BY DEAN HOCKNEY
KOKOMO, IND. – Earlier in the week, a pair of Kokomo High School football players announced they would be signing national letters of intent to play sports at an NCAA Division I institution. Days later they were celebrating a record third consecutive Wildkat football sectional championship. And despite the football success, ironically neither player will take his gridiron skills to the next level – they are both standout baseball players.
In the Class 5A Sectional 11 championship game, No. 13 Kokomo avenged an earlier season loss by upending No. 9 McCutcheon 37-7 thanks in part to the arm of Purdue baseball-bound Kyle Wade and the running of soon-to-be Louisville baseball player Jack Perkins.
According to future hall of fame coach Brett Colby, this sectional title might mean a little more that the first two considering the switch in sectional opponents this year.
“It is so satisfying. I mean, the first two were great and there was one team to beat in those sectionals (Muncie Central),” said Colby. “But this year, we had to go through two teams that had already beaten us this year. It was very sweet this year to come together and do that.”
Colby said the Wildkats are peaking at the right time of the season.
“We are putting the effort in Monday through Thursday to win games,” he said. “We had so many injuries and crazy things that have happened, but things have calmed down and we are rowing the boat easier now and not having so many waves.”
Known as a running team, the Wildkats went airborne to stun the Mavericks in Lafayette. On its opening possession, Wade hit Noah Hurlock for a 25-yard pass and Kohl Beard for another 39 yards. He then called his own number for a three-yard run up the middle for a quick Wildkat score. After the defense forced a punt, Wade again took to the sky with a 43-yard completion to Steven Edwards, a short hit to Perkins and a 15-yard scoring strike to Edwards to give the Kats a 14-0 lead.
“Cameron (Colby) and I do a lot of the offensive planning,” said Colby. “We put together some new blocking for this game because we have scored one offensive touchdown in the last eight quarters against (McCutcheon). We had to do something different. We thought we could take some shots.
“I told Cam if we got second and short we were going to throw the ball. I thought we had some speed and could outrun their secondary guys. And Kyle has the arm. So, we just had to get our pass protection solidified, and we picked it up well and it worked. And we made the catches.”
McCutcheon answered with a one-play, 85-yard touchdown run by Austin Bennett only to see Kokomo answer with another score. Starting at its own 23, Kokomo moved the ball downfield and Wade closed the drive with back-to-back completions to Edwards – the final one a 40-yard scoring strike for a 20-7 lead with 1:48 left in the first quarter.
“Our defense played well,” said Colby. “Quite a few of their yards came on one run and the last drive of the game.”
Kokomo closed the first half with a 27-7 lead after Wade found Noah Hurlock for a five-yard touchdown late in the second quarter.
Wade finished the game 11 for 14 for 241 yards passing – the seventh-best game in Wildkat history. His first passing touchdown of the game set the school record for most career touchdown passes, which now stands at 42. He already was he school’s all-time pass yardage leader and now has 3,741 career yards.
Wade was not the only player to establish a school record as Steven Edwards set the single-season touchdown reception record with 12. He finished the game with five catches for 168 yards – fourth best in school history.
Perkins added 110 yards rushing and one touchdown while Luke Cameron had 30 yards rushing. Hurlock and Beard each had 39 yards receiving. Jabrian Adams led the defense with six tackles and Noah Cameron had an interception.
The Wildkats (7-4) travel to No. 11 Zionsville (7-5) on Friday night at 7 p.m. for an Elite Eight clash in the IHSAA Class 5A Football Regional. The Eagles pulled the upset of the tournament when they knocked off No. 2 New Palestine 26-24 on the road last Friday. Zionsville hit a 48-yard field goal with 7.1 seconds remaining to shock New Pal.
“We scrimmaged them in August, so we have seen them the last two years,” said Colby. “We have been down to their place, so we have seen their kids and they have seen us. Am I surprised they beat New Pal? Not really. I thought it would be a toss-up, and it was. They are solid up front on both sides and can throw the ball. At this point, you have to lean on your defense and special teams, score when you have a chance and not turn the ball over – that is how you win these games.”