Terre Haute North is ranked No. 2 in the Associated Press Class 5A football poll, the loftiest perch the Patriots have ever enjoyed.
Unfancied Bloomington South didn't care.
In one of the most compelling high school football games in North's history, the Patriots survived an almighty scare, but defeated Bloomington South 51-47 in a wild and crazy, end-to-end Conference Indiana contest on Friday that featured 1,283 yards of total offense between the two teams.
Ricky Brookins' 44-yard touchdown run with 1:08 left in the game proved to be the clincher for North, but the Patriots (5-2, 3-2) had to sweat out a Bloomington South last-minute effort that only died when Trey Grim intercepted a Bryce Stancombe pass at the Bloomington South goal line on the final play of the game.
"As a captain and leader, I had to keep us up. We knew had to go out there and finish and we did it," Brookins said.
North running backs Brookins (261 yards) and Kai Stratten (159 yards) each had outstanding games and they needed every one of those yards. Bloomington South's Eli Eads rushed for 347 yards for the Panthers, a school record.
In an offensive smorgasbord that seemed more video game-like than real, North had 639 yards of total offense. Bloomington South countered with 644 of their own. North had 442 rushing yards and averaged 9.4 yards per carry.
"It was like a WAC game or a Mountain West game. This whole conference ... I love it. There's shootouts every week. It's competitive football, guys on both sides battling, that was one heck of a competitive football game. I'm glad we're the winner, but I could've gone either way," North coach Chris Barrett said.
If the game had featured just the first three quarters of action, it would have been more than enough for a typical Friday game, but the teams saved the best for last in the fourth quarter.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, Eads -- who had rushed for 152 yards in the third quarter alone -- plunged in from a yard out to put the Panthers up 40-30.
North was ready for Eads, a past starter who regained his spot when incumbent Tabin Breedlove went down with an injury, but ready or not, Eads made North miss with crafty fakes and cuts that left Patriots' defenders guessing.
"Their backs were side-stepping and we were missing. We had more missed tackles than we've had all season. We were prepared for everything we saw tonight, we just didn't make plays," coach Barrett said.
Down 10, North needed a quick score and got it. Taking just 43 seconds off the clock, a 14-yard Brookins run and a 69-yard Stratten burst led to a 7-yard Brookins touchdown. North trailed 40-37 and needed more help.
Prayers were once again answered. Bloomington South's Marquise Holt fumbled on the ensuing kick return. North recovered at the Bloomington South 34. Four plays later, Brookins scored from 12 yards out to put North up 44-40. The Patriots had scored 14 points in the span of 1 minute, 10 seconds.
"We hate to say it, but when a team scores with not much time left, we get discouraged," Brookins said. "But we finished this one and we played it out."
But Bloomington South was far from defeated. After both teams had empty possessions, Eads went to work again. Eads had 47 rushing yards sandwiched around a 38-yard completion from Stancombe (who threw for 257 yards) to Keenan Franz. Eads scored from five yards out to put the Panthers up 47-44 with 1:37 left.
North returned the kickoff to midfield, but faced 3rd-and-1 at the Bloomington South 44. Brookins got the call up the middle, but he was stuffed by Bloomington South's defensive surge.
Undaunted, Brookins rolled off the tacklers to his left, regained his balance and found a blessed sight ... 44 yards of daylight. There were no Panthers to stop Brookins as he went the distance and put North up 51-47 with 1:08 left.
"Initially he was stuffed short where the ref was lined up and I was like, 'Gosh, it's fourth down.' I was getting ready to get the next play. Then I hear the crowd erupt and I looked to my right and there he goes," North quarterback Chris Barrett II said. "He's the playmaker. That's the guy we went to go to and he pulled it off."
In a game such as this, there was no way the Panthers were done, and on cue, they drove to the North 10, a 40-yard Stancombe-to-Richard Williams catch on 3rd-and-20 got them there.
Stancombe spiked the ball with :02 left and Bloomington South (2-5, 1-4) was fortunate not to face a clock runoff as the officials called it intentional grounding. Left with one last gasp from the North 15, Stancombe scrambled out of trouble, but was intercepted by Trey Grim to give the victory to the Patriots.
"I just wanted us to wrap up. That's all I was worried about was to wrap up. We listened to the coaches on the coverage and we finished it," said Brookins, also a Patriots' defensive back.
The scoring and yardage were compiled from the start and the yardage cash register never stopped cha-chinging.
North got on the board first and its first scoring drive seemed to portend an easy night for the Patriots. Barrett II scored on a 9-yard touchdown scramble. On the drive, North averaged 6.8 yards per carry.
That's as easy as it would get for the Patriots.
As North drove deep into Bloomington South territory, the trouble began. Brookins fumbled after a 21-yard gain on a Barrett pass, gifting the Panthers the ball deep in their territory.
