BY GENE F. CONARD KOKOMO TRIBUNE
---- — SHERIDAN — It happened, stunning perhaps to those who didn’t witness it and wouldn’t believe it. But miracles are for those who believe and will not bend or surrender to the odds or those who refuse to bow to any and all.
That was precisely the case here Friday night when a gutsy, stubborn and supremely confident band of Tri-Central Trojans thumbed their noses at history and seven-time state champion Sheridan with a 33-27 victory. It was the first TC triumph over the Blackhawks in 20 seasons, and its eighth straight success also gave the Trojans their first-ever Hoosier Heartland Conference championship.
Coach George Gilbert’s Trojans, now 8-1 whipped the Hawks of coach Bud Wright in every phase of the game.
They finished with a 20-11 superiority in first downs; outgained them via the rush, 207-172, and also the passing game, 99 yards to 23. The Trojans had four fumbles and lost two and had 65 yards in penalties.
But on this Blue & Gold history-making occasion, the Trojans weren’t about to let fumbled snaps and overzealousness interfere with a goal they had set way back in August. The Trojans ran for three touchdowns and passed for two others. The Hawks, meanwhile, had to settle for three scores via the run and one with :57.9 left in the contest when Austin Hoover snatched the ball out of Garrett Kelley’s mitts after a seven-yard gain and raced 36 yards for a TD that closed the score to that final 33-27 count, giving diehard Hawk fans one last gasp of a hope.
The ensuing onside kick was grabbed by TC’s Josh Murdock on the fly who immediately took to the turf. All that remained was for quarterback Cody Howell to kneel twice and let the clock take its last breath.
“This was a very big win and the kids just rose to the occasion,” Gilbert said. “But we practiced hard all week, and our main emphasis was fly around and get to the ball.
“The only problem we had was we kept shooting ourselves in the foot,” referring to those four fumbles and six penalties. “The kids just never quit, and Cody did a great job at quarterback. But Coach [Shane] Arnold and coach [Memo] Perez had a great game plans.”
“Our offensive line was tremendous and our backs ran hard all night. We set the tone early with our running game, and when they plugged up the middle we went to the pass,” Arnold said.
A key touchdown came with 3:35 remaining and TC protecting a 27-20 lead while sitting on a first and 10 at the Hawk 19. Howell faked to a back, turned and bolted 19 yards for his second TD. The pass for two failed, but that 33-20 lead spelled doom for a Sheridan team that had managed just three first downs the last half and had the field to go at least twice to overcome the obvious.
TC’s first scored on a 10-yard Howell pass to Jade Pickett to end a seven-play, 84-yard drive that got its start with a 34-yard bolt by Seth Blunck. Sheridan got even at 7-7when Hoover scored his first of four TDs on a three-yard burst with 3:47 left in the first period.
The Trojans went back on top, 13-7, when Howell found Bryce Dowell on a 25-yard fling in the corner of the end zone. Sheridan retaliated again when Hoover raced 18 yards with 10:22 left in the first half. Oddly, the TC blocked two successive PAT kicks to leave the count at 13-all, but that lasted until Cody Colbert bolted 12 yards for a TD at the 6:32 mark. Duncan’s second of three PAT boots made it 20-23.
The Hawks came barreling back, and Hoover got the Hawks even again with a one-yard plunge to make it 20-20 at halftime.
Dillon Smith put the Trojans up for keeps with :24.9 left in the third period with a a one-yard lunge; Duncan booted the PAT, and Howell wrote the finish when he conned the Hawk defense and went 19 big yards for a TD that put Sheridan down for good.
Kelley had 86 yards in 18 trips; Smith had 43 yards in nine carries, Colbert had eight rips for 42. Howell also hit on seven of 11 passes for 99 yards and two TDS. Hoover led Hawk rushers with 117 yards in 18 carries.