By Justin Whitaker
GREENCASTLE — After last night’s 20-14 loss to Class 3A, No.4-ranked and undefeated Greencastle in sectional football, Tri-West coach Chris Coll’s only had a single thought.
“When you lose a game like that, it’s the end of the career of 11 guys, that’s the first thing you think about,” he said. “Like I told them on the field, I’m really proud. There’s not a game this year that I feel like we didn’t give it our best. Like this one, we’re driving at the end trying to win it again.”
Tiger Cubs quarterback Nick Gilliam scored from two yards out to give Greencastle a 20-14 advantage with 1:16 remaining and Greencastle botched the PAT.
The Bruins were able to drive to the Tiger Cubs’ 34, but their Hail Mary pass fell short as the clock expired.
Tri-West was led offensively by sophomore quarterback Jake Hendershot who threw for 306 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. The sophomore also completed passes to five different receivers. Nick Phelps led all receivers with 135 yards on four catches and touchdown. Senior Austin Lazaro added six catches for 77 yards and senior Mitch Alexander had five grabs for 72 yards and a touchdown.
Momentum swung between the teams nearly the entire game as each squad couldn’t quite gain an advantage.
Tri-West had scoring chances deep in Greencastle territory but was unable to convert fourth down attempts.
Trailing 14-7 in the second quarter, Hendershot just missed Phelps at the goal line across the middle of the field for a likely touchdown on fourth down from the 13.
In the third quarter, still down 14-7, Tri-West was unable to punch it in for a score from the Tiger Cubs’ 5 when Hendershot’s quick out to Alexander gained only three yards. On that same drive, Hendershot lofted a perfect seam pass to Phelps for a 28-yard gain on fourth-and-21.
The Bruins also got two heads up interceptions by Nick Perry and Phelps.
Perry, who also had two sacks, got his pick on the first possession of the second half when Greencastle’s Tanner Nicholson had a pass bounce off his chest and the junior dove for the interception.
Phelps’ pick came with 4:41 remaining in the game and with Tri-West backed up deep at their own 14. Phelps dove for the interception after a Bruins defensive lineman swatted the ball.
“We are just trying to make plays,” Coll said. “We preach that all the time. If there is a chance to make play, somebody is going to make it. These kids have played all year and it’s never been just this guy or that guy, it’s been all of them.”
There were multiple opportunities for Tri-West, but they just couldn’t get that knockout momentum swing.
“You can probably pick a number of spots,” Coll said. “There were plays made on both sides that this game kind of swung back and forth on. There wasn’t any one thing. Looking back, our inability to score when we got it down there a couple times in the first half and maybe once in the second half, that’s the thing that we wish could have had back. Wish we could have gotten some touchdowns when we had the opportunity to earlier in the game.”
Tri-West’s first possession was a solid precursor for the rest of the game. Hendershot was sacked on the first play for a 10-yard loss but then completed a 76-yard touchdown pass to Phelps who made one defender miss and was off to the endzone.
The Bruins were able to get some big plays, but Hendershot was also under consistent pressure and was sacked five times.
A sloppy, muddy field that was hardly recognizable after the game helped neutralize and slow down Tri-West’s spread passing attack. Very few sections of the field featured grass and the middle sections had the most wear.
“It wasn’t bad running on it but you couldn’t really plant and cut on it,” Coll said. “With both teams, I’m not sure you really saw the best of what either team had but it was just that type of game.”
The Bruins graduate Phelps, Lazaro, Alexander, Chris Staton, Rusty Thomas, Cody Coll, Jacob Dickerson, J.R. Hall, Austin Hill, Matt Stevens and Jon Staton.
Coll praised his 11 seniors for “their leadership and commitment” throughout the season. What the seniors helped create was a tight knit group that did not allow class standing to classify them.
“There wasn’t a senior, junior, sophomore, freshman, we were just one team,” Coll said. “And I can’t commend them enough for developing and fostering that. But at the same time our underclassmen bought in and followed. From top to bottom, it’s truly a special group with the way they’ve come together through the summer and into the season. The leadership from the seniors has been outstanding. It’s the best I’ve seen in a long time.”
Tri-West finishes the season 8-3 and with a portion of the Sagamore Conference along with Danville and Western Boone. Coll didn’t know what he would get out of his team before the season and the end result could not have left him any less proud.
“It’s been fun, it’s been enjoyable. Right now, I don’t care about the wins or losses. It was about the way this group worked, the way they came together as a family and the things they did on the field, off the field,” Coll said. “It’s truly a special year. I’m very disappointed that we didn’t win tonight because it’s an end to this team. And you’re going to have wins and losses, but this is a fun group to be around at a fun time. It’s been a great year and I’m proud of them. Everyone of them”