BY DEAN HOCKNEY
KOKOMO, Ind. – Two Howard County football squads earned berths in the sectional football finals – and both have taken different routes to get there. Last Friday night, the Western Panthers won its semifinal contest 35-7 over Pendleton Heights while No. 13 Kokomo Wildkats upset No. 10 Harrison 13-8 in a hard-fought battle between conference foes.
At Walter Cross Stadium in the Class 5A Sectional 11, senior quarterback Kyle Wade not only broke the school record for career passing yards, he also scored the game’s only two touchdowns in the win over North Central Conference rival Harrison.
Kokomo scored first when Wade called his own number for a one-yard score to cap an impressive 84-yard, 14-play drive on the opening drive. The Kats defense then forced a punt that pinned Kokomo on its own two-yard line. Two plays later, Wade was sacked for a safety. Harrison then took the lead midway through the second quarter on a Dawson Dahnke 18-yard run – the Raiders led 8-7 at the half.
Still down by one, Kokomo took control of the football near midfield with 3:48 left in the third stanza- and that is when Wade and senior Jack Perkins took over. Perkins rushed five plays and Wade three times for a combined 14 yards to close the quarter. On the first play of the fourth, Wade found Perkins for 14 yards – and in the process, he became the Wildkats all-time pass yardage leader. A personal foul for a hit on Perkins put the ball at the nine, and two plays later Wade rushed for two-yards and his second score.
The Kats secured the victory when Luke Cameron picked off a pass with one-minute remaining in the game.
Wade finished with 63 yards rushing and 76 passing – he now has 3,510 career passing yards. Perkins had 62 yards rushing and 61 receiving. Noah Hurlock had 11 tackles, including five for a loss while also forcing one fumble.
The two-time defending sectional champion Kats (6-4) advance to its third straight title game, this time on the road at No. 9 McCutcheon (7-3) Friday night. Kokomo fell to the Mavericks 26-10 in early September.
Across the county in Russiaville, the Western Panthers found themselves down 7-0 after Payton Burmeister took the opening kickoff 98-yards for a touchdown in Class 4A Sectional 21. The final 47-minutes of action belonged to the Panthers. Kitchell Gifford rushed for 190-yards and two touchdowns while quarterback Tyler Knepley had 177 rushing yards and three scores.
The win was the sixth-straight for the Panthers (7-4), marking its longest win streak since opening the 2008 campaign with eight wins. Western advances to the sectional finals for the first time since 2012 and will look for its first title since 2007.
The Panthers travel to Mississinewa (9-2) on Friday night after the Indians upended Marion 21-14.