By TRAVIS MILLER
INDIANAPOLIS — Tri-Central’s football team made few mistakes in winning its first eight games of the season, but Saturday night at Lucas Oil Stadium with the Hoosier Heartland Conference title on the line, the Trojans’ few mistakes proved costly.
The Class A No. 10-ranked Trojans lost two fumbles deep in their own territory and Sheridan (5-4, 4-0 HHC) turned those mistakes into 14 points in a 22-14 victory.
“They did a really good job with what they do,” Tri-Central coach George Gilbert said of Sheridan. “Our kids didn’t do a good job of capitalizing on their mistakes and they did a good job of capitalizing on ours. That’s what’s disappointing.”
Playing on the biggest stage in the history of the school’s program, the Trojans in many ways outplayed a program that has won nine Class A state championships. The Blackhawks gained only 161 yards on the night, 69 of which came on an early fourth-quarter touchdown run by Austin Hoover that put them ahead 20-6.
“That was just a frustration play,” Gilbert said. “We had stopped that run all night long and he started to pound on us. That’s typical of the Sheridan offense. They let the defense do the work and then they’re going to run power right at you.”
Early on, it was Tri-Central (8-1, 3-1) that set the tone with its defense. The Trojans gave up only one first down in the first half, but it came after Sheridan recovered Trojan QB Cody Howell’s fumble at the TC 17 early in the second quarter. Six plays later Hoover scored from three yards to put the Blackhawks in front 7-0.
A good kick return gave the Trojans good field position at their own 45, and six plays later the Trojans got on the board. Howell made up for his fumble with a 14-yard keeper, but the extra point was missed, making it 7-6 Sheridan at halftime.
Tri-Central continued to be stout defensively in the second half, but another Howell fumble was recovered at their own 10-yard line. Four plays later Tyler Callahan scored on fourth and four to make it 14-6.
Tri-Central drove deep into Sheridan territory, but turned the ball over on downs at the seven-yard line with 12 seconds left in the third quarter. Just five plays after that Hoover broke his big run to make it 20-6.
Things then went from bad to worse as Tri-Central knocked the kickoff out of bounds at their own three, then committed a holding penalty in the end zone for a safety with 9:57 left. Once again, the Trojans’ defense went to work, forcing a turnover on downs after the free kick.
TC’s offense finally got to work with 8:04 left, moving 64 yards in seven plays and scoring when Howell found Austin Horn for a nine-yard TD pass. Jade Pickett caught the two-point conversion pass to make it a one possession game with 5:52 left.
Another defensive stop and a 37-yard run by Horn gave Tri-Central a final chance to tie from the Sheridan nine with less than two minutes left, but a critical quarterback sack led to a turnover on downs to end the game.
“We never got in any rhythm, but we have a young quarterback and he got better as the game went along,” said Gilbert. “We know we’re possibly getting another shot at these guys in three weeks and it will be an exciting sectional final.”
Horn finished with 128 yards rushing in addition to 29 yards receiving on two catches.
Tri-Central will open sectional play next week at home against Wes-Del, which the Trojans defeated last week 53-0.