BY PEDRO VELAZCO KOKOMO TRIBUNE
---- — After a week off, the four football squads in Class 5A Sectional 11 take to the field Friday for semifinal matchups. Kokomo (5-4) hosts McCutcheon (3-6) on the local side of the bracket, while top-ranked Westfield (8-1) meets Harrison (0-9) on the other side.
“Having two weeks is kind of nice, you get to do a few different things, work on special teams, work on different aspects on offense, work on different aspects on defense,” Kokomo coach Brett Colby said. “Our kids are ready to play. There’s no doubt about it.
“We’ve gelled at the end of the year so I honestly believe right now we’re playing our best football. We’ll see where we’re at. I know the kids are ready for the challenge.”
The Wildkats have won five of their last six games with wins over Huntington North, New Castle, Logansport, Marion and Anderson. The Kats lost to North Central Conference champion Richmond in that span. Kokomo finished with a share of second place in the league for the second straight year.
Bo Baker leads the Kats in rushing with 1,274 yards (141.6 per game) and 12 rouchdowns. Jeron Gray has 223 yards in two games (111.5 per game). Kokomo’s defense has shined during the second half of the season. The Kats haven’t given up any more than seven points in their five wins. Linebacker Fletcher Miller has a team-high 79 stops. Brevin Beard is second with 52.
“We’ve got to be able to run the football and we’ve got to be able to stop the run,” Colby said. “If we can do those two things and play good special teams and not turn the ball over, we’re going to have a chance.
“I think we’re peaking at the right time and defensively we’ve played pretty well. Fletcher Miller’s been a key there for us. He’s led us in tackles six straight games. The secondary ... they’re all underclassmen, but they all are athletic and fast and have played great on defense. Hopefully we can cause some turnovers. That’s been one aspect of the game that has really taken hold during this stretch that we’ve played our best football — our defense has played really well.”
McCutcheon plays in the rugged Hoosier Crossroads Conference. The Mavs lost 42-28 to Westfield in Week 7 and beat Harrison 24-19 in Week 4.
“They play physical football and their schedule is so good,” Colby said.
“They run the ball well, they play good on defense. Those are the two things that they hang their hat on. They’re going to throw a lot of three-step, quick drops. They have some good receivers, but when things are going well, they’re going to try to run you over.”
McCutcheon enters on a five-game losing streak, dropping games to Noblesville, Fishers, Westfield, Avon, and Hamilton Southeastern after a three-game winning streak where they beat Zionsville, Lafayette Jeff and Harrison.
“We look at their schedule and they’re coming in 3-6, they’ve beat the two Tippecanoe County schools, but they’ve also beat somebody down there [in the Indianapolis area],” Colby said. “They don’t play any slouches. It’s like I told our kids, they’re playing teams like [Kokomo’s non-conference opponents] Fort Wayne Wayne and Mount Vernon every week. Hopefully we can come out and play physical and play well and represent what we do over here in a good way.”
McCutcheon, Harrison and Jeff are joining the North Central Conference next season so Kokomo will get an advance look at how the league will change.
“Of the three teams coming into our conference ... they’re the team that’s kind of dominated Tippecanoe County [big-school] football the last four years. We’re going to see right away what we’re in for with them coming into the conference.”
Nate Deno and Blake Elming are McCutcheon’s top playmakers. Deno has rushed for 1,187 yards on 196 carries (6.1 yards per carry) with 11 touchdowns and Elming has 564 yards on 85 carries (6.6 ypc) with six TDs. They also lead the team in receiving — Elming has 13 receptions for 316 yards (24.3 yards per catch) with three TDs and Deno has 14 receptions for 314 yards (22.4 ypc) and five TDs.
McCutcheon has used a pair of quarterbacks. Aaron Phillips has completed 33 of 79 attempts for 636 yards with five TDs and six interceptions. Jami Frier has completed 15 of 33 attempts for 239 yards with three TDs and no picks.
CLASS 5A SECTIONAL 11 Friday's games; 7 p.m. kickoffs • McCutcheon (3-6) at Kokomo (5-4) • Westfield (8-1) at Harrison (0-9)