FAIRLAND – Class 2A, No. 7 Triton Central found itself in a battle with Beech Grove, in part to its own mistakes.
A sluggish offensive performance in the first half overshadowed a terrific defensive performance that included four interceptions and a key fumble recovery on special teams.
The Tigers got a pair of Jace Stuckey touchdown passes in the fourth quarter as the Hornets wore down and Ray Crawford added a late touchdown to seal a 27-7 Indiana Crossroads Conference victory over Beech Grove at Mendenhall Field.
“We finally at the end finished like we should have started,” said Triton Central head coach Tim Able. “We just didn’t play real well early.
“(Beech Grove) had a good offensive game plan. I felt like we did but we were three-and-out, three-and-out the first two series. That is just not the way to start the game. And we made enough mistakes to keep them in the game.”
Beech Grove (4-4, 3-4 ICC) could move the ball down the field the first half but could not finish off possessions with points.
The Hornets’ opening drive lasted 14 plays before Stuckey intercepted Beech Grove quarterback Skylar Thacker in the end zone.
After another quick offensive series, Beech Grove capitalized with a 54-yard scoring drive that ended with Thacker connecting with Jarron Murry at the 2-yard line and the junior avoided a Triton Central defensive back to reach the end zone on the second play of the second quarter.
Triton Central adjusted and marched 69 yards on its third possession that included a 33-yard gain by Sam Kemper on a screen pass from Stuckey.
Stuckey completed the Tigers’ first scoring drive with a 1-yard push into the end zone.
Beech Grove continued to control the clock and ran 10 plays before Lucas Kleeman intercepted Thacker’s pass at the 18-yard line after it ricocheted off a Beech Grove receiver’s helmet.
Both teams failed to score points on their opening possession of the second half. Beech Grove’s second drive ended with Thacker’s third interception, this time Brad Schultz collected a fourth-and-seven heave to the end zone for a touchback.
Triton Central put together a 17-play, 80-yard scoring drive after that which included 12 running plays from Crawford and Stuckey. On first-and-10 from the Beech Grove 16, Stuckey found Mason Compton in the corner of the end zone to give Triton Central its first lead of the contest, 14-7.
The Hornets went three-and-out on its next possession then stopped the Triton Central offense and forced a punt, which was mishandled and recovered by TC’s special teams unit.
One play later, Stuckey hit Schultz in the back of the end zone for a 21-7 advantage.
“We had plenty of stuff we could still go to that we didn’t use in the first half,” said Able of the halftime adjustment to the offense. “We were able to run the ball a little bit better inside. We gave Ray (Crawford) the ball a lot and he took care of business.”
Crawford finished with 97 hard-fought rushing yards on 26 carries – 19 in the second half.
Following a Levi Dewey interception near midfield, Triton Central went on a 9-play drive that ended with Crawford getting a 1-yard scoring run to complete the scoring.
“In the second half once we got things going, we felt like we wore them down,” said Able. “We just shouldn’t be to the point where we have to wear teams down to beat them at the end. I felt like we’ve done that two weeks in a row.
“We just have to play better all four quarters.”
Triton Central collected 12 penalties in the game. Beech Grove had seven as both teams struggled to find an offensive rhythm.
With his second catch of the game, Schultz (photo) broke Dakota Nelson’s career receiving yards record at Triton Central. The senior entered the game needing four yards to surpass Nelson’s 1,717 career yards (2009-2012).
“I am definitely proud but we can’t really worry about that,” said Schultz. “You saw the score tonight. We should have played way better than that.”
Schultz now holds TC’s single-season and career receiving yards records. He passed Aaron Steele’s single-season mark of 1,050 yards in a week six overtime loss to Indianapolis Scecina.
Schultz has at least two more weeks to surpass Nelson’s record for single-season receptions (68) and career receptions (118). He needs 12 more catches for the single-season mark and 17 more for the career record.
Triton Central will host Speedway (5-3, 3-3 ICC) in the final game of the regular season. The Sparkplugs lost 47-16 Friday to Class A, No. 1 Indianapolis Lutheran.
On Sunday at 5 p.m., the IHSAA will air complete postseason pairings for the 50th Annual Football State Tournament. The broadcast can be viewed at IHSAAtv.org.
Triton Central will compete in Class 2A, Sectional 39 this postseason. The 8-team sectional includes 2A No. 5 Scecina (7-1), Brownstown Central (5-3), Switzerland County (4-4), Christel House Manual (3-5), Clarksville (3-5), Brown County (0-8) and Eastern (Pekin) (1-7).
TRITON CENTRAL 27, BEECH GROVE 7
SCORE BY QUARTERS
BG (4-4, 3-4) 0 7 0 0 -- 7
TC (6-2, 4-2) 0 7 0 20 -- 27
BG – Murry, 34 pass Thacker (Fonseca kick), 11:09
TC – Stuckey, 1 run (Dewey kick), 6:15
TC – Compton, 16 pass Stuckey (Dewey kick), 8:25
TC – Schultz, 19 pass Stuckey (Dewey kick), 5:33
TC – Crawford, 1 run (Dewey kick blocked), 1:39
Rushing: Lee 18-79, Thacker 6-13, Murry 2-7 (BG); Crawford 26-97, Stuckey 10-30, Wilkins 1-4 (TC).
Passing: Thacker 7-19-105 (BG); Stuckey 15-25-194 (TC).
Receiving: Murry 3-59, Smith 2-17, Crawley 1-15, Parr-Stokes 1-14 (BG); Schultz 8-108, Compton 4-51, Kemper 1-33, Wilkins 1-5, Crawford 1-(-3) (TC).