Week 12 preview: Emerging junior class leads Culver into sectional final against North Judson
BY VAL TSOUTSOURIS
Sports Editor, RTC
Class 1A, Sectional 41 final: Culver (4-5) at North Judson (7-3), 7:30 p.m. Eastern
It took one play for the Culver football team to seemingly lose the momentum at the outset of its sectional semifinal game against South Central (Union Mills) last week.
But it took only play for them to get it back.
Culver committed a turnover on their first possession, but on the first play of their second possession, things changed. Tucker Fisher executed a fake so well that two South Central defenders decked Shane Shuman to the ground.
Except Shuman did not have the ball. Emiliano Ortiz did.
Ortiz was running a counter. A South Central defender was there, and then Ortiz turned the corner and turned on the jets. He was gone for a 71-yard touchdown, and Culver had a lead they would never surrender in an 18-0 win.
“They really flew strong with our backs on that play, and that’s one of our counter plays when you do fly with our backfield action, that play opens up big time,” Culver coach Mike Zehner said. “I’d like to say we got out to a fast start, but we fumbled on the first play of the game. I just felt like our defense played lights out. We fumbled, and they get it on the 19-yard-line, and we turn them over on downs four plays later, so I thought that was huge for us to play as well as we did defensively.”
The shutout was Culver’s first in a sectional game since a 28-0 win over Whiting in the 1999 sectional quarterfinals.
Ben Lee had four sacks on defense. As a team, Culver had five sacks. Zehner described his defense as “hit or miss” all season before its smothering of South Central.
The South Central offense that amassed 309 rushing yards against Caston in a 40-6 in its previous game, had -5 yards on the ground against Culver.
The emergence of players like Lee, Ortiz, Ian Brown and Shane Shuman give them a junior core to join seniors like Blake Thompson, Marquez Anderson, Jason Cadle, Oliver Morgan, Hunter Evans, Alex Zehner, Auston Zehner and Tucker Fisher.
“A lot of those guys ... with the exception of Shuman really didn’t play much in middle school,” Zehner said. “They really came out for me. … Those guys have just matured more and more. You’ve got to credit our coaches as well, but just getting those guys some football sense. I’ve always felt like in 1A, if you can put two really good classes together, and I feel like our junior and senior classes complement each other really well. … That’s been key for our success late in the season here.”
This week, Culver faces a North Judson team that beat them 19-0 in the season opener on Aug. 20. This is also the third year in a row they have met in the sectional at North Judson. The Blue Jays beat Culver 15-14 in the 2019 sectional final and 29-12 in the 2020 sectional semifinals.
The Blue Jays are coming off a 40-13 win over previously undefeated and fourth-ranked Winamac last week. Including the Winamac game, North Judson is 4-0 against Class 1A opponents and 3-3 against higher class opponents.
Cheyenne Allen ran for 142 yards and three touchdowns and also caught a 22-yard touchdown pass last week. Allen is also a top punt and kickoff returner.
“Sometimes there are those hangovers,” Zehner said. “I’m hoping it’s a hangover for them. They put (up) a lot of emotion. We feel like if they’re going to come in and have a hangover and really overlook us or look to regional or semistate, we’re in a perfect position to take it to them.”
North Judson coach Brett Lambert has noticed the Cavaliers’ improvement.
“Culver’s gotten a lot better over the course of the year,” Lambert said. “I mean that wholeheartedly. Their defense has gotten better. The first game of the year, we beat them 19-0, but it felt like they kept us in check for a lot of the game. We’re going to have to be on it because they run a ball-control offense, so our guys have got to show up… ready to rock and roll and get it done. Culver will show up. They’re well coached, and that’s going to be a tough ballgame.”
(Winner plays the Clinton Prairie-Carroll (Flora) winner in a Class 1A regional.)