MIDDLETOWN, Ind. —
At halftime Friday, the deficit was 42-14, and, a week after a devastating loss to Eastern Hancock, it looked like Shenandoah was on its way to a second-straight blowout loss.
By the fourth quarter, however, it appeared the blue-and-yellow Raiders' fortunes had changed.
Shenandoah, fueled by a tenacious defense and reawakened running game, had drawn to within seven points of Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter.
Unfortunately for the home team, fortune is a fickle friend. Ritter capitalized on a long kickoff return and interception to push its margin back to 21 and put the game out of reach. The red-and-white Raiders added one more late score to take a 63-35 victory. Shenandoah finished the regular season with a 7-2 record.
"It's a good team, and I felt like our kids showed a lot of heart. I'm proud of them," Shenandoah coach Scott Widner said. "It would have been easy, after last week especially and with how that first-half score went, to lay down and quit, but they fought back."
Senior Night started off in spectacular fashion for Shenandoah. Its first drive went 76 yards, capped by a 5-yard touchdown run from senior Chandler Hale. Ritter then put together a lengthy drive of its own, driving to first-and-goal at the 6. Shenandoah held Ritter on its first-, second- and third-down attempts, setting up a fourth-and-goal from the 7. On fourth down, Ritter quarterback Jake Purichia completed a pass to Jake Hagan to tie the score. It was the first of three or four plays coach Widner would like to have back.
"I feel like tonight if you take three or four plays and change them, this is a completely different football game," Widner said. "We gave up that kick return before half. If we didn't give that up then we're right there, and at one point then we would have tied it back up. But that's some big ifs, and we can't have those."
The aforementioned kick return came on the heels of Hale's second touchdown of the night, a 1-yard run that pulled Shenandoah within 35-14 with 14 seconds until halftime. Ritter freshman Darriyous Brandon slipped through the Shenandoah special teams' attack, scoring with .6 seconds remaining.
"We just can't turn it over against a good football team, and you can't give up special teams plays against a good football team," Widner said. "We did both of those things tonight."
Shenandoah took no time to turn things around in the second half. Moose Kirk picked off Purichia (14-of-26, 338 yards, 2 TDs, 2 INTs) on Ritter's first possession. On the ensuing play, Shenandoah quarterback Adam Lovan (10-of-18, 144 yards, 1 TD, 2 INTs) connected with Zack Farmer on a 42-yard pass. It was 42-21 with 10:42 left in the third.
Shenandoah's defense then forced another Ritter punt. Hale, who led all rushers with 159 yards, found the end zone for a third time on a 3-yard run, set up two plays earlier with his 34-yard run.
Seeing its comfortable lead slip away, Ritter compounded its own problems by allowing two sacks of Purichia. Purichia, visibly rattled, then threw his second interception of the night, which Shenandoah eventually turned into a 27-yard Lovan touchdown run.
That's where the magic ended. Widner, whose team was supposed to face a 14-man North Decatur team in this final week before sectional, wasn't upset he had agreed to make the switch to Ritter.
"Nothing against North Decatur, but this shows these kids that they can play with some of the top teams in the state," Widner said.
Shenandoah faces Broad Ripple, a team with a very athletic and mobile quarterback, in the first round of sectionals next week. Widner said they'll look at the tape and be ready for whatever the Rockets bring their way.
"This is the beginning of our sectional journey," Widner said. "I haven't seen (Broad Ripple) all year. I know that they're probably good. I've heard about the quarterback. I'm sure he is athletic and fast. We'll scheme it up and put our kids the best we can put them to stop their offense."