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FOOTBALL: Highlander Heartbreak for BNL

Floyd Central's Zach Rodgers eyes the end zone. Rodgers and the Highlanders stopped the Stars 40-34 in the Sectional 16 semifinal on Friday night.

Floyd Central’s Zach Rodgers eyes the end zone. Rodgers and the Highlanders stopped the Stars 40-34 in the Sectional 16 semifinal on Friday night.

Floyd Central advances

with wild 40-34 victory

over Stars in sectional

By Justin Sokeland

On one side, pain. The kind that never heals. The anguish that cuts deep, the sorrow that suffocates, the tears that flow from the soul.

On the other side, ecstasy. The joy that is indescribable. The emotion that explodes, the bliss that smothers, the rush that charges from the heart.

When the classic sectional confrontation ended Friday night, Bedford North Lawrence mourned the death of its season, while Floyd Central celebrated a just, deserved, earned victory in a rematch of almost-equal teams. The Highlanders proved better, for the second time, but this one had the sense of a fantastic escape as Floyd conquered the Stars 40-34 in a wild and gut-wrenching battle of tournament survival.

BNL's Logan McDonald catches FC quarterback Matt Weimer for a safety.

BNL’s Logan McDonald catches FC quarterback Matt Weimer for a safety.

Floyd Central (7-3) advanced to host the Class 5-A Sectional 16 final and will face defending champion No.10 Castle (a 21-14 winner over Evansville North in the other semifinal) next week. BNL bowed out at 4-6.

The Stars did everything except win. They owned the lead most of the night. They had the final possession, with a chance to rip victory from Floyd’s nervous hands. They were 26 yards away from glory. They never got there.

The Highlanders finally found a way to stop the march, smashing through to twice tackle BNL running back Wyatt Martin in the backfield, then twice pressuring quarterback McCall Ray into desperate throws. That’s how it ended. How it got to that point was a thrilling story of guts, determination and a total willingness to sacrifice everything. It’s the way football should be played.

“We did just enough to win this game,” Floyd coach Brian Glesing said. “Survive and advance. It’s tournament play, that’s all you got to do.”

Matt Weimer reaches back to break up a pass intended for BNL's Esteban Flores.

Matt Weimer reaches back to break up a pass intended for BNL’s Esteban Flores.

Survival came with a price. BNL, which had every reason to wilt when senior linebacker Jackson Bartlett suffered a broken collar bone during pre-game warmups (stumbling and falling after catching a pass), had the upper hand for the longest time. Logan McDonald’s crushing hit on FC quarterback Matt Weimer for a safety, Austin Jovanovich’s 63-yard touchdown burst, Martin’s 98-yard kickoff return. The Stars were in command.

But they couldn’t put the Highlanders away. Two third-quarter drives, including one to the 1-yard line, ended in Esteban Flores field goals, and those lost points would prove big later. Special teams also hurt the Stars as two long kickoff returns set up FC touchdowns, including the eventual game winner by Colt May with 4:06 left.

Ultimately, the outcome came down to whoever had the ball last was going to win. Except BNL didn’t as Floyd Central turned away the season-on-the-line drive deep into enemy territory.

“They did everything we asked of them,” BNL coach Steve Weber said. “It just didn’t fall our way again. We didn’t lose that game, we ran out of time. That’s kind of the theme of the year.

BNL quarterback McCall Ray runs through an arm tackle.

BNL quarterback McCall Ray runs through an arm tackle.

“Great effort. They did absolutely everything they possibly could.”

McDonald’s safety was followed by Ray’s 6-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter for a 9-0 headstart, and that set the tone for offense to follow. Zach Rodgers, who would gouge huge holes on counter runs, scored Floyd’s first touchdown from 9 yards, but Austin Jovanovich gave BNL another charge of energy with his electric run.

Back and forth they went. Colt May’s 8-yard touchdown was immediately countered by Martin’s return. Floyd had the final say of the first half, driving 67 yards and finishing it with Jason Cundiff’s 1-yard surge with 23 seconds left.

Here’s where BNL had a chance to inflict a lot of damage. Cundiff fumbled on the first carry of the third quarter, but a holding penalty and a sack snuffed the opportunity and Flores drilled a 37-yard field goal for a 25-19 lead. Two plays later, Weimer whirled a perfect 60-yard bomb to Dylan McRae for a 25-25 deadlock.

