WEST TERRE HAUTE —
If a movement develops in the next few days to have video replays of high school football officiating decisions, don’t be surprised if it originates in Sullivan.
Golden Arrow supporters can be excused for looking at the last play of the first half Friday night at West Vigo and wonder what might have been, but the visitors wasted too many other chances to earn much sympathy after a 8-7 Viking victory that created a tie atop the Western Indiana Conference standings.
Leading 7-0 and with three timeouts remaining, the Arrows had pinned the Vikings inside the 20-yard line with 1:09 left in the second quarter. The Golden Arrow defensive unit, which hadn’t allowed a first down in more than 15 minutes of scoreboard time, forced an incomplete pass, then snuffed a running play for a 6-yard loss.
On third-and-16 the Vikings fumbled, and Sullivan had the ball at the 12-yard line with 17.5 seconds left. After two incomplete passes and a running play that lost yardage, the Arrows used their first timeout with 1.9 seconds left.
Payne Fortner, who completed his first nine passes on his way to a 13-for-16 first half, found Michael Hutchcraft inside the 5-yard line, and Hutchcraft tried to reach the ball over the goal line as time ran out — unsuccessfully, according to the officials. And the Arrows left the field with the ball at the 1-yard line and two timeouts in their pockets.
Considering the Sullivan defense had held West Vigo to 17 rushing yards in the first two quarters, it didn’t seem like a big deal at the time. But the Vikings took the second half kickoff and went 60 yards in six plays, Jimmy Maples completing a 14-yard pass to Jacob Creasey and finding Skyler Warnock in the middle of the field from where he completed a 36-yard scoring play.
West Vigo’s usual kicker, freshman Hunter Voils, had been injured in a junior varsity game earlier in the week and Maples had inherited the punting chores as a result. When Maples also lined up to kick the extra point, Sullivan coaches were alert to the fact that a fake might be coming, but West Vigo’s Danny Creasey scored anyway, with 8:25 left in the third quarter.
“That’s why we went for [a 2-point conversion],” coach Jeff Cobb of West Vigo said after the game while explaining Voils’ situation. “But I was expecting more touchdowns in the second half.”
There could have been — probably should have been.
Sullivan’s first drive after the touchdown was thwarted when Fortner had two passes dropped and another hit a potential receiver in the facemask.
West Vigo threatened to add a second score, but Maples was flushed out of the pocket and had to throw the ball away on fourth down.
Sullivan got to third-and-1 at its own 45, but was stopped on two straight runs to turn the ball over on downs.
West Vigo got to Sullivan’s 20-yard line, but Maples couldn’t get around the corner on a fourth-down sweep. And then the Arrows went to work.
Fortner completed a 33-yard pass to Michael Hutchcraft to immediately get the Arrows in West Vigo territory, then made an excellent fake and ran a bootleg for another 20-yard gain.
The Vikings got Sullivan to fourth-and-4, but Fortner found tight end Jake Kinnaman for a first down at the 10. Again the situation got to fourth-and-4, and this time Warnock knocked down a pass in the end zone to get the ball back for West Vigo.
A 33-yard run by Maples on second-and-13 got West Vigo out of its hole, but a Robert Fish fumble recovery got the ball back for Sullivan with 2:18 left. Three plays later, however, Warnock came up with a Sullivan fumble and the Vikings ran out the clock with the help of a big third-down run by Maples.
“This is probably the best feeling you can have,” Maples said shortly after that. “The WIC championship … I can’t explain it. As a team, this was probably the toughest game we’ve had … but our line was pretty awesome.”
“A typical West Vigo-Sullivan game for the most part,” Cobb said. “The team and coaches dedicated this game to the family of Jimmy Miller. He was a key player on the 2002 team and was back for its reunion last week, but he died in a tragic motorcycle accident earlier this week.”
The first half was a defensive struggle until the Arrow defenders seemed to get the upper hand, and the first of two fumble recoveries by Nick Byrd set up the Arrows’ scoring drive. Fortner found Michael Willis on a screen pass that went for a 21-yard score with 4:01 left in the second quarter.
In the second half, though, it was Maples — a defensive standout forced into many additional roles this season — who got the Vikings going.
“He’s the ultimate competitor,” Cobb said. “I’ve watched him grow up into a great team player with poise. He was pressed into service when our regular quarterback was injured [before the season], but he’s one of our best athletes and he’s grown a lot over the course of this year.
“Even if we’d lost, I was proud of how [the Vikings] played,” Cobb added after the hard-hitting game. “And if we have to share a title with someone, I’m glad it was [Coach] Trent [Olson of the Arrows].”