Terre Haute North learned early Friday night that Castle’s Knights were a different Class 5A high school football team than the one the Patriots played on the opening Friday of the season.
Although the visiting Patriots allowed some early big plays and came out on the wrong side of the statistical summary in the first half, they were also opportunistic and solid on defense and won their first postseason game by a 38-13 score.
Now 8-2 for the year, North hosts Evansville North next Friday.
“I think I’m more proud of tonight’s victory than I was of that Lucas Oil Stadium game [on the season’s opening night],” coach Chris Barrett said afterward. “[The Knights are] a much better football team now. We had a long road trip, but we answered the challenge.”
Much like the first game, North went right down the field on its opening drive, Kai Stratten bursting 24 yards to the 1-yard line and then scoring on the next play.
During the August game in Lucas Oil Stadium, however, North went on to take a 44-0 lead. On Friday, Castle came right back down the field to tie the game, a drive kept alive by a fake punt and a 37-yard pass-and-run play. Sophomore quarterback Will Randell, on his way to a terrific night, scored on an 11-yard run.
Although disappointed by giving up the fake punt, which wasn’t much of a surprise, Barrett did add, “The kids responded well and kept fighting.”
A 32-yard pass play from Randell to tight end Ben Ison had the Knights in scoring position with a chance to take the lead on their next possession, but North stopped a fourth-down play.
Castle’s defense rose up to stop the Patriots a second straight time, but Trey Grim reocvered a fumbled punt and North was on its way. Stratten scored again two plays later, and with three minutes left before halftime, an interception by Austin Bishop set up a score by Ricky Brookins.
The visitors pretty much salted the game away on the third play of the third quarter when Stratten burst 55 yards for a touchdown.
Then the North defense — led Friday by Ricky Scank in the middle of the line and backed up by Wyatt Stoelting and Trey Grim — took the heart out of any possible comeback by the Knights.
Randell, who rushed for 109 yards and passed for 227, took his team to the 5. Seven plays — and nearly three minutes later — the ball was still at the 1 and North had held on downs. Scank and Ryan Moshak had the fourth-down stop and Stratten flattened a Castle runner with a pancake tackle on the previous play.
“We got all our [defensive] starters back and we really stepped it up,” Stoelting said. “That was a big key to our win tonight.”
“We finally finished, got everything done,” Scank added. “We let [the Knights] score once, but that didn’t stop us … we just got the job done; fundamentals, everything.”
Speaking of the seven-play goal-line stand, Scank said, “We were thinking, ‘We can’t let them score.’ “
“It was a really great, prime example of great football,” Stoelting agreed.
“After that, we were thinking, ‘We’ve for sure got a win,’ “ Scank added.
“It was a good indication [that North would win],” Stoelting seconded.
“One of our mottos defensively is ‘Ground to stand on,’ “ Barrett explained. “We’re going to play every play the same way, with extreme effort and recklessness.”
North never really wedged the ball out of the shadow of its end zone, but Stoelting tipped a Randell pass on the first play of the fourth quarter and Austin Barron — one of the several Patriots returning from injury — got the interception. That set up a 67-yard scoring drive, Brookins scoring, and a fourth-down gamble deep in Castle territory set up a field goal by Zach Potter.
North’s running backs had equal reasons to celebrate. Brookins got 90 yards, breaking the school’s single-season yardage record, while Stratten went for 168.
“I wasn’t really aiming for any records, just going out and playing football,” Brookins said. “I’ve got great blockers, always, and they’re helping me get anything I do.”
Brookins was equally thrilled with Stratten’s big game.
“I got to block for him [like he does for me],” Brookins said. “That lets other teams know they can’t just focus on me.
“If they stop me, they’ve still got to stop my partner in crime.”
Terre Haute North 38, Castle 13
Terre Haute North 7 14 7 10 — 38
Castle 7 0 0 6 — 13
THN — Kai Stratten 1 run (Zach Potter kick), 6:56 1Q
C — Will Randell 11 run (Adam Myers kick), 4:53 1Q
THN — Stratten 8 run (Potter kick), 9:57 2Q
THN — Ricky Brookins 9 run (Potter kick), 0:37 2Q
THN — Stratten 55 run (Potter kick), 11:17 3Q
THN — Brookins 2 run (Potter kick), 7:07 4Q
THN — FG Potter 25, 3:35 4Q
C — Randell 1 run (run failed), 2:26 4Q
Rushes-yards 40-278 31-161
Passing yards 40 227
Comp-Att-Int 6-13-0 15-34-2
Return yards 35 13
Fumbles-lost 0-0 1-1
Punts-avg 5-38.6 1-30
Penalties-yards 8-55 4-39
Rushing: THN — Stratten 18-168, Brookins 17-90, Chris Barrett II 4-16, Ryan Moshak 1-4. Castle — Randell 21-109, Logan Guerzini 1-28, Matt Fuller 3-20, Hunter Nilsson 1-2, Christian Peach 5-2.
Passing: THN — Barrett 6-13-0 40. Castle — Randell 15-34-2 227.
Receiving: THN — Brookins 3-13, Nate Carson 2-20, Austin Massey 1-7. Castle — Ben Ison 6-106, Anthony Jordan 3-15, Zach Lockyear 2-29, Jace Parus 2-29, Peach 1-37, Noah Voyles 1-11.
Next — Terre Haute North (8-2) hosts Evansville North next Friday in the Class 5A Sectional 16 championship game. Castle finished 6-4.