TERRE HAUTE —
For a half Friday night, Terre Haute North’s Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference game against top-ranked Carmel was going much the same way its eventual victory over Warren Central two weeks ago had gone.
The host Patriots were trailing 7-0 at the intermission, but staying close thanks to a defense that had stopped the Greyhounds inside the 5-yard line twice.
Could history repeat itself?
“We felt good in here [in the locker room] at halftime,” coach Chris Barrett of the Patriots admitted afterward. “We were in a good spot [including getting the ball to start the second half] … but we had some special-teams miscues we didn’t have against Warren Central.”
The opportunistic visitors took advantage of every North mistake, eventually winning a 28-0 game that should have ended with the same score it had been after two quarters. North’s defense got even better in the second half, limiting Carmel to three first downs and 64 yards.
North’s offense met their match, however. Carmel held North to just 55 total yards for the game — a couple of mistakes hurting the yardage totals in addition to the scoreboard. North’s offense never got past its own 43-yard line, and that was on the game’s next-to-last play.
“My first thought is, you can’t be one-dimensional against a defense like that,” Barrett said after the game. “[The Greyhounds’] defense is why they’re No. 1.”
North’s game plan was to run the ball right at the quick but undersized Carmel defenders. Obviously it wasn’t working perfectly, but it was still a viable option well into the third quarter.
But then the visitors scored on a blocked punt, a fumble return and a short drive late in the game, after a fake punt didn’t pick up enough yardage.
And once the Patriots tried to go back to their regular offensive sets, the quickness of the Greyhound defenders showed even more.
“We had some nice runs,” Barrett said afterward, “but we weren’t able to get any confidence in our passing game.”
Carmel opened the game with its only real offensive drive, 79 yards in 13 plays, picking up five first downs in the first five minutes (and only six after that). But once the Greyhounds were in scoring range, big defensive plays by Vasco Billberry and Austin Massey forced the Greyhounds into a fourth-and-3 situation and Chris Spencer dumped the Carmel quarterback after a juggled shotgun snap.
Neither team got another first down for three straight series, but Carmel broke through for a 55-yard, nine-play drive that culminated in a touchdown with 10:45 left in the second quarter.
Poor field position continued to plague the Patriots — coach Kevin Wright of Carmel credited special teams for the Greyhounds win over Warren Central six days earlier — and a shaky snap in a punting situation had the visitors on North’s 4-yard line with less than three minutes to go before halftime. Of all their defensive series in the game, the Patriots came up with their best one at this point — back-to-back losses on running plays, followed by a Billberry interception to stop that threat.
North picked up one first down on its first third-quarter series, and probably would have had at least one more on its second. But Brother Scank, seeing a huge hole in front of him on a second-and-4 run, had his feet slip in the mud — it was the last carry of the game for the senior, who’s nursed a leg injury most of the season — and two plays after that another shaky snap contributed to a blocked punt that lineman Daniel Brewer returned for a touchdown.
Passing was tough in the rain and slop — the two teams combined for 16 attempts that netted 36 yards — and now the Patriots were two scores behind. Soon the Greyhounds punted the Patriots back inside the 10-yard line, and a fumble was returned for a score on the first play of the fourth quarter. The visitors’ final scoring drive needed to go just 35 yards — it still took 10 plays, including two fourth-down conversions — after the failed punt fake.
“Our defense played really well,” Barrett noted, “but it doesn’t help when you play the whole game in their neck of the woods. I thought the weather would be to our advantage [negating the Carmel speed], but they handled it better than we did.”
n Senior honorees — Included in North’s Senior Night introductions before the game was a presentation to the mother of Tre Fletcher, a Patriot senior player who died prior to the start of the season.
A moment of silence was also observed for Cam Taylor, another North senior athlete who passed away two weeks ago.