By GREG KEIM
THE GOSHEN NEWS
They are called special teams for a reason and the Mishawaka Cavemen get to make a special trip due to a huge play on a kick return that helped clinch a 24-21 win over the Concord Minutemen in a high school football Class 4A semistate contest Friday night at Jake Field.
Mishawaka coach Bart Curtis took a chance when Concord’s kickoff went out of bounds with 1:11 left to play. Curtis had the option of taking the ball at his own 35 or making the Minutemen kick again. The veteran coach took the second option and 6-0 (170) senior Matt Carver made his coach look like a genius as he returned the ball 58 yards to the C-30.
“We have a great kick return game so why not have them kick again,” Curtis said.
Concord coach Tim Dawson said of the play, “It was a very gutsy move. Our special teams have been good all season. The Mishawaka kid made a play.”
Mishawaka’s 5-10 (185) senior quarterback Sam Schrader then continued to do what he had been doing all game. He found the cracks and crevices in the Minutemen defense and ran the ball five consecutive plays to the C-1. Concord’s “Strike Force” defense kept the Cavemen out of the end zone but on the contest’s final play 5-11 (160) senior Daniel Blackford, who had not kicked a field goal all season, split the uprights on the 18-yard game winner.
The kick sends the Cavemen to a state championship game for the first time since 1974. Dawson was a member of that team.
“I‘m so happy for Mishawaka,” Curtis said. “This is a great night for us. The best thing is we have a Monday practice.”
Concord finishes with an 11-3 record.
“It was a great championship game. Just what you want at this level,” Dawson said. “You have to take your hat off to Mishawaka. They made the plays at the end of the game they needed to in order to win.
“I was proud of our kids keeping them out of the end zone and forcing a field goal. We left it all on the field.”
The Minutemen were not without their own moments of play making as the team tied the score 21-21 with 1:11 left to play on a 42-yard touchdown pass from 6-0 (171) junior quarterback Trevor Wilmore to 6-2 (185) senior wide receiver Dakota Simon.
“Our kids battled back after Mishawaka had went up 21-14,” Dawson said.
Schrader was a thorn in Concord’s side all evening as he rushed for 147 yards on a whopping 36 carries. He gave the Cavemen a 7-0 lead at 5:07 of the first period on a 14-yard TD run and pulled them even with Concord at 14-14 at 3:30 of the third on a 34-yard scoring pass to Carver.
“He is the best football player in the state,” Curtis said. “He is just one of the kids we have on this team that will never quit.”
“Schrader is the leader of Mishawaka and he didn’t let them down,” Dawson said. “Mishawaka calls their plays at the line of scrimmage much like we do and Schrader called a great game.”
The Minutemen took a 14-7 halftime lead with a pair of second-period TDs. Dawson went deep into the playbook and called a just sweep for 5-7 (155) junior wide receiver Chris Martin that resulted in a 17-yard score with 8:24 left before intermission. Concord’s second score was with :17 left as Wilmore tossed a 31-yard TD to 6-2 junior wideout Adam Glanders.
“We really had a good game plan and we stuck to it,” Dawson said. “It came down to a few plays. Mishawaka made a few more of them than we did.”
Dawson looked back at two drives that ended when the Minutemen turned the ball over on downs at the M-31 in the third and one in the fourth where a fumble gave them ball back to the Cavemen at their own 32.
“We got hurt by some penalties. I had told the kids were could not miss scoring opportunities,” Dawson said. “We make a couple of more plays and we are the ones celebrating and it’s Mishawaka that is broken hearted.”
Wilmore did some running of his own for the Minutemen as he gained 103 yards on 22 carries. Six-two (230) senior tailback DuWhan Alford added 75 yards on eight attempts.
Wilmore connected on six of 10 passes for 106 yards. Simon had two catches for 57 yards and Glanders two for 37.
It was the final football games of outstanding prep careers for Alford and 6-5 (240) senior Franko House who started an impressive 51 games in his career for the Minutemen.
“All of the seniors have been great for the program,” Dawson said. “One of the things we try to teach them as coaches is there will be tougher things in life than what happens on the football field. But it’s hard right now because we were so pumped up to go to Lucas Oil.”
Five-nine (175) senior free safety Taylor Miller, who has been a stalwart on Concord’s defense all season, have to leave the game after taking a hit. He was taken to the hospital but was reported to be okay by Dawson.