Tippecanoe Valley junior workhorse Nate Parker protects the ball while picking up yardage during Friday night's sectional game against Guerin Catholic. Photos by Gary Nieter
Tippecanoe Valley junior workhorse Nate Parker protects the ball while picking up yardage during Friday night's sectional game against Guerin Catholic. Photos by Gary Nieter
AKRON - Hosting Guerin Catholic in the semifinal game of IHSAA 3A Sectional 28, the Tippecanoe Valley Vikings were able to string some good things together, but not enough to overcome their opponent and their big second half. The Golden Eagles won the game 34-14 to advance to the sectional championship next weekend.

“We put ourselves in positions to win so I couldn’t be prouder of the team and the fight that they had tonight,” head coach Steve Moriarty said. “They frustrated us by picking up a lot of big plays on third and fourth down but these kids have nothing to hang their heads at.”

Tippecanoe Valley got the ball to start the game in what was an unforgettable sequence. A long punt was muffed by the Viking returner at the five and fell out of bounds, giving the home team a long field to work with. To make matters worse, Valley was whistled for a false start before the first play, making the task even taller.

The Vikings would go three-and-out and punt immediately. The Golden Eagles wouldn’t do much more than the home team, gaining just one first down before being forced to punt themselves. Guerin Catholic would not wait long to get the ball back though, as Tippy Valley would turn the ball over on the very next play on an interception by quarterback Cody Eastgate. The Viking defense would come through to back its quarterback up, forcing a three-and-out of its own.

Tippecanoe Valley finally found some success on its third drive of the game. Running back Nate Parker would rush for the team’s first first down of the game and then for a couple more. However, the drive would stall as the Vikings couldn’t stop shooting themselves in the foot. The team was whistled for five penalties in the first quarter, all five on offense and four of the flags coming before the snap. The drive would be killed after one too many false starts in Golden Eagle territory, and Valley would punt once again.

As the second quarter began, Guerin Catholic began to find and exploit some holes in the running game. A methodical drive from the visitors would put the Golden Eagles in Valley territory for the third straight drive. For the first time, Guerin Catholic would convert. A 39-yard run by Justin Zdobylak would end in the end zone, putting the visitors on the scoreboard with the first points of the night.

Needing an answer, the Vikings would come up with one. Tight end Landon Durkes made an incredible contested catch on third and long with Tippy Valley deep in its own territory to give the team some momentum. It worked, as the next play would result in Parker breaking free and finding 34 yards of running room. The Vikings would go into a wildcat offense for the remainder of the drive with Parker in shotgun.

Facing a big fourth down play with just a yard to go deep in Golden Eagle territory, Moriarty would elect to go for it. It would pay off as Guerin Catholic would jump offside and give Tippy Valley a fresh set of downs. On second down, Parker cut to the outside, appearing to take off for a run. He would instead pass into the end zone and find a sliding Durkes to even the game up at 7-7.

The game remained tied for all of 30 seconds. On the first play of the ensuing drive, the Golden Eagles would complete a 66-yard pass that broke through the Viking secondary and went all the way to the house. A botched extra point would keep Tippy Valley within six.

After a three-and-out on offense was followed up by a bad punt, the Vikings had given the Golden Eagles a chance in their own territory once again. With Guerin Catholic getting the ball to begin the second half, a stop seemed crucial. The home team would get one. With the visitors driving and in the red zone, Karl Parker would recover a fumble for Valley and keep it a one-score affair going into the second half.

The Golden Eagles would start the second half from their own 10-yard line, the team’s worst starting field position of the night. The visitors would show their class and seize momentum right back from the Vikings, going 90 yards in less than a minute and thirty seconds to expand the lead. The final play of the drive was another chunk play in the form of a 42-yard touchdown pass.

Needing something badly on the next drive, Parker would step up for Tippy Valley. The junior would break free for a 54-yard carry that saw him brought down at the 10. Facing a goal to go situation, Tippecanoe Valley was unable to get into the end zone as Eastgate was intercepted once again. Parker finished with 169 yards rushing to go with 64 receiving and 10 yards passing along with a throwing score.

Deep in its own territory once again, Guerin Catholic would ice the game on the following drive. Facing a fourth and one from its own 16, the Golden Eagles elected to go for it. It paid off tremendously as Zdobylak would run 84 yards untouched for another score. Guerin Catholic rushed for 298 yards in the game.

“He was so patient,” Moriarty said. “It was hard for us to get a good read because we’re used to having a mess and bringing the guy down. For him to wait, wait, and then wait some more before breaking free was really tough.”

Trailing by 20 and looking for anything offensively, Eastgate would step up on the next Viking drive. The junior quarterback would complete four passes on the next drive for 72 yards, 57 of those going to Parker. Durkes would make his presence felt once again by grabbing a few more balls on his way to a six catch night that resulted in 49 yards. Eastgate would cap the drive off and get Valley into the end zone for the second time of the night on a one-yard carry.

The Golden Eagles would find the end zone one more time to begin the fourth quarter before each team took turns trading possessions until the game clock ran out. Guerin Catholic will take on Indianapolis Chatard Friday. The Vikings will return next season.

“These guys have poured their hearts out into Valley football since they were young kids,” Moriarty said. “All the work they’ve put in when the crowd isn’t watching, long hours on the practice field and watching film. These guys have a lot to be proud of and our seniors are leaving an example that will last for years.”