, the Wildkats made the 90-minute road trip worth every second as they knocked off previously undefeated and No. 4-ranked Homestead 44-41 in the second round of the IHSAA Class 5A Sectional 3. The win was so unexpected that the Ft. Wayne News-Sentinel said before the game that this was basically a “bye” game for Homestead and the Spartans would be “cruising 43-7 by mid-third quarter on the MildKats.”

Think again. After 48 minutes of grueling football, it is highly doubtful that Homestead (10-1) would call the Kats mild, especially after the final Kokomo (9-2) drive that ended in a Blake Brutus 19-yard field goal for the win.

“We get no love, and maybe we will get a little bit now,” said Kokomo head coach Brett Colby on the disrespect shown his squad. “You can’t get respect until you earn it, and we earned it tonight.”

Following a game-tying, 27-yard touchdown run by the Spartans all-state candidate quarterback Zach Terrell, Kokomo started its game-winning drive from its own 24-yard line with 4:28 on the clock – and they promptly were called for a hold, moving the ball back to the 14 yard line and forcing a Kokomo timeout. Following the timeout, Gordon Jenkins got the ball moving with a 14-yard rush over the left end. The Kats then had positive runs of five, four, nine, six, five and eight to set up a first and 10 at Homestead’s 35. Kokomo then went to the well and pulled up a halfback pass to perfection as Armon Bridgeforth found Jenkins for 13 yards with one minute left.

“We opened up our entire bag of tricks tonight,” said Colby. “There is no trick-or-treat stuff left, the candy is all gone. We will have to put a couple of new ones in next week.”

Two plays later, Bo Butler had back-to-back runs and the Kats were sitting on the two yard line. Kokomo let the clock tick down to five seconds before calling a timeout, and Brutus and split the uprights with his second field goal of the season. Homestead tried to return to the kickoff, but Kokomo stopped the runner and started celebrating its first trip to a sectional championship game since 1996.

“It felt really good to do it for the team,” said Brutus, a senior in his first year of kicking for Kokomo. He is a star Wildkat soccer player. “I know everyone was telling me, ‘this is for the game,’ so I ended up walking away. I just got into a zone and blanked everything out. I just had to not think about it and just kick it and it went through.”

The game didn’t start as well as it ended for Kokomo. The Kats said all week they wanted to get off to a quick start, but Terrell had other plans as he fired a pair of touchdown passes in the first seven minutes to put the Kats down 14-0. But Kokomo was not about to let Homestead end it successful season as Bridgeforth caught a Tayler Persons pass and ran it 42-yards for the Wildkats first score. A third Terrell touchdown pass put the Kats down 21-7 after one quarter.

Kokomo finally made its first defensive stop three minutes into the second quarter, forcing a Homestead punt. That is when the “Wild” was reinserted back in front of Kats and Kokomo found its mojo. Homestead punted to Bridgeforth, who zigzagged through the special team defense for a 64-yard punt return for a touchdown, setting a new KHS record for most in a career with three. He also broke the KHS season (314) and career (505) records for most punt return yards. Kokomo then capitalized on a Terrell fumble, scoring on a two-yard Butler run to tie the game at 21. Homestead scored one final first half touchdown to take a 28-21 lead into the half, but the momentum was squarely with Kokomo.

“Armon just makes a big difference for us,” said Colby. “They kicked to him; why people kick to him is beyond me. But they did and he made them pay.”

Bridgeforth found the end zone for the third time to start the scoring in the second half. On Kokomo’s first possession, he capped a 62-yard drive with an 11-yard rush over the right end for a touchdown, but the point after was blocked, and the Spartans held a 28-27 lead. After another defensive stop, Kokomo regained the lead on a Butler 25-yard touchdown run to give Kokomo a 33-28 lead. Both teams traded yardage and scores the rest of the way, with Kokomo holding the ball last and hitting the game-winning kick.

