BY DEAN HOCKNEY
LAFAYETTE, Ind. – For the fourth consecutive season, the Kokomo Wildkats find themselves in the thick of the IHSAA Class 5A playoff battle, reaching the Sweet Sixteen and a berth in the sectional championship game. In a back-and-forth Sectional 11 battle, Kokomo outlasted No. 10 McCutcheon 22-20 to advance in the state tournament.
On a weather night when big plays were not expected, the first four touchdowns were all more than 44 yards – and all four were through the air. After McCutcheon punted away its first possession, Kokomo found the end zone on its second play from scrimmage as Levi Hrabos found Steven Edwards open for a 72-yard touchdown pass just four minutes into the game. On the next series, the Mavericks took a 7-6 lead as Peyton Williams hit Bryson McGhee for a 61-yard touchdown pass.
The second stanza started much like the first. McCutcheon punted to Kokomo on the first play of the quarter, and on the next snap, Hrabos threw a perfect pass to Noah Cameron for a 44-yard touchdown and a 12-7 lead after the two-point conversion attempt failed.
The 12-7 score held through halftime and into the third quarter. Following a Hrabos interception, the Mavs launched a three-play scoring drive that ended with a 60-yard touchdown pass from Williams to Garrett Maish for a 13-12 lead. Down one point, Kokomo grabbed the lead back when Hrabos hit Edwards for a 13-yard scoring strike with 9:34 remaining. Anjelo Flores hit the point after for a 19-13 lead. But less than two minutes later, Williams found Maish open again, this time from 17-yards out, to take a 20-19 lead with 7:56 left in the sectional semifinal contest.
Kokomo then mounted what would become the game-winning drive. Starting at its won 20, Jeremy Baker started the drive with a 23-yard run over the right tackle, Jason Spear gained five yards and Hrabos hit Baker on a 12-yard pass – following a personal foul penalty on McCutcheon, the Wildkats had first-and-10 at the Mavs 12. Three plays later, Kokomo faced a fourth-and-11 at the 13 with 4:45 remaining. That is when head coach Richard Benberry called on Flores to take the field.
“Because soccer season is over I now have [Flores] more,” Benberry told Chris Lowry after the game on the WIOU postgame show. “I had him at practice every day this week. You start to see that this kid is breeding confidence every day, he’s building it. If this is my kicker, I’ve got to roll with him until the cows come home.”
Flores did not disappoint his coach as he connected on a 25-yard field goal for a 22-20 lead – just the second Kokomo field goal of the season. The Kats defense then stepped up and stopped the Mavericks final drive at the Kats 19-yard line.
Hrabos finished 9-26-2 for 191 yards and a pair of interceptions. Baker led the ground attack with 94 rushing yards. Edwards caught four passes for 120 yards and two touchdowns to set the team record with nine TD catches this season. Noah Cameron also led the defense with nine tackles while Jabrian Adams added eight.
Kokomo (5-5) returns to the friendly-confines of Walter Cross Field this Friday night for the sectional championship game against Harrison (5-5). Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. in a rematch of a North Central Conference contest Kokomo won 13-10 on Oct. 5.