Bulldogs defeat Merrillville 24-19 with big end-of-game defensive stop
A USA-365.com Special Report by Mark Smith
|CP quarterback Ryan Bolda (19) drops back to throw as Merrillville coach Brad Seiss looks on. (Photos by Mark Smith)|
|Crown Point senior defensive lineman Ethan Wood (86) eyes Merrillville passer Kam Jackson (19) in second quarter action.|
|Kam Jackson steps into the end zone in the second quarter to cut the Crown Point lead to 14-6.|
|Merrillville cornerback Justus Alexander (4) dives to deflect a pass away from Crown Point's Mark Knox (83) in the second period.|
|Crown Point's Nate Darche (41) deflects a pitchout from Merrillville quarterback Kam Jackson. Darche also recovered the fumble.|
|CP linebacker Donald Schuch (25) puts pressure on Merrillville QB Kam Jackson (19) in first quarter action last Friday night at Merrillville.|
|Merrillville safety Sean Roche (2) scoops up a second quarter fumble in the Class 6A Sectional 1 championship game last week.|
|CP's Ethan Wood (86) and Emas King (56) try to tip a pass from Merrillville quarterback Kam Jackson (19) in the sectional championship game last Friday.|
|The CP student section was all smiles last Friday as the Bulldogs led all the way and held on to beat Merrillville 24-19.|
|CP's Josh Winfrey peaks over the championship trophy with Nate Marciniec (55) and Jake Wilczynski (37) after the Bulldogs won the Class 6A Sectional 1 title last week.|
|CP linebacker Don Schuch (25) and cornerback Sam Krutz (14) don't want to leave Merrillville after the Bulldogs won their first sectional title since 2011 with a 24-19 victory over the Pirates. (All photos by Mark Smith.)|
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|CROWN POINT (6-5)||14||3||0||7||24|
Friday, November 4, 2016 - 55 degrees in MERRILLVILLE, IN
Ryan Bolda, 65-yard TD pass to Shane McCormick. 65-yard drive, four plays. Ben
Fridrich kick. 1:26 left.
CROWN POINT (14-0) Ryan Bolda, 71-yard TD pass to Shane McCormick. 71 yard drive, 1 play. Ben Fridrich kick. 0:40 left.
2nd Qtr: MERRILLVILLE (14-6) Kam Jackson, 7-yard run. 14-yard drive, 3 plays. Kick blocked by Shane McCormick. 6:50 left.
CP (17-6) Ben Fridrich, 34-yard field goal. 33-yard drive, 6 plays. 0:38 left.
3rd Qtr: MERRILLVILLE (17-12) Kam Jackson 90-yard pass to Kaylin Brookshire. 2-point pass failed. 93-yard drive 3 plays. 0:58 left.
4th Qtr: CROWN POINT
(24-12) Ryan Bolda, 28-yard TD pass to Tyler Jones. 70-yard drive, 6 plays.
11:10 left. Ben Fridrich kick. 11:10 left.
MERRILLVILLE (24-19) Kam Jackson, 8-yard pass to James Kirklen. 64-yard drive, 10 plays. Meagan Wise kick. 2:08 left.
CROWN POINT (27 carries, 90 yards, 0 TDs, 0 fumbles) Tyler Gomez (HB)
20 carries, 88 yards; Griffin Govert (FB) 1 carry, 1 yard; Ryan Bolda (QB) 6
carries, 1 yard (1 sack - minus 7).
MERRILLVILLE (34 carries, 170 yards, one TD, one fumble) Kam Jackson (QB) 13 carries, 76 yards, TD, fumble, Davion Ervin-Poindexter (HB) 16-69 yards, Kejuan Thomas (HB) 5-25 yards.
CROWN POINT: Ryan Bolda (QB) 11 of 24, 268 yards, 3 TDs, one interception.
MERRILLVILLE: Kam Jackson (QB) 12 of 30, 248 yards, 2 TDs, one interception.
CROWN POINT: Tyler Jones (WR) 1 catch, 28 yards, Shane McCormack (WR) 9-241 yards, 2 TDs, Tyler Gomez (HB) 1 (minus-1) yard.
MERRILLVILLE: Kaylin Brookshire (WR) 3-148 yards, TD, Kejuan Thomas (WR) 4-57 yards, Davion Ervin-Poindexter (HB) 2-12 yards, James Kirklen (WR) 2-12 yards, TD, Robert Williams (WR) 1-11 yards, Branden Bramson (WR) 1-7 yards.
CROWN POINT: 358 yards, 6 first downs, 2 turnovers.
MERRILLVILLE: 418 yards, 14 first downs, 2 turnovers.
Caden Watson (CP), Kenyatta Smith (MERRILLVILLE).
Nate Darche (CP) 2; Sean Roche (MERRILLVILLE)
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Sometimes in these games, there comes a moment when you forget all about how you
got here. And you just try to get out of here.
In a spectacular final half of the final quarter which saw arch rival Merrillville rally down to the last second, Crown Point's Bulldogs became sectional champions with a 24-19 victory that will stick in the memory of everyone who was there.
CP junior linebacker Caden Watson knocked Merrillville quarterback Kam Jackson out of bounds at the 1-yard-line on the final play of the game, giving the Bulldogs their first sectional crown in five years and denying Merrillville a third consecutive championship.
"Going 1-9 (CP's 2015 record), you aren't going to have as many fans as you had," said Shane McCormick, who caught a career-best nine passes for 241 yards. "But our goal was just to keep everybody pointed in the right direction. The seniors just wanted to keep everybody going forward."
"Obviously it translated to the field. Everyone made plays. Not just me. We have one of the best defenses in the area. Our quarterback came in and he played great. Our line was great. It was just a great night for us."
