TERRE HAUTE —
A Terre Haute North defense that had kept visiting Warren Central within range on Day One of Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference high school football action this weekend paid off in points on Day Two, the Patriots getting an impressive and historic 14-10 win Saturday afternoon.
You might say Vasco Billberry had a feeling about it.
Play was interrupted by lightning after an hour of play Friday night, when Warren Central had a 10-0 lead that should have been, from the Warriors’ perspective, a lot bigger. By the time the game was stopped with 2:06 left in the second quarter, North had stopped the visitors after second-and goal at the 1-yard line, held them to a field goal after first-and-goal at the 1-yard line, and picked off a pair of potential touchdown passes, Ricky Brookins grabbing one in the end zone and Austin Massey one at the 5-yard line.
North’s offense had picked up three first downs in those first 22 minutes, and when play resumed Saturday afternoon the Patriots were without leading rusher Brother Scank, whose sore knee had tightened up overnight.
Warren Central had scored on a fluke touchdown pass Friday, and got another big gain when it got the ball back late in the second quarter Saturday. Brookins came up with a second interception, this at his own 7-yard line, to stop that threat, and the start of the third quarter was a punting duel — one the Patriots were winning thanks to Zach Potter and a stiff wind in the faces of the Warriors.
Potter’s second punt of the third quarter was downed at the 20-yard line, and the Warriors tried a running play to the right.
“I just felt something was coming,” said Billberry, North’s outside linebacker, after the game, “so I followed the ball. I saw Ryan Moshak strip the ball and I just went after it.”
Billberry returned the fumble 16 yards to the 4-yard line. Warren Central’s defensive line was stronger Saturday than it had been Friday — limiting North to negative yardage on the ground in the game’s last 26 minutes — but on third-and-goal Chris Barrett II hit tight end Calvin Blank on a quick slant for the touchdown.
Potter added the extra point, kicked off into the end zone, and Warren Central ran its next offensive play to the left. First-half defensive heroes Brookins and Massey combined their efforts this time, Brookins stripping the ball and Massey picking it up and racing 25 yards to the end zone. In 13 seconds of scoreboard time, North had gone from a 10-0 deficit to a 14-10 lead.
Asked about his first varsity touchdown, Massey said after the game, “I’m speechless, basically. I don’t have many words for it. I’d do anything to help the team … I just happened to be the one with the touchdown that put us over.”
The game wasn’t over at that point, of course, but its momentum had shifted drastically — and Warren Central’s discipline, not exceptionally good on Friday, suffered even more as a result (141 penalty yards, 79 of them in the last two quarters).
The Warriors drove inside North’s 30-yard line, were set back by a penalty and were forced to punt.
North responded by driving from its 10-yard line to the Warren Central 9 — helped by three more Warrior penalties — but committed a foolish penalty of its own and wound up punting on fourth-and-goal from the 45.
Warren Central marched again, but Billberry joined Brookins and Massey in the two-turnover club by picking off a pass at his 15-yard line. And the visitors didn’t threaten again.
“It was hard-hitting. People [from both sides] were flying around,” said North linebacker Lee Davis, another of the heroes that also included Alan Grayless, Chris Spencer, Ronnie McConnell and Blank in addition to names already mentioned. “Warren Central is a good team, with a big defensive line.
“The first half we put ourselves in difficult situations,” Davis added, “but we knew we could pull this off. We just had to believe in each other. The defense stood up multiple times … it was a full defensive effort, and the offense really stepped it up in the second half.”
“There are three phases to the game,” coach Chris Barrett said, “and when you rank our team today it was defense, then special teams, then offense as far as efficiency is concerned.
“The defensive phase won the game for us today … [the defensive coaches] do a phenomenal job with those guys and the kids are willing to practice extra and watch film at home.
“Offensively, the best thing we did was not turn the ball over,” the coach continued. “We made good decisions for the most part, and we were able to move the chains a little bit [in the second half].”
Concerning the significance of the North’s first WIC win against the Warriors, Barrett said, “Our kids have a tough, uphill battle [competing against the bigger MIC schools]. They take some jabs, even from our own community, but they don’t listen.
“We have a little more talent this year, but we also have great leadership, and [the leadership] is what puts us in position for this to happen … they deserve [this win] so much.”
“It’s awesome. I feel like I’m on top of the world right now,” Billberry said. “Now we’ve just got to keep it up.”