Archive for Lucas Oil Stadium

WESTERN TAKES GAME TO THE HOME OF THE COLTS FOR IVY TECH INVITATIONAL

Western's Hudson Featherstone goes airborne to gain extra yards against Eastbrook in Lucas Oil Stadium. (SJ Photo by William Gibson)

BY DEAN HOCKNEY

INDIANAPOLIS – The Western Panthers entered the 2012 season with a new coach, a new quarterback and a new playbook courtesy of head coach Nate Andrews. So when they traveled to Indianapolis to play Class 3A No. 7-ranked Eastbrook in the Ivy Tech Invitational at Lucas Oil Stadium, many thought the less-experienced Western squad would be overmatched – but that was not the case. Despite a 33-16 loss, Western showed they belonged in the game; they will just need to cut down on the miscues.

“We gained nearly 350 yards in total offense to their 185, and that looks pretty impressive,” said Andrews. “But we let some opportunities slip away. It is misleading. We won every statistical category but turnovers and the scoreboard.”

Turnovers were the key to the game, as four Western interceptions spelled doom for the Panthers. Two proved costly as they were returned for touchdowns – including the first score of the game. Heath Brooksher returned a pick for 51-yards in the first quarter.

“So turnovers doomed us, but we will continue to work,” said Andrews. “As long as these kids keep buying in and working together and building a team concept, which they so long lacked, we will get there. You can prepare the kids for adversity and that is something that we talk about consistently. That is one area that we have been lacking. Not everything is going to be prefect, and how you handle that is what we are teaching. We had a lot of bad things happen last night, but the kids are buying in and we are getting better.”

Trailing 12-0, Zach Simpson put the Panthers on the board with a knuckle-ball 37-yard field goal, but Jacob Singer connected with Mac Zoda on a 45-yard pass to put Eastbrook up 19-3 heading into the half.

James Davis, seeing his first action of the season, found pay dirt for Western in the third quarter to cut the lead to 19-10. Then, following an Eastbrook punt, Western seemed to be driving for a second score, only to see Singer grab his third interception of the game and return it 50-yards for a back-breaking touchdown. Singer would find the end zone for a third time early in the fourth quarter to put the game away for Eastbrook.

“Eastbrook is Eastbrook, and they are going to make the plays they are supposed to play,” Andrews said.

Davis finished with a game-leading 188 yards on 28 carries while Hudson Featherstone added another 43 ground yards. Drew Bellus passed for 52 yards, with Ronnie Smith snagging five catches for 39 yards.

“James is a special back and has earned our trust,” said Andrews of his star runner. “He is a good player, but up front we have to do a better job so he doesn’t have to work as hard.”

Western (0-2) returns to action Friday night against Taylor (0-2), while Eastbrook (2-0) battles Alexandria (2-0).

“We are young and we aren’t doing things the way we expect,” concluded Andrews. “But we are improving, and as long as the kids are representing the school well off the field and are giving everything they have on the field, I am the proudest coach in the world.”

SPORTS JOURNAL: 2011 STORIES OF THE YEAR

Kokomo's run to the IHSAA Class 4A state championship game is the top sports story in Central Indiana for 2011. (SJ photo: WILLIAM GIBSON)

#1 KATS RETURN TO STATE PROMINENCE

What a run it was. It started with a 10-game winning streak to begin the season, witnessed a North Central Conference title in the middle, and ended in heartbreak at Conseco Fieldhouse. But any way that you look at it, the Kokomo Wildkats boys basketball team thrilled not only the city, but all of Howard County as they enjoyed a memorable run that culminated with an IHSAA Class 4A state runners-up finish. It marked the fifth bridesmaid honor in the 108-year history of the program but the first trip to the finals since 1997.

Kokomo’s historic run started with easy wins in the Logansport Sectional over Harrison (60-47), Lafayette Jefferson (68-51) and the host Berries (92-57). The Kats then downed Jay County 44-37 in the semi-final game of the Marion Regional, then won a thrilling double-overtime game against Pendleton Heights 58-55 when LaBradford Sebree beat the horn with a 3-pointer from deep in the corner of the Bill Green Athletic Complex. Next up was a trip to the Final Four in the Lafayette Semi-State against No. 1-ranked and undefeated Munster, and it took a last second 3-pointer by D.J. Balentine to send the 10th-ranked Kats to the state finals against No. 4 Bloomington South.