"It was a tough way to lose," said Merrillville coach Brad Seiss. "It was a crazy way to lose. I'm proud of the way our kids battled and gave ourselves a chance."
Crown Point led 24-12 when junior kicker Ben Fredrich missed a 36-yard field goal with seven minutes to play and a relatively normal game morphed into a highlight reel.
Merrillville's Jackson, playing his fourth game in place of injured Pirate starter Cam Wright (out for the season with a shoulder injury) ran for 33 yards, completed passes of 25 yards to Davion Ervin-Poindexter, 21 yards to DeJuan Thomas and finally, eight yards to James Kirklen in the end zone, cutting the lead to 24-19 with 2:08 to play. CP could not gain a first down and they threw an incomplete pass on third down, allowing Merrillville to get the ball back with 1:12 to go on a punt to the Pirate 22.
On 4th-and 3 from the 29, Jackson escaped the Bulldog pass rush and fired a 51-yard pass to Kaylin Brookshire. One play later Jackson, a 6-foot-4 receiver and punter by trade, completed a 14-yard pass to Kirklen at the CP 31-yard-line. The sub QB then scrambled away from rushers and raced 18 yards to the 14-yard-line with eight seconds to play. An incompletion left just two seconds on the clock.
With about 1,000 fans now standing and watching, Jackson rolled out and fired what appeared to be the game-winning TD to Brookshire in the end zone, but a penalty flag was thrown. The crowd and both teams thought the penalty was for Jackson crossing the line of scrimmage before he threw the ball. Crown Point began celebrating the win. Bench players raced onto the field.
But about a minute later, the Merrillville sideline began celebrating. Game officials had let everyone know that the final play penalty was for ineligible man downfield and, to nullify the potential game-winning TD, CP would have to accept the five yard penalty against the Pirates, allowing one more play.
From the 19 yard line, Jackson rolled to his right and took off running. The tall senior raced to the northwest corner of the end zone where he was met almost head on by Watson, Crown Point's leading tackler. Jackson was bumped out of bounds at the 1-yard-line and the game was finally completely over.
Even if you'd have been there, it was hard to believe.
"I was standing back here at about the 40 (yard line) said junior CP halfback Tyler Gomez, who gained 88 of CP's 358 total yards. "I knew he wasn't in. Caden's the man."
"When I saw the tackle and I saw the ref swing his arms and say no (touchdown) good. There were tears in my eyes," said McCormick "We hadn't won a sectional in years. It was so big for our team. Especially coming off a 1-9 (2015) season."
Gomez agreed. "It's a great feeling," he said. "I'm just so thankful for our offense and our offensive line. We were struggling so much at the start of the year, but we finally got it all together.
"Our defense has been great all year."
This was a rare game. A sectional championship involving two teams with backup quarterbacks and .500 records. There were 12 plays from scrimmage that gained 20 yards or more, eight in the second half and six in the fourth quarter. Crown Point led 14-0, 17-6 and 24-12 but the game was decided on the final play. The Bulldogs never trailed and, at times, seemed set to win big.
But an even game between even teams was in doubt until the final play and beyond.
After both teams punted twice to start the game, there was also an exchange of interceptions. Sean Roche for Merrillville at the Crown Point 43 and, three plays later, Caden Watson for CP at the Pirate 49.
After a CP penalty, junior Ryan Bolda, starting just his second varsity game, fired a 20-yard pass down the middle of the field to McCormick who was crossing the field. The 6-foot-6 senior grabbed the ball and ran away from the Merrillville defense to give CP a 7-0 lead. The Bulldogs, who averaged just 17 points a game during the regular season, quickly forced another Pirate punt and, on the first play, Bolda, an old CP Babe Ruth baseball pitcher, fired a high arching pass down the visitors sidelines to McCormick, who again grabbed it and again ran away from the Pirate secondary to make it 14-0 Bulldogs after one quarter.
Crown Point (6-5) could have led by 14 at the half but a fumbled punt by senior Zach Stewart set up Merrillville at the Bulldog 14-yard-line. After a pass interference call on CP, Pirate QB Kam Jackson scored on a 7-yard run. McCormick blocked the extra point to make the score 14-6.
A pitchout by Jackson was tipped and recovered by Bulldog linebacker Nate Darche at the Pirate 32-yard-line with 2:32 to go in the half. CP couldn't get in the end zone, but Ben Fridrich's fifth field goal of the season gave the visitors a 17-6 lead at halftime.
In the earlier Duneland Conference meeting between CP and Merrillville (5-6) back in early September, the Bulldogs also jumped to a 14-0 lead and led 28-21 going into the fourth quarter. But this time they held on.
"Shane ran great routes," said CP coach Kevin Enright, of Bolda's two long early TDs to McCormick. "Ryan gave him a ball he could catch. Both of them executed very well. We really didn't do anything different. Those are plays that we have in the playbook. We just executed very well."
Right down to the last play.
DOG NOTES: Former Merrillville coach Zac Wells (2006-2014) was back in Merrillville to watch his old boys play. Wells is now the defensive coordinator (ex-Portage coach Craig Buzea is the head coach) for undefeated Homewood-Flossmoor just across the Illinois state line in Homewood.
Friday's win was CP's fourth victory in a row, their first four game winning streak since the end of the 2014 season.
Ryan Bolda's three TD passes were the most for a CP quarterback since Jake Jatis threw three TD passes in CP's 56-28 win at Chesterton on October 11, 2013.
Crown Point now plays at Penn (11-0) this Friday at 6:30 p.m. (CST) for one of four Class 6A regional championships. Penn topped CP 20-3 in a 6A regional championship game on Nov. 11, 2011, the only previous meeting between the two schools.
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