BY GENE F. CONARD
---- — GASTON — It was as perhaps expected, an overwhelming mismatch from the very first snap. The usual frenzied emotion was just a tad short, but Tri-Central’s football team did what it had to do in running over, around and through Wes-Del’s Warriors here Saturday night, 34-0.
The seventh straight triumph and fourth shutout of the season lifted the Trojan record to 7-1 and set the stage for what will undoubtedly be their stiffest assignment of the year when they trek to Sheridan next Friday for a Hoosier Heartland Conference season finale.
The Trojans and Blackhawks both have 3-0 HHC credentials but Sheridan fell to Linton Friday night, 26-7, to even its overall credentials to 4-4. But season records will have no significance whatsoever come Friday night, and Hawk coach Bud Wright was on the Wes-Del scene Saturday night.
Tri-Central was superior on both sides of the ball in garnering its seventh win. The Trojans shredded the Warrior defense for 282 yards and five touchdowsn on 40 carries and added 100 yards on Cody Howell’s 10-for-16 passing. The Warriors never did solve the Trojan defense, managing a mere 96 yards on the turf in 29 attempts and hitting just 4-of-7 passes for 13 total yards which figures out to 109 total yards in 36 plays (3.02 per play). Howell picked off three passes to further complicate the Warrior problem.
“We played well, especially on defense, but overall we didn’t play up to our usual aggressive style but Wes-Del played us tough,” TC coach George Gilbert said. “It was great that we had no turnovers and had just five penalties (40 yards), but our goal was to get the ball in the hands of [Garrett] Kelley and Cody [Howell].
“Seth Blunck played well on both sides of the ball, and Dillon Smith [11 tackles, two for loss]; Blunck and Colten Leininger [six tackles each] and Darius Stanley [five tackles, one for loss] played well on defense.
“But the game and the intensity changes now,” he added, referring to next week’s finale at Sheridan. “We’ll have to be at our very best. TC hasn’t beaten Sheridan since the 1991 season. But with the return of senior veteran, two-way player Ryan Cage we’ll be at full strength for the first time this year.”
Asked if next week’s preparation would be any different, Gilbert said “no, we’re not going to change a thing — just work on execution.”
“We didn’t play with much intensity, and we never did get into good offensive rhythm,” TC offensive coordinator Shane Arnold said. “I think when we got that big lead we just relaxed. But we’ll take care of that next week.”
It didn’t take the Trojans long to get Wes-Del’s attention. Howell picked off the first of his three receptions on the Warriors’ first play, but TC’s initial drive of 12 plays covering 57 yards died at the Wes-Del one-yard line when a Howell toss to Blunck came up short. But, the Warriors were next called for holding, and the ensuing penalty resulted in a safety and a 2-0 TC lead.
TC took the ensuing kickoff and needed just four plays before Howell went the last nine yards on a keeper for a TD to make it 8-0 after the PAT boot missed.
The Trojans added two touchdowns in the second segment, a 20-yard burst by Smith and a four-yard run by Kelley to make it 21-0 at halftime. Kelley had a profitable first half with 81 yards in 13 trips and Howell hit on five of nine flings for 73 yards. Meanwhile, the Warriors managed just one first down, 20 yards on 12 carries and a menial 13 yards through the air.
The Warriors fared a little better to start the second half, using nine plays to carry to the TC one-yard line. But Leininger recovered a fumbled Warrior snap, and Wes-Del never threatened the rest of the evening.
Cody Colbert upped the Trojan lead to 27-0 on a five-yard bolt late in the third period, and Howell wrote the 34-0 finish with his second score, a seven-yard dash, with 3:29 left in the contest.
Kelly rambled for 137 yards in 21 carries to surpass the 1,000-yard rushing mark. Howell had 65 yards in seven totes. Smith had 39 yards in seven attempts and Colbert added 39 yards in five trips. Blunck caught four Howell heaves for 50 yards. Kelley caught one for 28 yards. Jade Pickett nabbed one for 12. Bryce Dowell caught one for six and Leininger had a grab for two yards.