Unfortunately, the run ended as Kokomo was ice cold from the field and South downed the Kats 56-42 on the biggest stage of the high school season. Kokomo’s normally solid shooting squad only hit 1 of 15 from beyond the arc in the heartbreaking loss.

Regardless, the run was a thrill ride for the Wildkat Nation. Thousands of fans followed Kokomo throughout the tournament and it was apparent this group of Red and Blue uniformed Kats won the hearts of a community. Names like Balentine, Swain, Sebree, Persons, Tinder, Moses, Bridgeforth, Salinas, Bowen, Meriwether, Collins, Burnett, Fowler and Clark will be remembered for a long time. No doubt – this was the top sports story in Central Indiana for 2011.

The Kokomo boys basketball team became the darlings of the community as they made a run to the IHSAA Class 4A state finals (see page 9 for the story). After the season, head coach Brian McCauley was named as a coach for the Indiana Junior All-Star team and University of Evansville recruit D.J. Balentine was named a core-five member of the Indiana Junior All-Star team.

#2 BEACHY STRIKES OUT THE SIDE

Northwestern High School graduate Brandon Beachy took the Major League Baseball world by storm this year. After being called up to help the Atlanta Braves close the 2010 season, Beachy headed into the 2011 Spring Training with one goal – make the Braves rotation. He did and became a stalwart in the rotation. By the time he dusted off his Braves uniform for the final time of 2011, he had a record of 7-3 in 25 starts, with an ERA of 3.68 in 141.2 innings.

He also recorded 169 strikeouts to set the Braves franchise rookie strikeout mark, breaking the previous mark of 156 set in 1950. The righties 10.7 strikeout rate was second best in the Major Leagues and fourth best in MLB history for rookie pitchers. That is why he is the Sports Journal co-Athlete of the Year for 2011.

#3 GO SPARTANS!

For the next four-and-a-half years, Howard County will become fans of the Michigan State Spartans as two area players are friends with Sparty. Kokomo graduate Brandon Wood has done what few Wildkat basketball players have done before, break into the starting lineup of a Big Ten school. After being named to the All-Horizon League First Team and graduating from Valparaiso University with eligibility left, Wood chose to play one season for the Spartans and has made an immediate impact – even starting the Carrier Classic game in front of President Barack Obama.

Once Wood graduates this spring, Howard County residents will tune into Spartan football to watch soon-to-be Eastern graduate and three-sport standout Josiah Price play on the gridiron for MSU head coach Mark Dantonio. Price finished his high school football career by leading the Comets to within one win of an improbable Mid-Indiana Conference title. He was named Associated Press Class 2A First Team All-State and the Indiana Football Coaches Association placed him on its Top 50 All-State Team. Maybe a berth on the All-Big Ten Freshman squad is next.

#4 LET’S GO COUGARS!

It sounded ambitious – maybe even unattainable – when it was formally announced in early 2011. IU Kokomo Chancellor Dr. Michael Harris proclaimed that he wanted to start an athletic program and have a women’s volleyball team on the court by the start of the season in the fall. Never mind the fact that there were no coaches, players or facilities.

But when the fall season started, there was Dr. Harris standing in the Northwestern High School bleachers proudly cheering on his IU Kokomo Cougars volleyball team and head coach Kristen Snoddy. At the same time, Jace Thompson was busy signing players and forming a college basketball team – and when they took the court for the first time just two months later – the Cougar men promptly won its first game on the road in Gary against IU Northwest.

So congratulations to Dr. Harris and the new Cougar Nation on setting the bar high and going for broke. We hope the NAIA application is approved and more sports are added in the future. Let’s go Cou-gars (Clap. Clap. Clap, clap, clap)!

#5 AVERTING CATASTROPHE

On Dec. 3, 14 members of the Kokomo High School girls swim team found themselves on a bus with a driver who would eventually be tested with a blood alcohol concentration of .20-percent. According to the Howard County Sheriff Department, bus driver Theresa Mast was arrested for driving while intoxicated, but thanks to the quick thinking of the head coach and a parent following the bus in a privately owned vehicle, Mast pulled the bus over before anyone was hurt.

