BY DEAN HOCKNEY
INDIANAPOLIS – For the second time in three weeks, the Kokomo Wildkats found themselves down 21-7 in a state tournament game. And for the second time, they kept fighting. Unfortunately, unlike the regional come-from-behind victory, No. 13 Kokomo could not close the gap before falling to No. 3 Columbus East 42-28 in the IHSAA Class 5A football state championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium.
“We thought if we scored four, we would have a chance – and we did,” said Kokomo head coach Brett Colby. “We just could not get them off the field. The quarterback and two running backs and offensive line are very good. They are well coached and a good football team. We lost to a state champion and they are well deserving.”
“This meant the world to us,” said Kokomo senior Jack Perkins. “We didn’t give up all season. We were determined and competitive. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be out here with my brothers.”
While Columbus East was making its second consecutive state finals appearance – they lost to Westfield in 2016 – the Wildkats were in the final game for the first time. Despite that, they showed the state they belonged on the big stage.
“Our kids never quit and never gave up,” said Colby. “Down 21 to Zionsville (in the regional finals) showed what this team is made of. And they showed it again tonight.”
After losing the pregame coin toss, Kokomo took the opening kickoff and punted after five plays. Four plays later, Columbus East had a 7-0 lead on a Josh Major one-yard touchdown 3:10 into the contest.
Kokomo did not roll over against the heavily favored Olympians. The Kats took over at the 35 and senior running back Jack Perkins rattled off a trio of hard-hitting six-yard runs to set the tone. Senior quarterback Kyle Wade then found Perkins open for an 11-yard gain before Perkins ran three straight times for gains of four, 10 and four yards down to the East 11-yard line. Following a Kokomo timeout, Wade ran a six-yard keeper and Perkins capped the impressive 65-yard drive with a five-yard score through the right side.
“(Jack) played his tail off,” said Colby. “We just kept calling his number. And the blocking of Javias Gray and Nathan Pine and Luke Cameron – they played well. Our kids are proud of what we do.”
Following punts by both teams, East lit the scoreboard next midway through the second quarter. The talented trio of Jamon Hogan, Jaedin Miller and Josh Major ran the ball 12 times for 74-yards with Miller finding pay dirt for a 14-7 lead. Two plays later, Kokomo fumbled to give East prime position at the Kats 24. Major gave the Olympians a 21-7 lead on a five-yard rush with 3:37 left in the half.
With its back against the wall, Wade and Perkins took over and started a drive to keep the Kats in the game. On the first play, Wade hit Perkins for 28 yards before Perkins had rushes of seven and four yards. Wade then rushed for nine followed by a Perkins run to the East 26-yard line. Wade then went airborne to senior Luke Cameron for a 10-yard completion. On the next play, Cameron went high in an end zone double-team to come down with a sensational 16-yard touchdown pass from Wade to trim the lead to 21-14 at halftime.
“That was huge – we had to have that,” said Colby of the touchdown. “If we don’t score there, they could blow us up – it is a different ball game. That got us back into it – the same score as Zionsville at halftime. We finished the half on a good note. We just didn’t dominate the second half.”
Neither team moved the ball to start the second half. Columbus East struck first on its next possession – a seven-play, 66-yard drive with Major finding Klayton Brummett for a 44-yard touchdown and a 28-14 lead. Not to be outdone, the Kats stormed right back with a 40-yard run by Perkins to the East 41. A Wade 16-yard pass to Noah Hurlock set up a two-yard Cameron touchdown run, trimming the lead to 28-21 early in the fourth.
At that point, Columbus East seemed to flip a switch and take the game to a new level. Miller had a 40-yard touchdown run on the next possession and the Olympians defense sacked Wade twice to force a punt. Eight rushing plays later East led 42-21 on a Miller one-yard dive to the end zone with 2:17 remaining. Kokomo completed the scoring on a 19-yard touchdown pass from Wade to Perkins with two second left – a fitting way for the best friends to end their football careers.
“We battled when we were down a couple of touchdowns,” said Wade, who will end his career as the most successful quarterback in 95 seasons of Wildkat football. “I love this team and I thought we were well prepared. They are just a great football team. We came up short, but it was fun.”
Perkins finished with 147 rushing yards on 21 carries and 67 receiving yards on four catches. Hurlock and Wade each had 48 rushing yards while Cameron caught two passes for 26 yards. Wade was 8-11-0 through the air for 111 yards. Gray, Jabrian Adams and Kohl Beard had eight tackles each.
The East trio of runners each went over 100 yards rushing – Miller had 123 yards, Major 119 and Hogan 110.
See this week’s Sports Journal of Central Indiana for more on this story.