By Bill Cross
For The Herald Bulletin
MUNCIE, Ind. — Muncie Central hosted the Anderson on Friday for Senior Night and came away with a hard-fought 22-21 win.
Offense was at a premium early as both teams struggled to get going. The Bearcats forced a three-and-out by the Indians, but Jaylen White fumbled on second down, and the Indians recovered.
Jerian Beard scored on a 21-yard run for a 6-0 Anderson lead early in the first quarter.
Anderson scored its second touchdown midway through the second quarter as quarterback Gaven Owens hooked up with Robby Peal for a 43-yard scoring pass. The Indians went for it on fourth-and-2 at their own 29-yard line during the scoring drive.
Beard slipped through the line and burst out for a 37-yard run into Bearcat territory, avoiding several tackles on the way. A penalty during the run moved the ball back to the Bearcats’ 45 but was still enough for a first down for Anderson.
Muncie Central finally got its offense going and scored on a 20-yard Timmric Barrett run. Joe Williams ran for the 2-point conversion to bring Muncie Central to within 12-8.
The Bearcats forced Anderson into a three-and-out late in the quarter.
Quarterback Austin Murphy hit Barrett on a 66-yard touchdown pass to give Muncie Central its first lead. Williams again went up the middle for 2 to make it 16-12 late in the quarter.
“We got up on them (Muncie Central) then we let them back in the game,” Anderson coach Randy Albano said. “They got that long touchdown at the end of the half, and I was a bit worried. It burst our bubble a little bit, but our kids responded.”
The Indians stopped Muncie Central on the first possession of the second half but were pinned inside their own 20-yard line. On fourth down, punter Alonzo West caught the Bearcats napping. West lined up to punt but pulled the ball down and ran for a first down.
It was the second time the Indians converted a fourth down inside their own territory.
Anderson was unable to come up with points, however, and punted back to the Bearcats.
After another defensive stop, the Indians put together a scoring drive to retake the lead.
Beard scored for the second time, this time from 6 yards out, and Cody Gray’s extra point make it 19-16 early in the fourth.
The Bearcats responded in a hurry, taking just about a minute to put together a three-play, 42-yard drive that was helped by a late-hit penalty on the kickoff. Murphy hit Barrett for 39 yards, and DeAndre Barnum scored from 2 yards out to put Muncie Central back up 22-19 after a failed 2-point conversion.
The Indians had two chances to tie or take the lead but came up empty in the final four minutes. Beard was stopped short of the first down marker at the Bearcats’ 9 with just over 3 minutes left, but the Indians’ defense made a strong stand.
Two penalties hurt the Bearcats as they were forced to punt from their 2-yard line.
Punter Billy Walker stepped out of bounds for a safety, drawing Anderson back to within 1 at 22-21 with 2:31 left in the game.
Owens completed a pass to Jarmell Graves that took the Indians to the Bearcats’ 10, but a facemask penalty took the ball all the way back to the 32. Owens was sacked on the next play, and Parker Phelps picked off Owens’ final pass attempt with 20 seconds left to seal the win for Muncie Central.
“Our kids really competed tonight,” Albano said. “We’ve improved, we’re getting better every game and that’s all you can ask.”
The Indians had strong offensive performances from Owens and Beard, along with a solid effort from the defensive backs. Anderson defensive backs knocked down several Murphy passes that kept the Bearcats’ offense from moving the ball effectively.
In the end, it was missed opportunities, big plays by the Bearcats and a few penalties that negated big plays that hurt the Indians the most.
“I tell the kids if we don’t let people get big plays on us, we win a lot of football games that we shouldn’t have lost,” Albano said.
The Indians fall to 3-5 (2-3 NCC) while Muncie Central improves to 5-3 (3-2 NCC).
Anderson will return home for its final regular-season game next week, squaring off with Kokomo in another North Central Conference game.