WEST TERRE HAUTE —
Perhaps helped by the season’s first rainy Friday night, two defenses were the show at West Vigo in Western Indiana Conference high school football, the host Vikings rewarding their homecoming crowd with a 14-6 win.
It was the first victory of the season for West Vigo, and it was a costly one. Sophomore Hunter Voils, the game’s leading rusher — and, with one attempt, its leading passer — suffered a broken collarbone in the second half and will be out the rest of the season.
Two other key Vikings, senior lineman Sam McClain and sophomore linebacker/running back Dakota Short, also had to be helped off the field, Short with the apparent recurrence of a hip pointer and McClain with some nagging ankle and groin issues. McClain returned, Short didn’t.
But the West Vigo defense persevered no matter who was available, holding the Wildcats to just one first down and 56 total yards, only seven of those yards after halftime.
That’s when the rain was coming down the hardest, but coach Chuck Sorrell of South Vermillion refused to make excuses.
“I don’t think anything,” he said when asked what effect the weather had on the game. “West Vigo had a very good game plan to stop the run, and we didn’t execute throwing the ball like we should have.”
South Vermillion had an injury issue there too. Sophomore quarterback Jordan Branz was dinged in the first half and senior Adam Crouch, who started the game at running back, went back to the position he’d played a year ago.
“Jordan got banged up in the first half so we put him at receiver,” Sorrell said, “but we couldn’t protect [Crouch] well enough to get [Branz] the ball.”
Coach Jeff Cobb of the Vikings knows that feeling. West Vigo quarterback Jimmy Maples was running for his life most of the game too, and if it hadn’t been for turnovers — there were seven, four by South Vermillion — and one punting miscue, the score would have been even lower.
The game’s best offensive play was West Vigo’s first one, after two quick penalties forced the Wildcats into a third-and-24 situation — not an unusual spot to be for either team, as the game progressed — and an eventual punt.
Maples pitched the ball to Voils, apparently for a toss sweep around the right side. Instead, Voils turned and lofted a pass back to Maples, who got a great block from Tyler Gustafson and scampered all the way to South Vermillion’s 9-yard line.
“We’ve worked on that before,” Cobb said after the game. “Coach [Troy] Isles saw something on film and said that would be our first play … when you’re 0-4, you’re going to take some chances.”
Maples eluded the pressure and fired an 8-yard touchdown pass to Daniel McClain three plays later, and the Vikings had the lead.
A trade of fumbles on back-to-back plays less than two minutes later had West Vigo in South Vermillion territory again but — after Voils picked up a first down on a 10-yard run — that drive stalled and Maples was sacked on fourth down. A long punt return by Voils was wiped out by a penalty, and a fumble recovery by Skyler Warnock in Wildcat territory was nullified by an interception by Crouch.
“The first half we wasted a lot of golden opportunities,” Cobb said. “South Vermillion had Owen Valley on the ropes, so you can’t keep a team like that around, and that’s what we did.”
Voils had one more punt return in him, however, and he bolted 30 yards to the South Vermillion 24 late in the second quarter. Runs by Warnock, Short and Voils picked up a first down — the Vikings finished with just eight of those — and Maples found freshman Tyler Kernstein for an 11-yard touchdown pass with 1:16 left in the first half.
That insurance touchdown proved huge immediately in the second half. With the rain pouring at its heaviest, the Vikings committed back-to-back penalties deep in their own territory, then couldn’t get a punt off when the snap bounced back to Voils.
South Vermillion took over at the Vikings’ 9-yard line and bulldozed their way to a touchdown in three plays, Crouch scoring from the 2 with 7:40 left in the third quarter.
West Vigo responded with a two-first-down drive into Wildcat territory that was halted by an interception, and neither team threatened again the rest of the game.
The Vikings got fumble recoveries from Isaac Boatman and Ryan Hackett and an interception by Austin Cutliff in addition to Warnock’s recovery. Short and McClain were stalwarts too, as long as they were healthy.
Lineman Adam Stultz and Gavin Clark — a combined 605 pounds — were stout inside for the Wildcats, who also got big defensive games from Daniel Shew, Hunter Thornton and Tanner Smith.
“We made some [defensive] adjustments this week, and it helped the kids get a little more comfortable,” Cobb said.
“We really put a focus on tackling and flying to the ball this week,” said Sorrell, whose own defense held the Vikings to 141 yards. “They just made that one play early.”