Again BNL had a chance for go-ahead touchdown, thanks to Tabin Stillions’ 29-yard catch-and-dash and two Drew Shoufler catches. But the Stars couldn’t punch it across on two runs from inside the 3, and Flores had to chip in a 19-yard field goal.

Floyd Central's Jason Cundiff dives over tacklers.

Floyd Central’s Jason Cundiff dives over tacklers.

They kept trading shots. Rodgers ripped off a 37-yard run and then scored from 18 yards for a 32-28 lead, but BNL came right back. Ray hit Owen Walker (who made a great adjustment on the ball for a clutch catch) for 11 yards on fourth down, and Martin bounced off a big-body pile-up in the middle and scored from 19 yards, giving the Stars a 34-32 lead with 6:56 left.

Rodgers returned the next kickoff to midfield, and the Highlanders made short work of the short field. Weimer connected with Bradley Philpot for 26 yards and May muscled in from a yard out. And then . . .

“We finally got a stop,” Glesing said. Finally is right. Other than the fumble on the first drive of the second half and BNL’s last play of the first half, the two teams scored on 11 straight possessions. “We can’t stop them, they can’t stop us,” Glesing continued. “That’s pretty much what it comes down to. I’m glad we don’t have to play them again until next year.”

“It was fun to play,” Weimer said. “I love games that go back and forth, because you’re always on the edge of your seat.”

BNL's Logan McDonald wrestles Marshall Horner to the ground.

BNL’s Logan McDonald wrestles Marshall Horner to the ground.

“That was scary,” Glesing added. “They were going to win the game or lose the game there, and that’s how it should be.”

Weimer, used sparingly in FC’s run-dominated offense, completed 8 of 10 passes for 141 yards. Rodgers finished with 88 rushing yards (on only 6 carries).

Jovanovich had 99 yards rushing for the Stars, who lost another close game that came down to the final chance. This one hurt the most.

“I’m not living right,” Weber said. “We were playing on band-aids and a ton of heart.”

Castle (7-3) slipped away from North’s upset bid with a win as Dayne Keller threw three touchdown passes, all of them to Noah McClean.

McCall Ray scampers away from Floyd Central's Michael Sans.

McCall Ray scampers away from Floyd Central’s Michael Sans.

Floyd Central 0 19 13 8 – 40

Bedford NL 2 20 6 6 – 34

BNL – Safety (Logan McDonald tackled Matt Weimer in end zone), 2:17; BNL – McCall Ray, 6 run (Esteban Flores kick), 11:39; FC – Zach Rodgers, 9 run (Cole Hussung kick), 7:54; BNL – Austin Jovanovich, 63 run (Flores kick) 5:54; FC – Colt May, 8 run (kick failed) 3:57; BNL – Wyatt Martin, 98 kickoff return (kick failed) 3:22; FC – Jason Cundiff, 1 run (kick failed) 0:23; BNL – Flores, 37 field goal, 9:01; FC – Dylan McRae, 60 pass from Weimer (run failed) 8:29; BNL – Flores, 9 field goal, 1:58; FC – Rodgers, 18 run (Hussung kick) 0:07; BNL – Wyatt Martin, 19 run (kick failed) 6:56; FC – May, 1 run (Bradley Philpot pass from Weimer) 4:06

Team statistics

Floyd Central: First downs 11 (6 by run, 4 by pass, 1 by penalty), Rushing 33-191, Passing 8-10-0-141, Total yards 331, Fumbles 2 (lost 1), Penalties 4-29

BNL: First downs 18 (8 by run, 9 by pass, 1 by penalty), Rushing 43-199, Passing 10-17-0-126, Total yards 325, Fumbles 1 (lost 0), Penalties 6-44

Individual statistics

Rushing: (FC) Matt Weimer 3-18, Colt May 14-56, Jason Cundiff 9-27, Zach Spurgeon 1-2, Zach Rodgers 6-88; (BNL) McCall Ray 13-25, Tabin Stillions 6-24, Austin Jovanovich 14-99, Joe Jackson 3-7, Wyatt Martin 6-49, Skylar Bates 1-2.

Passing: (FC) Weimer 8-10-0-141; (BNL) Ray 10-17-0-126

Receiving: (FC) Donovan Hickman 1-2, Bradley Philpot 2-49, Dylan McRae 3-80, Trevor Clark 1-(-1), Bradley Foster 1-11; (BNL) Drew Shoufler 3-33, Joe Jackson 3-30, Esteban Flores 2-23, Tabin Stillions 1-29, Owen Walker 1-11