By Noah Dalton
MITCHELL – After starting their season 0-4, Mitchell High School picked up their second straight win on Friday, beating Madison 26-20 in a tightly contested game.
The matchup between the Bluejackets and the Cubs came down to the final few minutes, with Mitchell scoring a late touchdown to take the lead, as well as their defense getting key stops to hold the advantage.
“It’s like I said last week, if we feel like we can win, if we believe we can win, we can,” said Bluejackets’ head coach Kevin Kling. “We’ve got the guys that can win ballgames. We’ve got guys that we know have got some special things and we just have to go out and execute and believe. Tonight we did. We did offensively and defensively. Special teams-wise, we did everything like we wanted. That’s a good ballclub with some athletes, and we had to execute so I’m proud of our guys.”
Mitchell was the first to get points on the board, taking an early 7-0 lead with two minutes remaining in the first quarter thanks to a 21-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Kale England to Malakai Goodman.
Madison controlled the ball for much of the remainder of the half, putting together a lengthy drive anchored by running back Cameron Wall, who picked up multiple first downs for the Cubs, eventually culminating in a 6-yard rushing touchdown from Jake Dyer with six minutes left in the half.
After a missed extra point attempt, keeping the Bluejackets ahead 7-6, Madison pulled off an onside kick, granting them back-to-back offensive possessions. The second of the Cubs’ possessions did not result in any additional points, thanks to an interception from Goodman around his team’s 10-yard line, giving the offense their first possession of the quarter, which was ended abruptly by a fumble, which was recovered by Madison, once again giving them the ball in Bluejackets’ territory.
Once again, Mitchell’s defense got a stop, this time in a 4th-and-eight situation, forcing a turnover on downs with just under a minute remaining on the clock, giving them one final chance to extend their lead in the half from around 64 yards away from the endzone.
After a few small gains, a 34-yard carry from sophomore back Gavin Robinson advanced the Bluejackets into scoring position, leading to a 35-yard field goal from Nate Robertson that split the uprights as time expired in the half, extending Mitchell’s lead to 10-6.
The Cubs bounced back in the third quarter, stopping the Bluejackets on a fourth-and-one, with Dyer taking it 59 yards to the endzone on the ensuing possession to give them a 12-10 lead after a failed two-point conversion.
On the following drive, Mitchell earned their first fourth-down conversion of the game, thanks to a 13-yard carry from England, but they were ultimately stopped again by the Cubs, turning the ball over on downs on Madison’s 20-yard line.
The Bluejackets’ defense didn’t allow a yard to Madison, forcing a three-and-out punt from the same spot. Robinson was back to receive the punt for Mitchell, catching it around the 42-yard line and returning it all the way to the endzone to score, once again putting his team in the lead 18-12, after a successful two-point conversion from the Bluejackets.
On the Cubs’ next possession, Wall once again was able to move the ball downfield for his team, carrying it 39 yards on four straight handoffs, leading to a play-action fake from Madison quarterback Matt McCarty, who found Grant Grossen for a 21-yard touchdown pass, giving them a 20-18 lead after a successful two-point conversion with 10:48 left in the fourth quarter.
A 30-yard return from Goodman put the Bluejackets on Madison’s 47-yard line to start the drive, with Robinson and England each picking up first downs on the ground, bringing them to the 30-yard line, where they faced a fourth-and-11, which was converted on a pass from England to Robinson.
Mitchell was also fortunate enough for the Cubs to receive an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the same play, bringing them another 10 yards closer to the endzone, with the ball spotted at the nine-yard line
With just five minutes on the clock, England carried the ball in third down for the touchdown. The Bluejackets tallied a successful two-point conversion after, giving them a 26-20 lead.
In the final five minutes, the Cubs had three chances to tie the game or take the lead, but Mitchell’s defense held them off each time, forcing a turnover on downs the first possession, with sophomore defensive back Caleb Vangemert grabbing back-to-back interceptions on Madison’s following drives to secure the victory.
Picking up key stops throughout the game, including three forced turnovers, this was perhaps the best showing of the year so far from Mitchell’s defense, who had given up an average of 38.8 points per game prior.
“Our secondary has been under scrutiny it seems like by a lot of people and tonight they came up big. We’ve kind of moved some people around and changed some pieces around and the injury bug has hurt us a little bit but we’re starting to get young guys to become older guys and really young guys to become not-so-young guys, and we’re starting to figure it out,” said Kling.
“But I will say this, the pressure up front at the end was just absolutely incredible. We got defensive ends that were going through triple teams to get sacks. I mean, you can’t ask for much more than that. The effort was just incredible.”
It was also another showing from the Bluejackets’ offense, who have scored 73 points in their last two games after suffering two shutout losses earlier in the season to Springs Valley and West Washington.
Robinson rushed for 126 yards on 20 attempts, with England adding another 59 yards on the ground for Mitchell. England also had 80 passing yards, completing 56% of his throws. His top targets were Robinson, who had four catches for 25 yards and Goodman, who had the 21-yard TD catch in the first quarter.
“Like I said coming out of the West Washington game, we were a team in transition and we finally kind of transitioned to some things that I think set up well for our quarterback, set up well for our runningback and our other skill guys to get them a chance to get the ball in their hands in different ways. And that’s what you saw tonight, is you notice we went with a little bit of option and, we’re starting to tinker with those types of things to get athletes the ball and we’ve got a lot of them out there,” Kling said.
With two wins now under their belt this year, topping their win total of last season which was Kling’s first leading the program, he feels as though the team is starting to put some things together following the season-ending injury to starting quarterback Ethan Turner in week two, which forced considerable change on the team.
“We’re starting to figure it out. When you lose your starting quarterback early in the year and you know, like I said we miss him wholeheartedly. He was going to be here tonight and then he’s sick. But we miss him wholeheartedly,” said Kling.
“We became a team in transition and a team that has nothing but bad breaks. And so to see this team be able to do what we’ve done the last two weeks and especially this one, winning it down the stretch is huge, it’s huge. I’m so proud of them, words can’t describe it.”
Next week, the team will travel to Scottsburg to take on the Warriors (3-3), set for a 7 p.m. kick-off.