By Beau Wicker
For the Kokomo Tribune
North Judson —
Scott Mannering’s 200th career coaching victory couldn’t have come at a much better time.
The powerful football program he has built at Lewis Cass is once again a sectional champion.
Mannering’s Kings pounded North Judso 35-7 Friday night in the Sectional 26 final. The Class 2A No. 7-ranked Kings (11-1) will host No. 9 Andrean (10-2) next Friday night for a regional game.
It was the Kings’ seventh sectional title and first since 2009.
All 200 of Mannering’s wins have come at Cass. He’s in his 27th season at the helm.
“I’m more happy for the sectional title,” Mannering said. “This team, when we didn’t win the conference, you hate to be a really good team that never wins a championship and we got one. We played three tough teams in a row, and the guys persevered.
“It was great to win a championship.”
The Kings took a 14-0 lead into halftime against the Bluejays (5-7) after a pair of touchdown runs by quarterback Sheldon Slusser. They then delivered the knockout blow to start the second half, as Drew Shepherd carried the ball 62 yards to paydirt on the first play of the half. North Judson fumbled the ensuing kickoff on its 23-yard line to give the Kings the ball back, and five plays later Payton Young took it into the end zone from three yards out to make it a 28-0 game just two minutes into the third quarter.
Shepherd talked about his big run to open the half, when the offensive line made a big hole for the big speedster to run through.
“That really got the momentum going and set the tone for the second half. Coach always says the first five minutes set the tone, and I think that helped a lot,” he said.
Young capped off the scoring with a 6-yard TD run with 2:03 remaining in the game to make it 35-7. He also had two sacks on defense, the second of which helped end a long Judson drive in the fourth quarter when the Bluejays were still within striking distance.
Cass starting cornerback Justen Downhour missed the game with a knee injury, and cornerback Dion Stevens left in the first half with a concussion.
But the Kings still held North Judson quarterback Caston Sanchez to 8 of 16 passing for 85 yards. The Bluejays hurt themselves with three dropped passes in the first half to end three drives. They had recorded just one first down when they found themselves in a 28-0 hole.
“Dion Stevens had a concussion the first half and we’re down to getting kind of thin, but the guys played through,” Mannering said. “We were able to make some plays there in that third quarter, that opening play was huge for us to get a three-score lead. And then defensively I thought we hung in there and made plays when we had to.”
Gabe Welch was the main workhorse for the Kings, as he gained 93 yards on 19 carries. Shepherd had 89 yards on five attempts, and Slusser added 63 yards on 11 totes and the two TDs.
“I think we played our hardest and we worked hard for it and we trust our training, that’s how we get through stuff,” Slusser said. “That’s big for coach Mannering. He’s a heck of a coach and he knows how to lead a team and make us good every year.
“We’re ready to line up and beat anyone, it doesn’t matter what team. But we never take anything for granted.”
The Kings outgained the Bluejays 333-150 in total yardage, including 317-65 on the ground. Seven Kings ball carriers combined for the 333 yards behind a line that controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.
“We try to play like the old-school Cass teams and I think it works,” Shepherd said.
As for getting win No. 200 for Mannering, Shepherd said, “That was really important. He really deserves it. He’s an outstanding coach.”