Week 12 preview: After routing N. Newton, S. Central, Cavs seek first sectional title since 2009
BY VAL TSOUTSOURIS
Sports Editor, RTC
Class 1A, Sectional 41 final: Culver (7-4) at North Judson (10-1), 7:30 p.m. Eastern
(winner plays Traders Point Christian-Park Tudor winner in regional)
It’s the first week in November. Once again, point the Culver football team’s bus in the direction of North Judson.
The Cavaliers’ 61-0 steamrolling of South Central (Union Mills) last week was a tribute to their physical line play, according to coach Mike Zehner. While fullback Shane Shuman continues to rip off big runs, he’s doing so against a line that includes right tackle Ben Lee, right guard Devin Burkett, center Steven Pugh, left guard Braiden Molebash and left tackle Travis Blankenship.
Evans is a sophomore, and the other four are seniors.
“I think they were the difference in the football game when it came down to it,” Zehner said. “Both sides of the football. They played well. I felt like the first time we played South Central, we kind of let their quarterback scramble around a little bit. We had a nice blitz package with Ian Brown. They had a tough time picking him up, and he ran free, but then Ben Lee, we kind of put Ben opposite him, and he did a nice job containing the quarterback and got some sacks as well.
“Just overall, I felt like the line play was definitely the difference in the game. I don’t know if they’ve seen that this season to tell you the truth.”
Culver has won their two sectional games by a combined score of 111-8 and played each of the last two second halves with a running clock.
Zehner said the team has a “different feel” since a 28-8 win at Pioneer on Oct. 7. That was Culver’s first ever win over Pioneer, and Zehner remarked that the confidence the team has shown since then has been “awesome.”
No. 4 North Judson, however, is a different challenge. The Blue Jays have won their last three games by a combined score of 154-20 since suffering their only loss to LaVille in overtime on Oct. 7.
North Judson is the defending regional champion, and they have won the last nine meetings against Culver, including a 45-12 win in the season opener on Aug. 19. North Judson also beat Culver in the 2019 and 2021 sectional finals and the 2020 sectional semifinal.
Coincidentally, this is not only the fourth straight year that these teams have met in the sectional but the fourth straight year that the game has occurred at North Judson.
North Judson’s Cheyenne Allen had a team-high 129 yards rushing and two touchdowns in a 25-6 win over Triton last week in the semifinals, and quarterback Aldric Harper ran for 120 yards and passed for another 45. Sophomore fullback Brock Benson has 1,027 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns as part of North Judson’s option ground attack.
“Just trying to fine-tune stuff and trying to probably look at more personnel and things when you’re scheming,” Zehner said of preparing against such a familiar opponent. “We know what they’re going to do. They know what we’re going to do. But it’s been fun. There’s been some really close games, and there’s been some lopsided games too.
“But I felt like in last year’s championship, that first drive, we ended up having an incomplete pass that was ruled a fumble, and they recovered in great field position, and we just can’t have things like that happen. And if that does happen, we change the cycle is what we’d say. Change the course of action. We can’t let that big momentum swing happen early.”
As Culver seeks their first sectional title since 2009, Zehner notes that his team will have several players that they did not have in the Aug. 19 game. Blankenship is back from a shoulder injury, Ian Brown was in basic training, Molebash has switched to inside linebacker, and Emiliano Ortiz also did not play in the first meeting.
“We’re a different football team than what we were in Week 1,” Zehner said.
If Culver wins, they would play Park Tudor at home or Traders Point Christian on the road in the regional.