BY VAL TSOUTSOURIS
Sports Editor, RTC
Class 1A, Sectional 41 semifinal: Culver (3-7) at North Judson (8-2), 7:30 p.m. Eastern
The Culver football team had 483 yards of total offense against Lake Station last week. They had 30 first downs. They had three different running backs – Shane Shuman, Blake Thompson and Emiliano Ortiz -- run for over 100 yards out of their power-T offense.
Still, they were clinging to a 32-29 lead in the third quarter when they finished the game with 16 unanswered points and won 48-29.
“We’ve been there before,” Culver coach Mike Zehner said. “Just don’t freak out. Continue doing what we do, and we’ll be fine, and I think our kids did that. I think we’re starting to develop some good leaders. We tested that out last Friday, especially at halftime. We challenged them at halftime. We felt like it shouldn’t have been a ballgame at that point. We scored the first two (touchdowns) at 16-0 and ended up onsiding it and got the ball back and had a chance to go up three scores, and penalties prevented us from scoring on that drive, and we told them at halftime we’re the only ones stopping ourselves.
“We’ve just got to make some plays, and we did that in the second half, so it was nice to see.”
The Culver offense was productive despite committing eight penalties for 76 yards and losing a fumble that Lake Station’s Di’jon Newell returned 95 yards for a touchdown.
“We’ve got to make sure we clean those things up,” Zehner said. “We’ve got to play basically a mistake-free game this week to have a shot to play in a sectional championship. But other than that, I like what we did offensively.”
It marked the second straight year that Culver knocked Lake Station out of the state tournament and the fourth time in five years that Culver has won at least one sectional game.
The win over Lake Station gives Culver another chance to beat North Judson. The No. 10 Blue Jays, whose only losses are to Class 3A Knox and Class 2A, No. 3 Pioneer, beat Culver 63-20 on Aug. 21 and 15-14 in last year’s sectional final.
Stopping the run figures to be important for the Cavaliers. North Judson had 345 yards rushing in a 54-0 win at West Central last week and 337 yards in the Aug. 21 regular season game against Culver.
Top running threats for North Judson include Eli Blount and Cheyenne Allen.
Another key could be forcing turnovers. Ortiz and Tucker Fisher each had an interception against Lake Station, and A.J. Cooper had a fumble recovery.
North Judson showed wishbone tendencies against LaVille and Pioneer. Against West Central, their offense was more traditional.
“We’ll prepare for both,” Zehner said. “It’s really not that much. It’s either they’re in tight and trying to run their stuff or they’re flexed out. Against us, I believe they’ll be flexed out like they were in Week 1. I think what they did against West Central last week, they’ll try and do the same thing against us. They feel like they probably have better athletes than we do, and they’re going to try to get to the edge by flexing us out and doing that stuff. That’s a strength for them.
“If they do pack it in and try to run power, I think that might benefit us a little bit more. Either way, we’ve got to make sure we get 11 guys to the ball playing option football, and we’ve got to be disciplined.”
The winner will host Winamac in the sectional final. Winamac advanced after South Newton withdrew due to coronavirus exposure.