Attracting Southwood defenders all game, Tippecanoe Valley's Nate Parker adds to his yardage total during the first quarter. Photos by Gary Nieter
Attracting Southwood defenders all game, Tippecanoe Valley's Nate Parker adds to his yardage total during the first quarter. Photos by Gary Nieter
WABASH – The Tippecanoe Valley Vikings started Friday night alone atop the Three Rivers Conference standings with a 7-0 league record, but at 9:25 p.m. they were sharing the TRC crown with Rochester and Southwood, losing to the latter 28-26 on a night the Knights’ Senior Night.

The regular season finale loss was in the same venue the Vikings experienced their previous regular season loss two seasons ago before they reeled off 15 straight conference wins and 17 straight regular season victories overall.

Freshman placekicker Gage Overbey’s 20-yard field goal attempt with 14.9 seconds left was signaled “no good” by the officials amidst swirling gusts of wind in place throughout the last five minutes of the fourth quarter.

The Vikings consequently finished their season 8-1 overall and 7-1 in the TRC as Valley coaches and fans questioned the accuracy of the call when the smoke settled.

Tippecanoe Valley head coach Steve Moriarty won’t waste time asking himself “what if” regarding the official’s call. He’ll quickly shift his focus to the second season, the IHSAA Class 3A sectionals.

“I'll be honest with you I thought (the kick) was good,” Moriarty said in his radio postgame interview. “

Moriarty’s squad reached the 2-yard line, facing fourth down when he called his field goal unit to the field. Although the Vikings had a size advantage on their offensive front, Southwood’s frontline defenders played tenaciously all night creating an unenviable dilemma for the Vikings.

Earlier in the contest something was brewing for the Vikings in a scoreless first quarter, but Valley defensive back Landon Durkes picked off (Southwood quarterback) Cole Winer’s pass at the Knights’ 41-yard line and finished his return at the Southwood 33 late in the first quarter. The pick set up Nate Parker’s first of four rushing touchdowns for the evening from the four-yard line with 10:42 showing on the second quarter game clock.

Parker amassed 240 yards on 40 carries when the final horn sounded., scored his first of four touchdowns for the evening from the 4-yard line with 10:42 showing on the second quarter clock following Southwood’s first of two first-half turnovers.

Parker’s two-point conversion run attempt was snuffed by a physical Knight front seven leaving the Vikes up 6-0.

Cole Winer’s fumble in the passing pocket was returned by Trent Marshall to the Knights’ 25-yardline to set up another short field drive by Valley topped off by Parker’s 10-yard score with 4:05 left in the first half. Parker, again, was snuffed short of the goal line on his two-point conversion rushing attempt, but Valley was on top 12-0.

The Vikings’ bid for a shutout was thwarted on the ensuing Knights’ drive.

A 27-yard kickoff return by Isaiah Sutton set up the hosts at their 43-yard line, and Cole Winer’s passing game began to fall into place.

Southwood marched downfield to the Vikings’ 17-yard line using the passing game on two of the next three plays to find paydirt. Cole Winer (9 completions on 17 attempts, 225 yards and 3 TDs) found Will Winer for a five-yard TD strike to close within one score with 19.5 seconds left in the half.

Winer’s scoop and scramble from his center’s errant snap on the extra point kick attempt ended with an interception by Tippecanoe Valley’s Noah Prater. The halftime score stood at 12-6 in the guests’ favor.

The Vikings’ All-State safety Wade Jones was unavailable due to injury, and the Knights settled down to start the second half, able to figure out how to take advantage of the resulting shift in defensive backfield personnel resulting from Jones’s absence.

“We had to switch a few things and maybe do some things we're not comfortable with coverage-wise,” Moriarty noted.

Cole Winer and his Knight teammates launched their second half opening offensive series with improved execution of their spread offense. The Viking back seven had to respect the Knight QB’s arm, and he used the open real estate around the pocket to scramble four yards for a TD with 9:06 showing on the third quarter scoreboard.

Winer then found Sutton in the left flat as the halfback barely crossed the plane for the two-point conversion reception. The Knights, with renewed energy, had momentum on their side along with a 14-12 lead.

Something  suddenly felt strange for the Vikings and their fans after a little less than three minutes elapsed in the second half.

Tippecanoe Valley faced its first 2022 season deficit after being in command among the previous 34 completed quarters.

Valley punted during their first series of the third frame, and Southwood’s Winer and his young men wasted no time continuing their crescendo of momentum as the senior signal caller found Sutton for a 52-yard TD strike with 3:09 left in the third quarter to move further ahead 21-12.

Facing a nine-point deficit, the Vikings offense bounced back, and Parker’s sprint to the end zone from 40 yards out with 32 seconds remaining in the third quarter tightened the game’s margin. Overby’s extra point kick narrowed Tippecanoe valley’s deficit to 21-19 as the two squads headed to the final quarter.

The Knights, not to be outdone, opened the final period facing third down at their own 17-yard when Weiner launched his third touchdown pass Mo Lloyd beating the Viking backfield just past midfield enroute to an 83-yard scoring reception.

Parker responded with a kickoff return to the Valley 48, and continued his lunch pail work in the backfield, eventually scoring his fourth touchdown in a fourth and goal situation from the three-yard line. The TD run was Parker’s 36th carry of the night.

Tippecanoe Valley trailed 28-26.

“I'm very proud of the kids for the way they fought they kept their head up and even when (Southwood) scored deep,” Moriarty said. “They came back and fought again.”

The aforementioned heavy crossing wind disrupted the Southwood passing game thereafter, and the hosts rolled the dice and punted from their 42-yard line to the Valley 22.

Parker, Dalton Alber, and Markus Bernicky churned plenty of ground yardage on their final drive assuring the Vikings would use the rest of the available time to write the game’s final chapter. Valley’s ground game was tailored to keep the Southwood offense on the sideline for the rest of the night if all went as planned.

But it didn’t, and the Vikings ended the evening as TRC tri-champs following the 28-26 loss.

“We talked at the end they said it's just you know you got to have a short memory, right?” Moriarty said. “They won the bell,  They’re conference champs. They've reached two goals and now it's on to the sectionals.”

Tippecanoe Valley travels to Peru (3-6) Friday at 7:00 for its opening sectional fray.