By William Cross
For The Herald Bulletin
ALEXANDRIA, Ind. — A week after being blown out on the road at Eastbrook, the Alexandria Tigers returned home to play Mississinewa in a Central Indiana Conference tilt Friday.
Considered to be the co-favorite in the conference along with Eastbrook, the Indians came in averaging more than 50 points a game while giving up a measly 14. On an almost perfect Indiana night, the Tigers put together a nearly perfect effort to come away with a 34-20 win.
“I’m relieved, our coaching staff and our players are relieved,” a happy Alexandria coach Pete Gast said after the game. “We felt that we were a good football team, and we didn’t show it last week. You believe in yourself, you believe you’re a good football team and you’re better than what you played the week before, but you have a tough opponent staring at you. It wasn’t easy to bounce back.”
Alexandria took advantage of an early Mississinewa mistake when Anthony Thomas pounced on a muffed punt return at the Indians’ 9-yard line. Blaize Kelly hit Drew Johnson in the back corner of the end zone three plays later for a 7-0 lead.
Mississinewa punted on its next possession, and the Tigers struck again. Evan Hodges scored from 27 yards out to give the Tigers a 14-0 cushion early in the second.
Mississinewa shook off the slow start and got back into the game on a 1-yard touchdown run by Blake Dailey.
The Tigers responded with a quick drive of their own, and Kelly hit Dane Johnson on an inside slant for an 8-yard touchdown and a 21-7 lead late in the second quarter.
The Indians responded with a drive and a score late in the half to trail 21-14 at halftime.
After a solid start in the first half, the Tigers were faced with starting the second half with the ball, but the Indians had seemingly gained the momentum with the late first-half touchdown.
Once again, the Tigers had an answer. Alex went on an 11-play, 64-yard drive that chewed up more than five minutes of the clock and was capped by a Kelly pass to Drew Johnson on fourth-and-2.
Mississinewa continued the see-saw battle with a touchdown drive of its own to trim the advantage to 28-20 when Dailey snuck in from the 1.
After failing to get a first down on a fourth-and-short, the Tigers’ defense and Indians’ penalties forced Mississinewa into a third-and-34. The Indians punted to the Tigers with six minutes left in the game.
One stop and the Indians had a shot to tie. Instead, Hodges took a handoff from Kelly and sprinted to the left sideline, outrunning several Indian defenders on a 68-yard romp to the end zone on the first play from scrimmage.
Mississinewa showed life, driving deep into Alex territory, but Kelly picked off a Dailey pass at the goalline, and the Tigers were able to run out the clock and pick up win No. 3 on the season.
More importantly for the Tigers, it’s a CIC win and a big one.
“It (the win) was huge,” Gast said. “We are now right in the thick of things in the conference. We believe a two-loss team can win this conference. Going in, we felt Eastbrook and Mississinewa were two of the favorites. To get one of those two puts us in a good position to keep competing.”
The road does not get easier for Alexandria (3-1, 1-1 CIC) as Oak Hill comes calling next Friday for a 7 p.m. kickoff.
Gast felt the team did not defend the wing T offense well at Eastbrook, and Oak Hill runs the same scheme. For tonight, however, the focus was on a huge home win.
“Credit to our boys, they played physical, they played tough, they played battered and bruised, and I’m proud of them,” Gast said.