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Peru shuts down Heritage to reach sectional Final

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THE RACES: Peru’s Brayden Masters (3) leaves numerous Heritage players in his wake as he races 48 yards for the opening touchdown of IHSAA Football Class 3A Sectional No. 27 semifinal Friday night. Masters ran for 145 yards on eight carries, scoring twice, while preventing a second Patriot score at the end of the game in the Tigers’ 37-7 win.
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RESTRICTIONS: A Heritage ball carrier is wrapped up and dropped for a loss by Peru’s Chase Tyler (53) during the first half of Friday night’s Sectional No. 27 semifinal game. Tyler and the defense restricted the Patriots to one late score after a running clock had been enforced in a 37-7 win for the Tigers, sending the team to the championship game against Fort Wayne Concordia Lutheran this Friday.

BY TRENT SCOTT - tscott@perutribune.com

Right when it seemed that Peru was coming to grips in the semifinal of IHSAA Football Class 3A Sectional No. 27, the game threw the hosts a curveball in the form of an injury to starting quarterback Michael Chandler.

The Tigers didn’t miss a beat, however, as Levi Strong took over the reins of the offense and guided the home team to a 37-7 win over Heritage and a fifth-ever sectional title game for the school.

Peru head coach Romison Saint-Louis said the players didn’t buckle because of the circumstances but instead made the most of every opportunity they could.

“We’re pleased with how our kids stepped up,” Saint-Louis said. “We try to do a really good job of preparing them each week and we’re already short on numbers from other injuries and attrition throughout the season.

“To see that our kids were able to step up and do what was required was good to see. One thing I learned in coaching early on is you have to prepare for any situation and have a plan for injuries.

“It sucks we have to go to those but that’s the current situation,” Saint-Louis added. “Our kids are prepared mentally and physically with reps each week and stepped up to make plays.”

After a shaky opening for both teams, the Tigers got on the scoreboard first when Brayden Masters rumbled 48 yards for a 7-0 led with three minutes left in the first quarter.

The Patriots soon looked to be in position to reply only for a poor toss on a sweep play to be recovered by the hosts at their own 35-yard line.

Following a Peru punt, Heritage picked up a first down, only to see a Parker Tracey pass intercepted by Dakota Scarlett at the Tiger 40-yard line.

Seven plays later Strong, who was by now in at quarterback following Chandler’s injury, followed Masters into the endzone from five yards out to double the lead to 14-0 with 3:34 left before halftime.

“Our defense played such a good game and gave our offense the ball five times, which is huge,” Saint-Louis said about the turnovers. “Those make a big difference in the game and it was a good night for us.

“Even if our offensive drive didn’t go well, our defense would get us the ball back. Heritage did some nice things that we had to find answers to figure out but any chance we got a takeaway we were going to try to score off the bat.”

The Patriots would reach midfield on their next drive but on 4th-and-1, the hosts stiffened as Gage Pritchard was stuffed at the line of scrimmage, giving Peru the ball just inside the midfield line and with 1:24 to work with.

Strong saw a pass just overshoot Kade Townsend that would have put the ball inside the Heritage redzone but the miss was rendered moot when Masters found a seam in the middle of the field and sprinted away for a 49-yard score, giving the hosts a 20-0 lead.

Another Tiger interception of Tracey, this time by Kade Townsend, gave the hosts the ball at their own 46-yard line and a 35-yard Strong run gave Zach Johnson a chance to add a late field goal to close the half.

The snap was high and was recovered by Heritage’s Kiel Eldridge, who returned the ball well into Peru territory before being brought down to end the half.

“On the kick, the snap wasn’t where it needed to be and I was thinking I just wanted Zach to fall on it,” Saint-Louis said about the end of half field goal. “The ball popped up straight into (Eldridge’s) hands and he’s running it back.

“Braxten Robbins, who is a freshman out there doing the holding in place of Michael, made a big play to chase him down and make the tackle. He’s a guy that comes in at practice, works hard and made a huge play because it changed the whole momentum of the game.”

The Tigers received the opening kickoff the second half and needed three plays to score as Strong had runs of 47, 3 and 20 yards, the latter an option run that reached the endzone for a 27-0 advantage.

A great kickoff return from Beau Bosler set up the Patriots at midfield and Tracey worked both the air and the ground to reach the hosts’ nine-yard line with 1st-and-Goal.

After an incomplete pass, Tracey tried to zip a ball in near the goal line but the catch was missed, deflected into the air and Townsend collected the pass for his second interception of the night.

Matt Ross nearly scored after hauling in a Strong pass, racing 71 yards before being knocked out of bounds at the 10-yard line but after a bad toss play lost seven yards and a potential score went off the hands of Townsend, Johnson got a second crack at a field goal and potted his 34-yard attempt to increase the lead to 30-0.

Heritage punted after a three-and-out, fortunate to not end up with another Tiger interception, but the hosts were able to enforce the running clock when Strong bolted in from 20-yards out to make it 37-0 at the end of the third quarter.

The Patriots finally got on the scoreboard with a quickfire drive that saw Tracey go 7-of-8 on his passes, scoring on a 12-yard strike to Connor Habisch.

With several players dinged up, Peru moved some of its reserves into the contest and punted on its final drive.

Heritage reached the Tiger five-yard line after a 44-yard pass from Ryan Elias to Tracey but Elias, attempting to reach the goal line, was hammered before crossing by Masters, coughing the ball up out of the back of the endzone to end the game.

