TERRE HAUTE — Visiting Bloomington North threatened North's attempt at its first-ever regional championship by scoring on back-to-back possessions in the middle of Friday night's game.
But the Patriots never buckled, eventually rolling to a 56-21 victory that sets up a semistate game in Indianapolis somewhere next Friday. The Patriots will play Indianapolis Cathedral at a site yet to be named.
"We expected [the Cougars would play well]," coach Chris Barrett said shortly after his second ice- in as many weeks. "They are a very young team, they are very well coached, and they are going to be very good. They played well – but so did we."
The Patriots built a 21-0 lead Friday by scoring on three of their first four possessions, but the Cougars mounted a 79-yard drive in the waning moments of the .
A defensive stop by the Patriots could have put out the visitors' fire, but instead Drew Ludwig made a diving catch of a 4-yard pass from in the end zone with 37.9 seconds left before intermission.
North took the second-half kickoff and, with the help of two big Bloomington penalties, moved 65 yards in six plays. Ricky Brookins – who had 186 yards rushing for the game – finished off the drive with a typically spectacular 15-yard run.
But the Cougars weren't done. Ludwig had another spectacular touchdown catch left, this time tipping a disputed ball in the air to himself to complete a 35-yard play and a 76-yard drive that cut the lead to 28-14.
Kai Stratten returned the ensuing kickoff 45 yards to midfield, however, and the Patriots kept the pressure on the Cougars with a 50-yard drive in seven plays. Short passes for big gains to both Stratten and Brookins were the keys, and Brookins scored from the 4 with 5:37 left in the third period.
Then, after a defensive stop, the Patriots put the game away by scoring twice in 14 seconds. First quarterback Chris Barrett II capped an 83-yard march with a 25-yard option run and then the Terre Haute kickoff coverage, excellent the entire game, came up with the ball at the 12- on a fumble recovery by its leading tackler for the game, D.J. Jackson. Stratten scored from there on the next play.
"Our guys know if they're going to get a break, it'll be on offense or defense, never on special teams," coach Barrett said later. "Our special teams have been very good the last half of the season."
An interception by Ryan Moshak pretty much ended the visitors' chances, and the Patriots put in some reserve backs in attempt to eat some clock. Sophomore Logan Grim had no part of that plan, however, covering the remaining 27 yards on three carries to build a six-touchdown lead. Bloomington North scored the final touchdown of the game on a breakaway run against Patriot reserves.
"We were able to wear 'em down a little bit," coach Barrett said after the game. "The offensive line did a great job, the backs did a great job, and defensively we played really well.
"I'm very proud, very happy and very excited to represent this school and this community."
Bloomington North picked up one first down on its opening drive of the game, but then the Patriots – who had beaten the Cougars in the regular season and also dominated them in a preseason controlled scrimmage – asserted themselves with a 72-yard scoring drive. Barrett II, who had his best rushing game of the season, had two option runs to keep the chains moving, Stratten added a 30-yard run and Brookins scored from the 5.
"Part of our game plan was to get to the edge with option runs and quick screens, to open up the power stuff inside," coach Barrett said.
"[The option runs] have been in the offense this year," his son added. "So many teams focus on Kai and Ricky, and that's left lanes to run in. I found them tonight."
Late in the first quarter, with the score still 7-0, the Cougars found some passing targets. A 15-yard completion to Holden Jastremski and a 21-yard connection to John Earl Rochell-Manns got the visitors moving, and they were inside the Patriot 30 when linebacker Austin Barron stepped in front of a pass and returned in 13 yards.
"I saw it coming, and I bit on it," said the senior, who has had two critical picks in postseason play after missing three games in the middle part of the season because of a separated shoulder.
"Most of [the recent success] is going on my coaches," Barron said. "They put me in the right position to make interceptions."
Not only did Barron's play stop a Cougar drive, it set up one for his offense. The Patriots went 65 yards in seven plays, Brookins contributing a 32-yard run and a 22-yard catch before a quarterback sneak for the score.
After a three-and-out defensive series, the Patriots made it 21-0 on a 56-yard drive that included a 26-yard run by Brookins, 17-yard catches by Nate Carson and Logan Grim and Stratten's 2-yard scoring run.
Had they not taken a knee on their last three plays of the game, the Patriots would have finished with a 500-yard offensive output. Stratten had 78 yards rushing and Barrett II 62, and Barrett II was 9 for 13 through the air for 130 yards.
"This is awesome," the quarterback said afterward. "We're the first team to win a regional for North, and the first in a long time for Terre Haute. I'm so proud of my team and so glad it's them that I'm doing this with ... now we've just got to keep the train rolling."
Bloomington North 0 7 7 7 – 21
Terre Haute North 7 14 14 21 – 56
THN – Ricky Brookins 5 run (Zach Potter kick), 5:03 1st
THN – Chris Barrett II 1 run (Potter kick), 7:35 2nd
THN – Kai Stratten 2 run (Potter kick), 3:36 2nd
BN – Drew Ludwig 4 pass from Jack Smith (Brock Elmore kick), 0:37.9 2nd
THN – Brookins 15 run (Potter kick), 10:10 3rd
BN – Ludwig 35 pass from Smith (Elmore kick), 7:51 3rd
THN – Brookins 4 run (Potter kick), 5:37 3rd
THN – Barrett II 25 run (Potter kick), 11:24 4th
THN – Stratten 12 run (Potter kick), 11:10 4th
THN – Logan Grim 13 run (Potter kick), 8:17 4th
BN – Alex Richardson 48 run (Elmore kick), 5:02 4th
First downs 18 27
Rushes-yards 20-127 51-369
Passing yards 207 130
Comp-Att-Int 18-33-2 9-13-0
Return yards 7 19
Fumbles-lost 1-1 0-0
Punts-avg 4-34 1-35
Penalties-yards 6-62 8-73
Rushing: BN – Jon Frederick 15-84, Richardson 2-49, Griffin Green 1-7, Smith 2-(minus 13). THN – Brookins 22-186, Stratten 12-78, Barrett II 6-62, L.Grim 8-53, Team 3-(minus 10).
Passing: BN – Smith 15-30-2, 194 yards; Green 3-3-0, 13. THN – Barrett II 9-13-0, 130.
Receiving: BN – Richardson 9-68, John Earl Rochell-Manns 3-61, Ludwig 3-48, Frederick 2-15, Holden Jastremski 1-15. THN – Brookins 4-54, Stratten 2-34, Nate Carson 2-25, L.Grim 1-17.
Next – Terre Haute North (10-2) plays Indianapolis Cathedral next Friday in the Class 5A southern semistate. Cathedral is the home team, but the exact site is yet to be announced. Bloomington North finished 7-5.