The Kats were led by Bridgeforth who had 159 yards rushing, 13 yards passing, 43 yards receiving and 64 punt return yards – and the three touchdowns. Butler finished with 151 rushing yards and two touchdowns – plus he ran in a key two-point conversion. Quarterback Tayler Persons had his best game of the year with 86 yards passing and 83 yards rushing, including a touchdown on the ground and one through the air. In all, Kokomo accounted for 565 offensive yards – the third best total in Wildkat football history. And an even more important stat is Kokomo held the ball for nearly 29 minutes, compared to just over 19 minutes for Homestead.

The Spartans counted with 492 offensive yards. They were led by Terrell, who had 373 yards through the air and 63 on the ground – good for five touchdowns. He is the first Kokomo opponent to pass for more than 300 yards since the 317 yards for Anderson’s Matt Pettigrew in 2004.

In addition to the trio of punt return records, Bridgeforth also broke his own school record for all-purpose yards in a season with 2,177. He had 2,018 last year. He is 56-yards away from breaking Braxton Shelton’s career record of 4,607 all-purpose yards.

Kokomo will play nemesis Fort Wayne Snider for the sectional championship Friday night at Walter Cross Field. Snider beat Fort Wayne Northside 35-14 to advance to the finals, and they have knocked the Kats out of the tournament the last two seasons.

3A No. 12 Western 58, Mississinewa 21

The Western Panthers (9-2) wasted little time in dispatching Mississinewa (8-3), securing a 29-7 halftime lead and then setting the cruise control. Western now advances to the Class 3A Sectional 19 championship game Friday night. They will host Bellmont (4-6), who beat Yorktown 22-7.

2A No. 7 Northwestern 55, Delphi 7

Like Western, Northwestern (10-1) jumped to an early lead and never looked back. The Tigers led 35-0 against an overmatched, one-win Delphi team. The Purple Tigers now advance to the Class 2A Sectional 28 championship game against Tipton (7-4), a 35-7 winner over Benton Central.

PAL BOARD FIXED; GO ‘MILDKATS’

THE DEAN'S LIST By Dean Hockney, Publisher

For nearly two seasons, the senior football field scoreboard at the Kokomo PAL sports complex sat dark. Coaches, officials and fans would look at the board for the score or time left in the game, only to see nothing except the Coca-Cola advertisement. Senior games were moved to the junior field – leaving the younger players playing on the field that had no visible score and forcing officials to yell out how much time was left.

PAL football officials said the scoreboard had been looked at but could not be fixed and there were no funds to replace the broken piece of electrical equipment. But to steal a line from ESPN college football guru Lee Corso, city officials said, “Not so fast, my friend!” Kokomo Mayor Greg Goodnight and Director of Operations Randy Morris were notified of the situation and within days the scoreboard was inspected and parts were ordered. Three weeks later, city workers had the scoreboard repaired and ready for use at the PAL Fields.

So I wanted to give a big thanks to Mayor Goodnight, Mr. Morris and the city employees who wasted little time in making game management a little easier for the gridiron players in the PAL league. I can only imagine the coaches, players, officials and parents will enjoy the games just a little more knowing they can see the score and time left in the game. Job well done.

Go ‘MildKats’

When Howard County teams play, I always root for them to win (except, of course, when they play each other). That is one of the luxuries of not being a national sports writer. And I always try and keep things positive, as most writers do. That is why I was so shocked at a recent column by Tom Davis in the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel.

In the sectional preview story, Davis wrote on the why’s and why-not’s of Homestead winning the Class 5A Sectional 3 football bracket – the sectional Kokomo is in. He wrote the Spartans could win, “Because Homestead has two bye weeks (host the Vikings and then host Kokomo) to start the playoffs. So while North Side and Snider are smashing each other into oblivion, Homestead will be cruising 43-7 by mid-third quarter on the MildKats.”

I understand that Kokomo doesn’t have the best track record in sectional play, and that Homestead is undefeated and ranked No. 4. And I get that the respect level, outside of the North Central Conference, is not high for the Kats around the state. I know Kokomo needs to prove they can battle on the field during the playoffs to gain that respect. There is nothing surprising there.

But for a sports writer to write about the “MildKats” is pretty daring and perfect for the Wildkats bulletin board. Usually, locker room fodder comes from the opposing team, not a member of the media.

