If the trick play at the end of the first half wasn’t enough to seal the deal, the Linton Miners’ scoring touchdowns on their first two offensive plays of the third quarter was more than enough.
And the host Miners emerged with their fifth Class A Sectional 40 high school football championship in the last six years Friday night, storming past North Daviess 48-6.
Linton had a 21-0 lead as the second quarter wound down, but the visiting Cougars were still threatening. An end-zone interception by Koye Kaiser with 26 seconds left in the half seemed to be a good way to take that three-score lead into the locker room.
But these two Southwest Seven Conference rivals don’t like each other much. The game had already been chippy from time to time, and the Miners weren’t ready to stop attacking.
Austin Karazsia found Cole Bradbury for a 15-yard gain on a sideline pass, Bradbury getting out of bounds to stop the clock. Then coach Steve Weber dusted off the ancient hook-and-ladder play, with Karazsia finding Beau Eaton over the middle and Eaton pitching back to Bradbury. Bradbury ran the last 43 yards of the 65-yard play untouched, and now it was a four-touchdown lead.
“We’ve been practicing that all year,” Bradbury said after the game and after his six-catch, 118-yard effort. “We’ve been waiting for the right time [to use it], and I guess coach Weber thought it was the right time. That helped get momentum even more on our side.”
“We finish up every practice with some kind of trick play,” Weber said. “That one is called ‘heartbreak,’ and that’s what it was.”
A four-touchdown deficit was all but insurmountable for the Cougars anyway, since they rely on 218-pound tailback Colton Lengacher running behind 240-pound fullback Dakota Adams for most of their offense.
But just in case it wasn’t insurmountable, the Miners had a pair of one-play scoring drives in the third quarter — a 65-yard run by Kaiser, then a 64-yard bomb to Dane Rupska.
“I thought [the Cougar defensive back] was going to pick it off, because he got a finger on it,” said Rupska after the game, “but once I saw he wasn’t going to get it, I concentrated on catching the ball. Nobody was going to catch me after that.”
Rupska is one of Linton’s best athletes, but not one of the Miners’ leading receivers. What he mostly does is play middle linebacker, and he probably had the biggest single play for his unit that limited the visitors to 45 first-half yards. North Daviess’ only score came late against the Linton junior varsity defense — which had notched one impressive defensive stop of its own — and after a pass interception set up the Cougars at the 19-yard line.
“They did an outstanding job. They’re playing great ball,” Weber said after the game when asked about that defensive effort.
As for Rupska? “He’s an outstanding linebacker,” the coach noted. “He has great talent, his instincts are unbelievable, and the linemen are keeping him clean [away from potential blockers].”
Linton’s first offensive drive got inside North Daviess’ 10-yard line but turned the ball over on downs, and Lengacher quickly ground out a first down.
A fumbled snap cost the visitors a 10-yard loss on the next play, however, and they punted three plays later. Kaiser returned it to the Cougar 32-yard line, and it took the Miners five plays to score on a 1-yard run by Austin Hale.
Another three-and-out defensive series — helped this time by a Cougar penalty — got the ball back for the Miners, and they marched 89 yards in nine plays. Kaiser had two big runs and Karazsia threw a touchdown pass to Bradbury for a 14-0 lead early in the second quarter.
North Daviess mounted its best first-half drive in response, spurred by a 30-yard run by Lengacher, but bogged down inside the Linton 20. On fourth down, Rupska got his big play, sacking the quarterback for a 14-yard loss that set up Linton’s next scoring drive.
“It was fourth-and-long, and me and my coach [defensive coordinator Mike Hayden] knew [the Cougars] were going to pass,” Rupska recalled after the game. “We gave the ‘fire’ sign to each other, I got the cadence down, and I took off and came through.”
Leading receiver Grant Stamm had left the game with an ankle injury, so the third scoring drive was mostly Bradbury. The senior receiver caught three straight passes, then ran a reverse for 18 yards. Karazsia finally scored the touchdown on a fourth-down read-option play.
Kaiser finished the game with 143 yards in 15 carries, the interception, and 45 yards in punt returns. Karazsia was 16 for 21 for 312 yards — and had help, Weber pointed out.
“That’s a credit to the offensive line,” the coach said. “What a great job they did, keeping [Karazsia] free. Give AK that much time and he’s going to find open receivers.”
The Miners will be on the road next week for regional play, either at West Washington or Milan.