Not much that happened in the first half Friday night would have inspired someone to think that West Vigo High School’s football team would have the upper hand against Evansville Harrison.
Then again, not much in the second half would have indicated that the Vikings should have been playing from behind to begin with.
But play from behind West Vigo did and they wore the burden well. A 14-point fourth quarter helped the Vikings rally, but the Warriors held on for 28-22 victory at Harrison’s Romain Stadium.
“I see a lot of sophomores. I see a lot of freshmen starting. I was amazed at how poised they were. Were there mistakes? Yes, it’s Week 1. But I was proud of how hard our kids played,” West Vigo coach Jeff Cobb said.
West Vigo quarterback Jimmy Maples threw for 131 yards and rushed for 130 yards and three touchdowns, all scored in a rousing second half, but the Vikings couldn’t overcome its scoreless first half.
“We were down 22-0, but no one gave up on the sideline. Everybody was up,” Maples said.
A defensive battle seemed in store when both teams’ opening drives petered out. West Vigo went three-and-out on its second series, but that wasn’t the worst of it. Harrison’s David Pruitt slipped Viking protection on the right side and blocked Hunter Voils’ punt. Harrison recovered at the West Vigo 8.
The Vikings forced fourth down, but the Warriors went for it, and quarterback Ryan Hales kept the ball and went up the middle unmolested for an 8-yard touchdown to make it 7-0 with 4:41 to go in the first quarter.
It stayed that way for most of the first half as the teams mirrored one another. Both had costly turnovers. Both penetrated enemy territory with nothing to show for it — West Vigo got to the Harrison 20 twice and came up empty.
The stalemate was broken with 2:08 left in the half when Harrison took over at the West Vigo 20. A textbook two-minute drill by the Warriors was capped by Maliek Parker’s 9-yard touchdown catch on a fade route thrown perfectly by Hales with 10.9 seconds left in the first half.
Harrison got the ball to start the second half and things didn’t get any better for the Vikings. Two plays into the half, Hales found Parker again, this time on a streak pattern down the right side. Hales’ pass was dead-on and Parker out-raced the West Vigo secondary for a 47-yard touchdown to make it 22-0.
The Vikings showed some life from that point. It held Harrison on its next two drives and got on the board late in the third quarter. A 31-yard pass from Maples to Tyler Gustafson set West Vigo up inside the Harrison 10.
It seemed West Vigo’s ill fortune would continue when Maples fumbled the snap, but he picked the ball up himself and wrong-footed Harrison’s defense for a 7-yard touchdown to make it 22-7.
“I took some hits in the first half and the coaches told me to get down. I knew in the second half I couldn’t get down. I had to make something happen,” Maples said.
West Vigo’s good fortune continued when West Vigo’s Dakota Short recovered Harrison running back Kyndrick Hancock’s fumble at the West Vigo 30.
West Vigo’s drive came down to a 4th-and-5 play from the Harrison 10. Maples dropped back to pass, scrambled out of danger and seemed headed for a first down until Harrison linebacker Brown O’Bryan wrapped Maples up … inches shy of a first down.
Undaunted, West Vigo went to work on its next drive. A 39-yard Maples-to-Lane Burke to get West Vigo into Harrison territory. Two plays later, Maples kept the ball on the left side and scampered in for a 16-yard touchdown. A perfectly-executed option pitch by Maples to Hunter Voils on the two-point conversion helped the Vikings get within six points at 22-16.
This time, Harrison had an answer. The Warriors returned the kickoff to the West Vigo 41 and converted a 4th-and-2 at the West Vigo 16. Two plays later, Hancock scored a 9-yard touchdown to make it 28-16.
West Vigo answered quickly. A 24-yard Maples-to-Burke connection set Maples up for a 36-yard touchdown scamper with 3:59 left. Vikings trailed 28-22, but were still alive.
West Vigo held Harrison on its next drive and gave itself a chance. West Vigo drove to the Harrison 2-yard line after converting a fourth down — West Vigo’s ninth of the fourth quarter — inside the 5-yard line with 47.7 seconds left.
Harrison committed pass interference in the end zone on the next play and it caused confusion. Cobb thought West Vigo would get the ball at the 1-yard line and called a running play, but pass interference in high school football is half the distance to the goal. West Vigo got the ball just outside the 2-yard line.
“We don’t see that too often in high school football, a pass interference penalty in the end zone. We were under the assumption it was at the one,” Cobb said.
With a running play already in place and no timeouts left, Maples was stopped on a scamper up the middle.
“The play was called and we realized as the ball was snapped that it was at the 3-yard line. With no timeouts, there was nothing we could do to change that play call,” Cobb said. “Should we have called something different? Yeah, but we were trying to get the play run and be fast. We didn’t want a delay of game.”
West Vigo tried to down the ball to stop the clock, but Maples was in shotgun formation when he downed it. If the quarterback isn’t behind center on a downed ball, it’s a penalty. With less than a second on the clock, time was run off and the game was over.
Time ran out on the Vikings, but it was comeback effort that had the team feeling good about its prospects for the remainder of the season.
“I don’t think we’re ever going to quit. No matter how bad this hurts, no matter how bad we get beat,” Maples said.
West Vigo (0-1) plays at Greencastle next Friday.
Evansville Harrison 28, West Vigo 22
West Vigo 0 0 8 14 — 22
Evansville Harrison 7 8 7 6 — 28
EVH — Ryan Hales 8 run (Ben Hodges kick), 441 1Q.
EVH — Maliek Parker 9 pass from Hales (Jonah Eckels run), :10.9 2Q.
EVH — Parker 47 pass from Hales (Hodges kick), 11:15 3Q.
WV — Jimmy Maples 7 run (Skyler Warnock run), 1:38 3Q.
WV — Maples 16 run (Hunter Voils run), 8:17 4Q.
EVH — Kyndrick Hancock 9 run (kick failed), 4:47 4Q.
WV — Maples 36 run (pass failed), 3:59 4Q.
First downs 18 16
Rush-Yds. 37-136 34-116
Rec. Yds. 131 220
C-A-I 8-17-0 15-24-0
Pen. Yds. 6-47 14-96
Fumb./Lost 4-1 3-2
Punts/Avg. 4-32.3 4-37.8
Rushing — WV, Maples 19-130, Warnock 8-32, Dakota Short 3-13, Lane Burke 3-(-8), Voils 4-(-31). EH, Hancock 10-51, Andrew Finch 8-40, Parker 4-17, Hales 11-5, Lawan Rollins 1-3.
Passing — WV, Maples 8-16-0 131, Voils 0-1-0 0; EH, Hales 14-22-0 203, Deayrius Jackson 1-1-0 17, Rollins 0-1-0 0.
Receiving — WV, Burke 3-35, Warnock 2-45, Short 2-20, Tyler Gustafson 1-31. EH, Jackson 6-59, Parker 5-126, Hancock 4-35.
Next — West Vigo (0-1) plays at Greencastle next Friday. Evansville Harrison (1-0) plays at Evansville Mater Dei on Sept. 6.