BY PEDRO VELAZCO KOKOMO TRIBUNE
---- — Asked what he changed at halftime, McCutcheon football coach Ken Frauhiger said: “Nothing. Nothing.”
It wasn’t tactical changes that turned a tight game into a McCutcheon romp Friday night at Walter Cross Field. It was just the kids in the trenches on the field turning the intensity up and paving the way for a 42-13 McCutcheon victory over Kokomo after the Mavericks had led just 7-6 at halftime.
“We just got game speed again,” Frauhiger said following his squad’s victory in the semifinal round of Class 5A Sectional 11. “I don’t care how well you practice, it’s just that game speed and practice are different. Our kids adjusted very well at halftime. We made just a couple small adjustments and the kids really played well in the second half.”
McCutcheon (4-6) and Kokomo (5-5) each had a passing TD in the first half as the visitors dented the scoreboard first with a 22-yard strike from Aaron Phillips to star back Nate Deno in the first quarter. Kokomo (5-5) answered with a 17-yard pass from Jordan Rawlins to Jordan Matthews in the second quarter. The Kats missed the extra point. Kokomo was in position to take the lead at the end of the first half, driving to the McCutcheon 7 but Kokomo was repelled on a fourth down play with 1:19 left.
Halftime hit shortly thereafter, and the game changed.
“They got after us up front a little bit and played tougher,” Kokomo coach Brett Colby said of McCutcheon’s defense, which held Kokomo’s running game to just 37 yards in the second half and forced the Kats to go to the air. “They weren’t in any different front look. We’ve just got to maintain blocks and get off the ball better. They got after us in the second half and we didn’t respond very well.”
McCutcheon scored on its third play of the second half, a 23-yard run by Deno to cap a 40-yard drive. The Mavs had a short field to work with again on their next possession and ran three times before Deno uncorked a 32-yard run for a 21-7 lead. Kokomo cut the margin to a touchdown on a three-yard TD by Jeron Gray with 31 seconds left in the third quarter but got no closer.
The Mavs got another long TD run — this time 41 yards — from Deno to push the lead back up to two TDs and got scores on their next two possessions to finish the scoring.
“We had some tough times on the edge of our defense,” Colby said. “We’re young out there with kids, but we’ve just got to make tackles in space and we didn’t do that, and it ended up beating us.”
The Mavericks gained 188 yards on the ground in the second half after running for 96 in the first half. Deno finished with 217 yards on just 18 carries.
“I think [the Kats] just got tired,” Frauhiger said. “Deno, he’s a big-time player, he really is. The more he handles the ball ... the more you get tired of chasing him.”
Gray led Kokomo on the ground with 103 yards and Jordan Holloman had 40. Leading rusher Bo Baker was limited to 29 on 16 yards as the Kats’ found it hard to create openings for their inside running attack. Kokomo QB Rawlins was 5 of 13 for 106 yards with Matthews catching four passes for 105 yards. Each of his receptions went for a first down. Quinton Young had six tackles to lead the Kat defense.
“I was proud of the way we battled,” Colby said of Kokomo’s season, which featured a lot of injuries early. “This team had every reason to give up and hang it up. You’re 0-3, and to come back and win five of our next six is a testament to the kids and how hard they worked all season. We asked a lot of kids this season to do things they’d never done. I was proud of the kids the way anything we asked them to do, they did it and kept fighting.”