According to police reports, a witness said, “it was the scariest thing she ever witnessed.” Mast pled not guilty to the charges and is now awaiting a court date after being charged with three counts, including a D Felony Operating a Vehicle While Intoxicated Endangering a Minor. The Kokomo-Center School Corporation terminated Mast.

See the January 3 edition of the Sports Journal for the whole list of top stories. Digital subscriptions are free!

KATS, BRIDGEFORTH DISMANTLE VIKINGS

Kokomo captains Armon Bridgeforth, Bo Butler, Dylan Orbaugh and Cameron Colby accept the Horseshoe Classic championship plaque. Bridgeforth was also named the game MVP. (SJ Photo: DEAN HOCKNEY)

(SPORTS JOURNAL WEB EXCLUSIVE)
BY DEAN HOCKNEY
INDIANAPOLIS – After a 0-2 start, the Kokomo Wildkats made an statement last week that they were still the team to beat in the North Central Conference after they knocked off Muncie Central 62-12. In week two of loop play, the Vikings got the message after the Kats dismantled nearly every facet of the Huntington North playbook en route to a 40-14 win in the second game of the Horseshoe Hall of Fame Classic at Lucas Oil Stadium.

The four-time defending NCC champs jumped on the back of left wing back Armon Bridgeforth who scored five times in three different manners. After forcing Huntington to punt on its first possession, Bridgeforth took the Kats first play from scrimmage over the right tackle, slinked through the line without being touched and scampered 55 yards to put Kokomo (2-2, 2-0) on the board early. Bridgeforth was playing in his second game after missing the first two due to a hand injury.

“They (Kokomo offensive line) made a little hole in there, and once they have a hole I can go,” said Bridgeforth, who has 401 yards and five rushing touchdowns in his two post-injury games. “I trust them to do their job and they trust me to do what I do. I have to give the line all the credit, they were great tonight.”

After another defensive stop on three plays for Kokomo, the offense moved the ball downfield from its own 36. Seven plays later it put six more on the board behind a second Bridgeforth touchdown run over the right guard, this one for 29 yards and a 13-0 lead following the missed PAT.

“Our line was good today,” said Colby. “We had some kids back so we had some depth, and that helped.”

While the defense continued its dominance, the Kat offense stalled on a failed fourth down play and a pair of fumbles. But as time ticked off the first half clock, Bridgeforth electrified the Red and Blue faithful with a two-yard touchdown pass to Gordon Jenkins to give Kokomo a 21-0 lead heading into the locker room.

“The coach calls the plays and he knew the defense would bite on the run, so we faked the run and passed it,” said Bridgeforth.

Huntington North (1-3, 1-1) held its own in the third quarter, but just when they thought they could pat themselves on the back for holding Kokomo scoreless, Bridgeforth struck again – this time on a 47-yard punt return with three minutes left in the quarter, giving Kokomo a comfortable 28-0 lead.

“I think we are a better 2-2 team than we would be a 4-0 team because we had to scrap with Armon was out,” said Colby. "And it made our kids work harder in practice and dig deep.”

Following Bridgeforth’s return, Huntington North found some life courtesy of a Caleb Richison 90-yard kickoff return for a score. But four plays later Jenkins ran over the left guard and cruised 43 yards to put the game out of reach. Bridgeforth would add another touchdown – this one a 52-yard run early in the fourth quarter – and Kokomo took a giant step towards a fifth consecutive NCC title.

Bridgeforth received the Horseshoe Classic Most Valuable Player award after leading the Kats 519 yard offensive attack. The senior racked up 242 yards on the ground and 323 total yards while Jenkins added 135 rushing yards.

Bo Butler led the defense with nine tackles while Tayler Persons made five stops and forced a fumble.

With the win, Kokomo extended its NCC winning streak to 31 games.

“It is nice to be sitting where we are and we have had a nice two weeks,” said Colby on the Kats two conference wins. “Now we can make a run and make some history.”

After three straight games on artificial turf, the Kats return to natural grass when they visit New Castle (0-4, 0-2) next Friday night.