By Justin Sokeland
GALENA – Like a gambler is Las Vegas, betting it all on one roll of the dice, Bedford North Lawrence coach Derrick Barker went for it. One play, from three yards, with the Hoosier Hills Conference crown at stake. Very few would take the risk. Barker never hesitated.
Jackpot? Nope. Snake eyes.
Going for a gutsy two-point conversion to take the lead with 47 seconds left, after rallying from a two-touchdown deficit in the final quarter, the Stars came up short, allowing Class 5A No.10 Floyd Central to escape with a thrilling 28-27 triumph in a showdown for the league lead on Friday night.
After a heroic comeback in the final eight minutes, capped by Memphis Louden’s touchdown dash from 9 yards, BNL decided the greater risk would be overtime against the Highlanders on their home turf. The decision was sound, but the execution was not as an exchange between Louden and wingback Maddox Ray was botched and fumbled. With that crucial stop, Floyd Central (6-1 overall, 4-0 in the HHC) took command of the HHC race while BNL’s bid for a repeat title took a major blow.
The Highlanders still have work to do, and BNL must now rely on help from future FC foes Jennings County or New Albany to keep its title hopes alive. Floyd has not won the conference championship since 2003.
“We want to win the conference, and we can’t have a letdown going forward,” FC coach James Bragg said. “We haven’t done anything yet.”
Perhaps not, but this victory in the battle between the frontrunners was critical. That made the BNL comeback even more clutch, and the conversion stop (with BNL’s defense of the title it won last year on the table) even more heartbreaking. The risk-reward factor was off the charts.
“At that point, I have full confidence in our offense,” Barker said. “When it come down to it, they made a good play and it didn’t go our way.
“We said, before we ever got the ball back, if we scored we were going for it. We wanted to end it right there. At the end of the day, like a couple of other games, we were one or two plays short. But you can’t knock the effort, to come back from 14 down in the fourth quarter.”
Floyd took a 28-14 lead when quarterback Tristan Robertson connected with Camden Harritt on a 49-yard bomb (against busted secondary coverage) down the right sideline with 8:10 left. That put the Stars (4-3 overall, 4-1 in the league) in mandatory score-stop-score mode. And they pulled that off.
Score. BNL went 60 yards, aided by two major Floyd penalties. Louden hit Cal Gates for 16 yards to reach the red zone. On fourth-and-goal, Louden zipped a 6-yard strike to Ryker Hughes to get the Stars within 28-21.
Stop. Floyd went three-and-out, and the Stars got the ball back with 2:46 left. Score. They got a break when a Floyd holding penalty negated a Louden fumble (after he collided with the referee during a backfield scramble), and they took advantage with Louden’s 21-yard pass to Ray and a 16-yard bullet to Gavin Pedersen. Two plays later, Louden squirted through traffic to the end zone. After two timeouts, BNL rolled the dice on the conversion and came up empty.
“We couldn’t put them away,” Bragg said. “They kept fighting, never quit. They got in a position to win the game, and our defense came up big. That’s the way it’s been for us this year. We never quit, we never bat an eye.”
Floyd never trailed. The Highlanders scored first, going 87 yards on the final series of the first quarter. Robertson’s 27-yard burst set up Mitch Bernardi’s 3-yard touchdown. Floyd made it 14-0 on its next possession, with Robertson’s 49-yard connection with Isaac Kaiser leading to a 29-yard touchdown pass to Vance Broadway at 9:59.
BNL answered immediately. Louden, in the midst of completing 11 straight passes, found Gabe Nelson for 16 yards before lofting an 18-yard TD pass to Piaire Childs at 7:37. But Floyd came right back again, taking another two-score lead when Robertson broke a tackle in the backfield and blasted home from 4 yards with only 42 seconds left in the half.
Too little time to respond? Not so. BNL went 73 yards in four plays and 39 seconds. Louden to Childs for 23. Louden for 16 on a scramble (plus 15 on a FC penalty). Louden for two yards and out of bounds. Then Louden to Pedersen, who made a sensational one-handed grab (despite a defender on his back) for a TD that cut the margin to 21-14.
When Floyd fumbled the opening snap of the third quarter, BNL definitely had momentum. But that was squandered when Ryker Hughes hit the left upright on a 37-yard field goal. Floyd’s next drive ended on fourth down at the 3, setting the stage for the frantic final period.
Robertson completed 10 of 18 passes for 204 yards and two TDs. Bernardi, who had missed the two previous games with a concussion, was a headache for the Stars with 118 rushing yards. Kaiser had four receptions for 95 yards.
Louden had his best game of the season, hitting 19 of 36 passes for 201 yards and three TDs. Gates had 5 catches for 51 yards.
“Memphis did a.great job, getting the ball where it needed to be,” Barker said. “It was a good night for the offense. I wish we could have made a couple of more plays on defense.”
BNL lost its third road game – all against ranked opponents, all on the final play. That stings. BNL’s four-game winning streak came to a close, while Floyd remained unbeaten against Indiana competition and extended its winning streak to six for the first time in 20 years.
“That’s a huge win,” Bragg said. “Bedford is a great team. That team is 4-3, it’s absolutely insane, because they’re not a 4-3 team.”
“What we have to focus on now is staying together as a team, turning the page on this one,” Barker said. “It’s going to hurt. They’re sad, upset, we’re all upset. Because it means something to us and we know what we’re capable of. Now we have to lick our wounds. The conference is whatever it is, we have to get back to playing good ball and get on a win streak going into the sectional.”
BNL will face Madison, and celebrate Senior Night, next week.
Bedford NL 0 14 0 13 – 27
Floyd Central 7 14 0 7 – 28
FC – Mitch Bernardi, 3 run (Cole Jones kick) 0;41
FC – Vance Broadway, 29 pass from Tristan Robertson (Jones kick), 9:59: BNL – Piaire Childs, 18 pass from Memphis Louden (Ryker Hughes kick), 7:37; FC – Robertson, 4 run (Jones kick); 0:42; BNL – Gavin Pedersen, 17 pass from Louden (Hughes kick), 0:03
FC – Camden Harritt, 49 pass from Robertson (Jones kick), 8:10; BNL – Hughes, 6 pass from Louden (Hughes kick), 4:46; BNL – Louden, 9 run (run failed); 0:47
BNL – First downs 19 (6 by run, 8 by pass, 5 by penalty); Rushing 25-82; Passing 19-36-0-201; Total yards 283; Fumbles 1 (lost 0); Penalties 7-68
FC – First downs 16 (11 by run, 4 by pass, 1 by penalty); Rushing 38-161: Passing 10-18-0-204; Total yards 365; Fumbles 1 (lost 1); Penalties 7-85
Rushing – (BNL) Louden 14-27, Gates 8-53, Childs 3-2; (FC) Robertson 14-43, Bernardi 24-118
Passing – (BNL) Louden 19-36-0-201; (FC) Robertson 10-18-0-204
Receiving – (BNL) Gates 5-51, Hughes 1-6, Ray 2-44, Gilbert 1-2, Childs 4-34, Nelson 3-27, Pedersen 2-31, Rynders 1-6; (FC) Kaiser 4-95, Broadway 2-37, Harritt 2-58, Conway 1-9, Pennington 1-5