By Dave Pearce
There had been an incredible amount of anticipation and hype surrounding Friday night’s Indiana Class 2A semi-final football game between Mater Dei and North Posey. Much of it started before the beginning of this year’s football season. And for anyone who was able to watch the game, it lived up to every bit of it.
“We had great fan support all year,” Coach Joe Gengelbach said on Sunday afternoon, after the initial emotions had passed. “The student body at school was just amazing with the enthusiasm they showed with the different activities. There was a lot of excitement around every one of the games and that just makes it a lot of fun.”
A huge North Posey crowd watched as Jacob Fleming’s 41-yard field goal attempt split the goal posts almost perfectly with seven seconds remaining on the clock and the Mater Dei Wildcats had done it again. They had beaten the North Posey Vikings in a classic match-up. The final score was 31-28.
“In a game like that, any mistake in any way can be a determining factor,” Coach Joe Gengelbach “But I thought I kids played extremely hard and I thought that overall, we executed what we thought we had to do very well. I know as a coaching staff, we felt we just needed to keep running the ball and throw just when we wanted to throw. And Wes (Harness) had just a great game, as did our offensive and defensive lines. I thought we controlled their running game. They hit us on a couple of big passes and they are very capable of doing that. But overall, I don’t think it could have been an any more exciting game for the fans and I think the game was indicative of the rankings that the two teams had.”
The majority of the first half belonged to the Vikings, although they gained only five yards in their first possession. But the Viking defense proved it, too, was up to the challenge as Mater Dei was three passes and out its first possession.
On the Vikings’ second possession, Nick Neidig came up with a tipped pass for five yards but senior quarterback Alec Werry’s third-and-five pass attempt was knocked down. That was the first of five Werry passes that were swatted or tipped during the contest.
But just as he did most of the night, Neidig kicked a long, high punt that the Wildcats fielded on their own 21 with no return. But again, the Viking defense rose to the challenge.
Senior running back and defensive player Wes Harness got into the backfield for a loss of two on first down while the next pass play yielded a net four yard gain. But another incomplete pass put the Vikings back on offense.
Jacob Bender took the punt and brought it to near midfield and then gained nine yards on first down. On second and one, The play looked to go right while Bender got wide open on the left side and Werry hit him with a perfect strike and he scored on the 35-yard pass play and the Vikings had the lead 7-0 half-way through the first period.
Neidig’s kick-off, against the wind, went into the end zone and the Wildcats started on their own 20.
“I think three of Nick’s kick-offs went into the end zone and that’s big, especially in a high school game, when they have to go 80 yards instead of 50 or 60,” Gengelbach said. “It gives the other team a lot more opportunities to make a mistake.”
Neither team could get anything going the remainder of the first period and on fourth-and-2, Neidig again pinned Mater Dei on their own five-yard line with 1:17 remaining in the quarter.
But despite the poor field position, the Wildcats overcame some mistakes (a false start on first down) and after a first down, a hold on first down after a big gain. But a couple of big pass plays set up a Hartz touchdown run right up the gut to tie the game at 7 at 8:53 of the second quarter.
Lance Inkenbrandt took the ensuing kick-off, one of several kick-offs that football purists would call “ugly” and stopped it on the 26. The Vikings could not sustain a drive. Neidig’s high and long punt was allowed to bounce into the end zone after bouncing perhaps five times and no Viking player downed it near where it landed, inside the five. The Wildcats again got the ball at the 20.
But when it appeared Mater Dei might have found its timing, James Marshall stepped up and intercepted a Mater Dei pass at the 41 and suddenly, it was the Vikings who were on offense with six minutes to go in the half.
The Vikings consumed the remainder of the half with Harness and Colton Martin doing the majority of damage on the ground. With just under 3:30 to go, it appeared the Vikings may have shot themselves in the foot when Harness had gained nine yards to take the ball to the Mater Dei 14. On second and one, a gain of seven yards was negated by a holding call on the Vikings but Harness gained the yardage right back on the next play from scrimmage.
Martin carried to the four before Harness gained two and Jacob Bender one. The Vikings were facing fourth and foal from the one with 12 seconds remaining in the half when Harness side-stepped the pile to give the Vikings a 14-7 lead at the half.
During the half-time break, North Posey coaches warned their team of Mater Dei’s resiliency. They had fallen 21 points behind Castle before making most of it up and were 28 points down to Reitz before coming back to lose only be a touchdown. So the Vikings knew the Wildcats wouldn’t go away without a fight. And they didn’t.
The North Posey kick-off was returned to the 23 and the Wildcats put together an impressive drive, including a pass interference call that helped the Wildcats get to their own 42. After Mater Dei’s Nolan Goebel gained five, Chris O’Risky caught Mater Dei quarterback Jace Hartz in the backfield for a two-yard loss. But another big pass play kept the drive alive and with 9:19 showing on the third quarter clock, the Wildcats tied the game at 14.
Another “ugly” kick-off was fielded by Inkenbrandt at the 36 but up jumped the devil.
On the first play from scrimmage, a rare Viking fumble gave Mater Dei the ball on the North Posey 36. After Goebel gained 10 on the ground, he turned into a receiver and scored on a 23-yard touchdown at 7:57 to give the Wildcats their first lead of the night at 21-14.
Marshall took the ensuing kick-off out to the 35 and after an incomplete pass, Harness gained eight and then two but after a measurement, the Vikings were about two inches short. But as the Vikings were going for it on fourth down, an illegal procedure call forced the Vikings to punt the ball away.
The Vikings failed to take advantage of another opportunity after a fair catch was called on a punt to the 14 and the Mater Dei returner fumbled the punt. However, the Wildcats were able to recover around the 12 but the Viking defense stepped up and held Mater Dei to three and out.
After trading possessions and with the third quarter clock beginning to wind down, the Vikings took over on a punt that went only to the 44.
Harness quickly picked up 18 and after Martiin gained four. Harness used a combination of power and evasiveness to carry the ball 26 yards and into the end zone to tie the game at 21-all heading into the final period.
With 7:34 remaining in the final period and the Wildcats facing a first-and-22, a Mater Dei receiver got behind the North Posey defense and carried took a perfect strike to the house and suddenly, the Wildcats were ahead 28-21.
But like the Wildcats, the Vikings were not finished either.
The Vikings put together an impressive drive that resulted in a Martin touchdown with 2:31 to go. That play was set up by a Harness half-back option pass to an open Neidig who was ruled down at the one.
On the ensuing kick-off, no one is exactly sure what happened. Neidig, who had kicked superbly all night, either got his signals crossed or completely miss-kicked the ball. Whatever the case, the Mater Dei Wildcats recovered the ball near midfield and that set up the final 41-yard field goal that ended the Viking season.
“It was just one of those things that happen,” Gengelbach said. “We had planned to kick the ball away and then hold them to three and out and try to get the ball with good field position and if not score in regulation, maybe to within field goal range or at least into overtime. I liked our chances, even if we had to go to overtime.”
The Wildcats will now face South Spencer, a winner over hapless Forest Park, for the right to advance to the Regional.