So I say GO KATS! I would like nothing more than for the Red and Blue to have a competitive showing at Homestead and show the Fort Wayne area that central Indiana can play football at a high level. And wouldn’t it be great for Coach Colby and his Kats to upset the Spartans during Homestead’s “bye” week.

Until next time, remember to keep the man and ship in sports – and I’ll see you at the game.

 

NEXT STOP: ROUND TWO

Kokomo's defense pitched a shutout as the Kats won its first-round sectional contest against Fort Wayne Wayne. (SJ Photo: WILLIAM GIBSON)

(This story appears in the Oct. 25 edition of the Sports Journal.) BY DEAN HOCKNEY

It was a mixed night of emotions for the five Howard County football squads in the first round of the IHSAA state football playoffs. The county stood 3-2 when the lights were turned off, with one of the losses by one point and the other in overtime.

In Kokomo, the Wildkats posted its first shutout of the season over a hapless Fort Wayne Wayne team. Western traveled to Peru and posted its fourth shutout of 2011. Northwestern made the long trip to Veedersburg and stole a one point win away from the previously undefeated Fountain Central Mustangs. Eastern was ready to strike gold when they fumbled late to lose by one point in Tipton. And in Center, Taylor dropped an overtime heartbreaker to Delphi.

Kokomo posts shutout

Armon Bridgeforth found yet another way to enter the Kokomo record book as he grabbed a school record three interceptions – all in the first 17 minutes of the game – to lead the Kats to its largest margin of victory sectional win in school history, 52-0 over Fort Wayne Wayne (0-10). He returned the second interception 63-yards for his second touchdown of the night. He led off the scoring with a 2-yard run and added a third touchdown in the second quarter on an 11-yard scamper. He now has 10 career interceptions, which is second best in school history. Matt Elkin had 12 from 1983-1984.

“(Armon) is an amazing kid,” said Kokomo coach Brett Colby. “That was a great game he had. A real special kid.”

The win marked the first sectional victory for Kokomo since 2008, and only the third since 1997; so the five-time North Central Conference champions wanted to prove something with a big win.

“We let one slip away a couple of years ago when we lost to Harrison,” said Colby. “We didn’t take anything for granted (against Wayne) and we came out and played hard. We did what we needed to do and just overwhelmed them defensively. We didn’t have many stats offensively because we had great field position all night long.”

Kokomo (8-2) outgained the Generals 220-95 yards offensively as Kokomo pitched its first tournament shutout since 1985 and third in KHS sectional history. The defense was so dominating that three players scored defensive points – Bridgeforth on his second interception, lineman Cameron Colby on a safety and Bo Butler on a fumble recovery. The rest of Kokomo’s scoring included a Butler 31-yard touchdown run, a 26-yard Will Haynes touchdown run, a 1-yard Michael Copeland run and a 27-yard field goal from Blake Brutus. The Kat kicker also had five extra-point kicks which places him fifth all-time in school history with 40.

Western posts shutout

For the second time in three seasons, the Western Panthers (8-2) started the sectional tournament with a shutout victory as the Class 3A No. 12-ranked squad beat Peru 34-0. The Panthers were never challenged as they led 14-0 after one quarter and 28-0 at the half. The Panthers started the 2009 tourney with a 41-0 shutout at Maconaquah.

“I don’t think we played great after three straight hard games and an extra day off last week,“ said Western head coach Alix Engle. “Then it was rain and cold this week, so we weren’t mentally tough all week. We tried to give our legs and shoulders a rest and I hope it pays off.”

For a team that didn’t play its best game, the statistics sure didn’t agree. The Panther defense held Peru (0-10) to negative five-yards of total offense (negative 12 rushing and positive seven passing). Christian Glenn led the way with a pair of interceptions.

Meanwhile, Quin Fields once again led the Panther offense with 168-yards through the air and two touchdowns, while running for another. Ronnie Smith caught the two TD passes (18 and nine yards), while James Davis had a two-yard touchdown run and Corey Hinkle added a one-yard run in the fourth quarter.

“The most important thing is to keep on moving,” said Engle. “You want to advance in the tournament, and that is what we are doing.”