Eads rushed for 62 yards on the Panthers' first play and Stancombe found Williams on a 15-yard touchdown connection to tie the game.
From there, the teams couldn't separate from one another. The Panthers took a 14-7 lead on a 39-yard Stancombe-to-Franz connection after a short North punt.
North then took advantage of a Bloomington South fumble, gaining the ball at midfield. A 25-yard Brookins run, plus penalty, plus 12-yard Stratten touchdown run knotted the contest at 14.
Stancombe put the Panthers back in front with an 18-yard touchdown scramble to make it 21-14. North needed just one play to tie it as Barrett II found Jordan Moothery wide open behind Bloomington South's secondary. Moothery's 64-yard touchdown pass made it 21-21.
Another Brookins fumble -- this time at the North 37 -- gave the Panthers a golden opportunity and they seized it via a 5-yard Stancombe-to-Logan Kirby touchdown.
"He was very disappointed at halftime. I wasn't sure if we'd snap him out of it," coach Barrett said. "I told him great players bounce back. They're resilient."
North ran a crisp two-minute drill in response. Converting a fourth down to set themselves up at the Bloomington South 19, Barrett II found Nate Carson in the left corner of the end zone. Carson was covered well by Bloomington South's Ramonee Bruce, but Carson skied higher for the ball and kept a foot inbounds for an impressive touchdown catch with 15 seconds left.
The extra point was blocked and Bloomington South maintained a slim 28-27 halftime lead. The teams combined for 642 total yards of offense in first half.
"Our guys were disappointed at halftime. But I told them, 'Listen, this is a lot more fun than a 47-7 game. Get out there and enjoy football.' I think that approach we took kept them positive," coach Barrett said.
The Panthers picked up where they left over after the break. Eads had 52 rushing yards on a 59-yard scoring drive to open the half, capped by a 13-yard touchdown run to make it 34-27.
The Panthers were driving again to take a two-score lead when the Patriots finally broke the Panthers' stride. On 4th-and-2 from the North 15, Stratten intercepted Stancombe in the end zone. North used the turnover to creep within four on a 28-yard Zach Potter field goal. That score set up the wild fourth-quarter ride for both teams.
The points figure to keep coming next Friday as North plays at high-flying Perry Meridian.
TH North 51, Bloomington South 47
Terre Haute North 7 20 3 21 -- 51
Bloomington South 14 14 6 13 -- 47
THN -- Chris Barrett II 9 run (Zach Potter kick), 644 1Q.
BHSS -- Richard Williams 15 pass from Bryce Stancombe (Marc Dobbs kick), 1:24 1Q.
BHSS -- Keenan Franz 39 pass from Stancombe (Dobbs kick), :16 1Q.
THN -- Kai Stratten 12 run (Potter kick), 10:04 2Q.
BHSS -- Stancombe 15 run (Dobbs kick), 7:30 2Q.
THN -- Jordan Moothery 64 pass from Barrett II (Potter kick), 7:12 2Q.
BHSS -- Logan Kirby 5 pass from Stancombe (Dobbs kick), 2:37 2Q.
THN -- Nate Carson 19 pass from Barrett II (kick blocked), :15 2Q.
BHSS -- Eli Eads 13 run (kick failed), 10:40 3Q.
THN -- Potter 28 FG, 3:17 3Q.
BHSS -- Eads 1 run (kick failed), 11:47 4Q.
THN -- Ricky Brookins 7 run (Potter kick), 11:04 4Q.
THN -- Brookins 12 run (Potter kick), 9:54 4Q.
BHSS -- Eads 5 run (Dobbs kick), 1:37 4Q.
THN -- Brookins 44 run (Potter kick), 1:08 4Q.
First downs 26 29
Rush.-Yds. 47-442 44-387
Rec. Yds 197 257
C-A-I 12-24-0 19-29-2
Fumb/Lost 3-2 2-2
Pen/Yds. 5-36 4-42
Punts/Avg. 4-32 3-31
Rushing -- TH North: Brookins 27-271, Stratten 17-159, Barrett II 3-22. Bloomington South: Eads 32-347, Stancombe 10-32, Williams 2-(-2).
Passing -- TH North: Barrett II 12-24-0, 197. Bloomington South: Stancombe 19-29-2, 257.
Receiving -- TH North: Brookins 4-53, Carson 4-46, Moothery 2-79, Logan Grim 2-19. Bloomington South: Franz 4-92, Williams 4-72, Kirby 4-41, Clay Riggins 4-40, Eads 3-7, Carson Lien 1-5.
Next -- TH North (5-2, 3-2) plays at Perry Meridian and Bloomington South(2-5, 1-4) plays at Columbus North next Friday.