News From Terre Haute, Indiana

High School

June 23, 2013

WVFCA All-Star Game a defensive battle between evenly-matched squads

TERRE HAUTE — All things considered, it wasn’t the worst time to be without a working scoreboard.

Lightning on Friday had rendered both scoreboards at Memorial Stadium useless for Saturday night’s ninth annual Wabash Valley Football Coaches Association All-Star Game, so the fans on hand got to watch two evenly matched teams go back and forth.

But even though the statistics were even enough, the score wasn’t. An opportunistic Gold team, led by a pair of Vigo County players in seemingly unlikely positions, scored in each of the first three quarters and won the game 18-0, posting the first shutout in the history of the event.

Hard-hitting defense was on display all night by both teams — the dozen or so outstanding running backs in the game averaged less than two yards per carry cumulatively, for example — and the first 10 plays of the game netted two yards. But on a third-and-13 play on Gold’s second series, quarterback Colin Smith of Cascade dropped back and fired a bomb to Terre Haute North’s Charles Dillahunt.

That play didn’t set the tone for the game as much as the ensuing series did. Black marched to three first downs, easily the best drive of the first quarter, only to have a sack and tackle for a loss — West Vigo’s Danny Creasey contributing to both — force a fourth-and-19 punt.

Gold got a pair of big plays from the passing combination of Sullivan’s Payne Fortner to Edgewood’s Derek Driver on its next series — a 42-yarder to get the team out of the shadow of its goal posts, a fingertip grab for a touchdown a few plays later — and now the score was 12-0.

And again Black drove down the field, picking up three first downs only to be stymied by back-to-back pass rushes from Turkey Run’s Riley Sunderman and North Putnam’s Eric Davis.

“We’d just stall out on a drive,” Black coach Jim Sullivan of Casey said after the game. “Mistakes. Little breakdowns here and there.”

“It’s tough coming out here. We’ve never played with some of these guys,” added the Black team’s quarterback Nick Gilliam of Greencastle. “From day one [of all-star practice] we made a tremendous [improvement] … but some didn’t bounce our way.”

Back-to-back interceptions late in the second quarter by Gold’s Chris Neidlinger of West Vigo and Black’s Luke Clapp of Tri-County (in the end zone) kept the score 12-0 by halftime, and in the third quarter Black again started to march.

Big runs by Jesse Miller of Northview, Gilliam and Dalton Livvix of Casey picked up first downs. A fourth-down option run by Gilliam picked up another, at Gold’s 22-yard line.

But Owen Valley’s Caleb Arthur snuffed a first-down run, and on third down Gilliam scrambled but only back to the line of scrimmage — a key point since Creasey, who made the stop, needed one more sack for an all-star record.

“I got two [sacks] and six tackles,” he said in mock disgust afterward, and he’d gotten the two sacks early. Better known as a Viking running back during the season — although he did see some defensive line action — the 180-pounder found himself double-teamed after that.

On fourth down, Gilliam went to the air, and his pass went off a receiver’s hands to Terre Haute North’s Vasco Billberry. The All-Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference linebacker was playing safety on Saturday, and he returned the pick 69 yards into Black territory. Two plays later his Patriot teammate Brother Scank capped the scoring with a 17-yard run.

Billberry added another interception — also off the hands of a Black receiver — in the fourth quarter, and also saw some action offensively at fullback. He caught one pass and also took a handoff, then dealt an option pitchout to Scank.

“I had a lot of fun,” Billberry said afterward. “I never got a chance to [play safety] in my conference … and the coaches told me for every turnover, I got the ball [on offense].”

“His interceptions were big,” noted Gold coach Brian Crabtree of North Vermillion. “Anytime you win the turnover battle, that increases your chances of winning.”

Those last two interceptions were the culmination of what could have been a frustrating night for Gilliam, who had at least half a dozen passes go off receivers’ hands.

“That’s gonna happen,” he said philosophically. “I’ve had plenty of games where guys were doing diving, one-hand catches for me too.”

Miller was the game’s leading rusher, while Scank’s statistics for Gold didn’t reflect his importance — or, as usual, the number of defenders he knocked backward instead of going around them. For his work during the week, he received one of the coaches choice scholarships awarded by Sir Thomas Automotive.

“I just did what I always do,” Scank said. “I knew this was the last time I’d play high school football, so I gave everything I got.”

Often banged up during the 2012 Patriot season, Scank also seemed healthy Saturday — including hurdling several tacklers with a spectacular leap in the waning seconds of the first half.

“I felt good all week,” he agreed.

“The kids played with really good intensity and great enthusiasm,” Crabtree said. “[Winning] capped a great week overall.”

“It was a blast,” said Creasey. “This was the last time I’ll play football, so I went all out. We had the first shutout ever; we made history.”

“It was all about fun,” Billberry added. “We were here to win and we won.”

“They’re great kids and they all have bright futures,” Sullivan said. “This is a fantastic opportunity for area kids to get a chance to play in this game.”

n Other winners — The other coaches choice scholarship went to Shawn McCown of Casey, while the Pete Varda Hall of Fame Scholarships chosen by players’ votes went to Dillon Bell of Terre Haute South and Dante Rehmel of North Central. The 2013 Hall of Fame class of David “Pudge” Bennett, Nick Mourouzis and Dick Ranard helped present those honors.

And for the second straight year the Derek Eitel Memorial Scholarship for academic achievements went to more than one player: Clapp, Matt Schmidlin of Palestine-Hutsonville and Jordan Hahn of Olney all finished their high school careers as valedictorians with 4.0 grade-point averages and were captains of their respective high school teams.

n Injuries — Driver was one of Gold’s busiest players, needing to play cornerback in addition to punting and catching passes.

West Vigo’s Andy Velazquez suffered a dislocated ankle and broke some bones in his leg during a Tuesday practice — he was in surgery Wednesday and in a wheelchair for festivities Friday and Saturday — and Linton’s Koye Kaiser took a big hit on the game’s opening kickoff and was sidelined the rest of the night. Either or both could have been in the defensive backfield.

On the other side of the Velazquez coin, West Vigo’s Ethan Boatman saw plenty of action at linebacker Saturday — his first game action since being injured in the Vikings’ season opener against Evansville Harrison back in August.

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