Northwestern wins thriller

In what may have been the best game in the state, Class 2A No. 7-ranked Northwestern (9-1) gambled with 18 seconds left and beat No. 7 Fountain Central on the road (the two teams were tied in the final Indiana Football Coaches Association poll). Fountain Central (9-1) moved up a class this season; they were the two-time defending Class 1A state runners-up.

Trailing 41-34 late in the game, Marcus Salazar capped a long Purple Tiger drive with a one-yard touchdown splash. Down one point, the Tigers decided to go for the two-point conversion and quarterback Tanner Martin found wide receiver David Alexander in the end zone to give the Tigers a 42-41 lead and the eventual victory.

“It was thrilling – I didn’t see anyone at the ticket office after the game trying to get a refund.” said Northwestern assistant coach Vince Burpo. “We just battled back and battled back – one of the first rules of football is the team with the most points wins the game.”

Salazar capped a big offensive day with the winning touchdown, but he also had the first score of the game on a 51-yard run. He finished with 59 of Northwestern’s 98 rushing yards. Martin was 10 of 16 through the air for 282 yards and three touchdown passes. Alexander caught two and Trenton Brazel had the other. Kylan Dubbels added a short touchdown run on an evening when every score mattered.

“(Head coach John) Hendryx told the guys last week that some good teams would be going home in the tourney – and one of those would be on our field,” said Burpo. “Fortunately for us, we are moving on.”

Eastern loses a heartbreaker

Oh, so close. That is how the Eastern Comets will remember the end of the 2011 season. One week after losing the Mid-Indiana Conference crown to Northwestern by six points, the Comets saw a first-round sectional win slip away on the final play of the game at the Tipton Blue Devils (6-4) home.

Down 28-27 and gaining possession on its own 35-yard line with 32 ticks left, Eastern (7-3) drove to the Tipton 10-yard line with eight seconds left. Quarterback John Horner found himself with two choices – throw the ball away or run for it after he could not find an open receiver. He chose the latter, got to the eight yard line and was hit by a Tipton player. The hit resulted in a fumble and the end of the game.

“It is disappointing,” said Eastern head coach Josh Edwards. “They are great kids and I love them. It has been an awesome team to be around. They have committed everything they had in the weight room and to the program. We played hard and I know they gave everything they had. We just didn’t come through in the end.”

Edwards said he would not have changed anything on the final series, and in fact, saw the same opening that Horner saw and tried to get through.

“I trust John Horner every play,” said Edwards. “If he sees an opening with his speed and ability, he knows he has a green light to go. He went for it and they got a hand on it and that was it. No regrets.”

Blake Thomas had another sensational night for the Comets, scoring on touchdown runs of 10 and 94-yards, and catching a Horner pass for a 60-yard touchdown. He finished the night with 154-yards rushing and 100-yards receiving. Horner was 10 of 16 for 203 yards in his final game as a Comet.

Taylor drops in overtime

The table was set for the Taylor Titans (1-9) to score its first sectional win since 2009. But after holding a 14-7 lead deep into the fourth quarter, it just was not meant to be as Delphi (1-9) tied the game and won in overtime, 17-14, after Taylor fumbled on its possession.

“For us, having a chance to compete and battle and experience adversity on a number of different levels; as much as you don’t want to lose, we battled to the end,” said Taylor head coach Eric Davis.

Quarterback Dayne Tomlinson led Taylor with a touchdown and 131 rushing yards but he did not play the final seconds of the game or overtime due to concussion symptoms. Davis said he should fully recover.

Taylor trailed 7-0 at the half, but Davis said the team was upbeat and ready to play the second half to win.

“They are in the game and they haven’t unplugged. So we are excited about the second half and we played much better in the second half,” he said. “We just couldn’t close it out.”

Kokomo, Western and Northwestern move on to the second round of the IHSAA sectional tournament this Friday night. For previews of the individual games, see page 7 in this edition of the Sports Journal.

(Chris Lowry, radio voice of the Kokomo Wildkats and sports director of 1350 WIOU and  ROCK 98.5, contributed to this story.)