By Mark Saluke
Big drives win big games.
That was the case Friday night as Tri-Central and Sheridan battled down to the wire in a Class A Sectional 36 title game that grew tighter as the night wore on.
Trailing by two scores, 28-14, at the start of the third quarter, the Trojans opened the second half with a massive drive that chewed more than eight minutes off the game clock and resulted in a Martavius Hunt two-yard touchdown run and TC looking at a mere 28-21 deficit with 12 minutes to play.
The Blackhawks, however, mounted an epic drive of their own stretching from the final minutes of the third quarter into much of the fourth, culminating with a 26-yard Mike Burnell field goal grazing just over the crossbar to make it a ten-point game, 31-21, with 3:51 remaining.
Tri-Central responded with a quick score to make it 31-28 at 2:52 when Trojan quarterback Cody Howell found A.J. Tentler on a 60-yard touchdown strike.
Sheridan recovered the Trojans’ ensuing onside kick and marched 52 yards in the game’s final minutes, adding a touchdown with :21 showing as Tri-Central fell, 38-28.
“We came out and did exactly what we wanted to do,” TC coach George Gilbert said of the Trojans 16-play, 77-yard drive to open the second half. “Everything was clicking. We had everything rolling. We just couldn’t finish. That’s a testament to Sheridan. They came out and hit us. They didn’t hit us like that the first time around.”
The Blackhawks, which handed TC (10-2) its only other loss of the season in a 22-14 Week 9 setback at Lucas Oil Stadium, jumped out to a 14-0 first-quarter lead after starting its first three drives with excellent field position.
On its opening drive, Sheridan (8-4) recovered Tri-Central’s onside kick at its own 46 and needed just seven plays for Austin Hoover to find paydirt from 20 yards out.
“That wasn’t supposed to happen,” Gilbert said of the opening kickoff. “It was a mistake. No way am I going to start a game against a juggernaut like Sheridan and give them half a field to run.”
A TC punt following a quick three-and-out landed the Blackhawks at midfield but QB Sam Zachery was intercepted by TC linebacker Garrett Kelley. Zachery found redemption three plays later, intercepting Howell’s pass attempt and returning it to the one-yard line, which led to Tyler Callahan’s TD scamper on the next play.
Martavius Hunt made it a one-score game with a two-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter, but the Blackhawks responded with two touchdowns from Hoover, including a 73-yard dash, as Sheridan went up 28-7.
Hoover gashed the Trojans on the ground, finishing the game with 266 yards and four touchdowns on 41 carries.
“That guy was on fire,” Gilbert said. “They blocked well for him. They’ve got big seniors and, once again, they brought it. They found our weaknesses and exploited them.”
Bryce Dowell grabbed a 21-yard TD pass from Howell near the end of the half for the 28-14 score at intermission.
After TC’s opening drive of the second half, the Trojans recovered the ensuing kickoff but couldn’t capitalize. Gilbert saw that possession as a difference maker.
“We recover that kick and don’t convert, that’s huge,” Gilbert said. “We went three-and-out in that situation. We get that and we’ve got them on the run. We tie the score and it’s a shootout.”
Hunt finished with 36 yards and two scores in his final performance. Hunt, along with Tentler and Austin Horn, are the only seniors that TC will lose to graduation.
“Depending on how we look at it, we’ve got nothing but great things ahead,” Gilbert said. “Our three seniors played extremely hard [Friday] night, no doubt. We’re losing two great runners in Hunt and Horn, but we’ve got guys coming up who are ready.”