“That was huge,” Saint-Louis said about the defense preventing the final score. “Part of it was that Brayden was out there because of the lack of kids we had healthy for that position, so he had to be in, but it’s a mindset he has and the defense played with that you aren’t going to score on us.

“The score didn’t mean much to the game as we were going to win; he could have pulled off but we preach in practice that there’s a party at the ball and you need to arrive in a bad mood. He did that and it was good to see the players playing with that mentality.

“It was a good, clean hit, the ball came out and went into the back of the endzone,” Saint-Louis added. “It was good to see him finish that play with a statement like that.”

Peru, now 6-5 on the season, will host No. 11 Fort Wayne Concordia Lutheran, who defeated Norwell 17-14, for the Sectional No. 27 championship next Friday.

Heritage finishes the season 2-9.

 

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No. 4 Adams Central 48, North Miami 22

The Jets wasted little time in getting on the scoreboard first, receiving the ball, recording a pair of first downs and scoring on 4th-and-7 with a 34-yard touchdown pass from Dallas Schwaller to Blake Heyerly.

The Warriors turned the ball over on downs twice in the first quarter but forced a punt and a turnover on downs from the hosts as the period came to a close.

An offensive pass interference penalty wiped out a first down and pinned North Miami deep in its own territory, leading to a 4th-and-22 punt.

The punt was blocked by Joseph Collier and recovered by the hosts, who scored two plays later when Schwaller sneaked in from a yard out to double the lead to 13-0.

“It was big,” North Miami head coach Joe Grant said about the blocked punt. “The first drive we kept bending but weren’t breaking until we had a coverage breakdown on the score.

“We get a couple of first downs on our next drives and stop them at the 20-yard line to get the ball back. We got a penalty that put us behind the sticks and another that prevented us from getting a first down so our punt was from the seven-yard line.

“(Adams Central) only rushed four and (Collier) ran through the A gap to block it,” Grant added. “They scored two plays after that and get three scores that all happened very quickly.”

Tristan Working was intercepted three plays later by Nick Neuenschwander and four plays later Dalton Gerber strolled in from 18 yards out to increase the lead to 20-0.

North Miami began the next drive at their own 42-yardline but failed to convert on 4th-and-3 and four plays later the Jets were on the board again after Alex Currie ran in from 19 yards out.

The Warriors entered host territory on the next drive but Working was intercepted again by Neuenschwander, though the visitors were able to keep Adams Central off the scoreboard to enter halftime down 27-0.

An onside kick was recovered by the Jets to start the second half and four plays later Heyerly rumbled in from 16 yards out to increase the lead to 34-0.

North Miami finally put together a complete drive, going 65 yards in 14 plays, scoring on a 15-yard Working to Greg Sonafrank screen play and reduced the deficit to 34-8 after Working prolonged the conversion long enough to hit Sonafrank with a crossfield pass.

Adams Central responded with a short drive that ended with Heyerly plowing in from three yards out to increase the lead to 42-8.

“Adams Central does what they do and they do it well,” Grant said about the Jets’ offense. “Our guys read their keys but they were playing the waiting game, not being the aggressor, whereas Adams Central fired off the ball and hit us in the mouth.

“We played well at times in the first half, not so much in the second half, and gave up close to 400 yards rushing. Aside from one big pass play, they were 4-of-11 but they didn’t need to pass much because in the second half, they lined up, ran the ball and we did a lot of catching.”

The Warriors turned the ball over on downs but Currie fumbled and Parker Johnson recovered for the visitors, setting up another 14-play drive that covered 62 yards and ended with Working racing four yards for the pylon to bring the score to 42-14.

Gerber was next to put the ball on the ground, recovered by North Miami’s Connor Wilson, only to make amends by intercepting Working and setting up a 12-play, 68-yard drive that ended with Gavin Cook scoring from seven-yards out.

The Warriors got their last score of the 2019 season when Sonafrank ran in from five yards out after a pair of lengthy Working completions to Justin McQuinn and Darien Hanley but it would be the last possession of the season as the Jets ran out the clock.

Adams Central, improving to 10-1 on the season, travels to Northfield, who defeated No. 3 Southwood 14-6, Friday for the IHSAA Football Class A Sectional No. 44 championship game

North Miami finishes the season 4-7 and 2-6 overall in TRC play, a season many, including Grant, expected to go better.

“Our kids never really had an issue with effort all year; it was a lack of execution, not effort, that hurt us,” Grant said. “Our seniors, for the most part, grinded it out and fought the whole game and season.

“This game spoke to what our season was about: having a bad quarter or a bad thing happen, the response wasn’t there, we didn’t execute and the game snowballed away. The games against Southwood, Maconaquah and Adams Central all snowballed on us.

“We left a lot of things on the table and Friday night, we, as coaches, didn’t feel like it was a lack of effort but a lack of execution,” Grant added. “We had guys trying to do too many things or make every single play because it’s tough for some guys to sit, contain a gap and not make every tackle.”

With several key players on both sides of the ball graduating Grant said the returning members of the squad had to coalesce quickly and do so with a bounce in their step.

“In the offseason, we’re going to have the guys that are going to be juniors and seniors next year step up,” Grant said. “We’re losing a lot of guys but that is the way it is with Class A schools.

“We want our freshmen and sophomores to play together and the juniors and seniors to step up and take the bull by the horns, get them and their teammates in to workouts, lift all year long and have a positive attitude over the entire year. We had high expectations this year and fell short of them but we can surprise some people next year.

“Our guys understand that football is unique because you only have so many days and hours together,” Grant added. “Being committed and positive is the biggest thing we can do between now and next season.”