FORTVILLE — Twice this season, Pendleton Heights led at Mount Vernon deep into the second half.
And both times, the Arabians were left thinking what could have been.
PH again saw the football disappear from its hands at an inopportune time, and that contributed to the Marauders’ 21-14 victory at Hancock Health Stadium for the Class 4A Sectional 21 title.
The Arabians, who lost a fumble near the end zone late in an 18-14 defeat to MV six weeks ago, met the same fate in the rematch and finished the season 7-5.
Turnovers certainly weren’t the only reason PH fell. The Marauders (10-2) stung the Arabians with several long passes and ultimately an 84-yard drive late in the final period that broke the deadlock.
“I thought our guys came to play tonight,” PH coach Jed Richman said. “They had championship effort, and they had championship focus, but gosh dang it, (MV) just made a few more plays than us.”
The final blow was a 2-yard dive by short-yardage quarterback Shaun Shipley with 2:32 remaining, right after Gehrig Slunaker hit Ashden Gentry for 37. The Marauders a play earlier had a second-and-20 situation.
MV twice answered Arabian scores, the first by Shipley (again 2 yards) with 3:36 left in the third quarter, after Peyton Ellingwood recovered a PH fumble at the Arabians’ 20-yard line.
A 44-yard TD pass from Slunaker to Dawan Langston at the third-quarter gun made it 14-all.
Slunaker threw for 252 yards, and Langston had six receptions for 168, including one for 53 at the end of the first half in which he was alone but went out of bounds at the PH 7.
Part of both teams’ plans was to hold it for as long as they could on this frigid night.
It worked for the Arabians on both their scoring drives but not on their opening two possessions (they turned it over on downs) nor on the one in which they lost the fumble.
The Arabians, after Jack Elijah fell on a MV fumble, drove 80 yards in 15 plays and opened the scoring an 8-yard pass from Kirby Hess to Tyler McKinney with 17 seconds to go in the first half.
PH went back in front with 54 seconds left in the third quarter at the end of another 80-yard possession. Hess ran 32 yards to the MV 28 and three plays later punched it in up the middle from 5 yards out.
Hess ran 20 times for 109 yards and was 14-for-21 in the air for 119. He ended the season with 999 passing yards.
“What a kid,” Richman said. “He’s a heck of a player, and he’s the heart and soul of this team, and he led us all game long and threw the ball effectively. He’s why we were in the game, on both sides (of the ball).”
Clay Britt was Hess’ top target, with six catches for 63 yards.
PH ran for 203 yards, and after Hess, fellow senior Kamden Earley had 11 carries for 59 yards.
The Arabians won seven games for the third straight year and played in a sectional final for the first time since 2015, the 40th and final season for John Broughton as coach. Richman took over the following year.
“We’re building something special,” Richman said. “We’re doing things the right way with great kids and a great community. I’m proud to lead this program for all these people and this great community.”