By Justin Sokeland
EVANSVILLE – Arriving fashionably late is a way of demonstrating importance. Bedford North Lawrence’s offense, making a dramatic entrance after a lengthy absence from the biggest party of the season, showed its worth.
After a non-existent first half, with angst spiking to a fever pitch as a one-win opponent was dominating and threatening to post a remarkable upset, the Stars finally got their hands on the football. Once they did, they made history.
From anxious spectators to welcome heroes, from upset alert to runaway victors. BNL escaped from a one-and-done fate with a second-half surge to a 27-6 victory over Evansville Harrison in the opening round of Class 4A’s Sectional 24 on Friday night. Cal Gates and Memphis Louden accounted for all the touchdowns as BNL (7-3) won a road game in Evansville for the first time in program history.
Better late than never. BNL’s offense was limited to eight plays in the first half as the Warriors (1-9) refused to give up possessions, scored on the final play of the second quarter, and made the Stars squirm in frustration. BNL’s 7-6 lead at intermission seemed like a three-score deficit. But in the second half, the script flipped as the Stars took control by scoring three straight times.
So for only the second time in BNL’s unimpressive postseason history, the Stars have won sectional games in back-to-back seasons. Now they’ll return home to clash with No.2 Evansville Reitz (10-0 after a 24-0 win over Boonville) in the semifinal round.
“That’s awesome,” Louden said. “This is a special group.”
Give credit to BNL’s defense, which logged 20 minutes on the field in the first half, spent most of that time chasing elusive Harrison quarterback Deshawndre Brown, and allowed only one score. Give credit to BNL’s offense for a crucial drive to start the third quarter. Style points don’t matter. Only the desired results.
“It doesn’t have to be the prettiest, it doesn’t have to be the cleanest,” BNL coach Derrick Barker said. “You have to survive and advance, earn the right to play another big game next week.”
BNL’s survival was in question for a long time. As exasperating as the first two quarters were, the last two were the Stars everyone expected against an opponent that was allowing over 40 points per game. Clutch throws by Louden, tough running by Gates, two defensive stops on fourth down.
“The offense, once we got them the ball in the second half, they were tough to stop,” Barker said.
In the first half, it was the best of times for Harrison, the worst for BNL, quite a cautionary tale. And it started so promising. BNL’s Tyler Webb swooped in to block a punt, which Brady Byers scooped up at the 3-yard line. Two plays later, Gates crashed in for the touchdown. Easy night ahead? Nope, not at all.
While the Warriors didn’t score on their next two drives, they monopolized the ball and kept BNL’s offense on the sideline, where it could do no damage. Harrison, with Brown darting and dodging, marched to the BNL 16 before stalling. BNL went 3-and-out in 54 seconds, and the Warriors responded with a 16-play drive that devoured seven minutes – and produced no points when BNL held on fourth down at the 11.
BNL went three and out, here Harrison went again. The Warriors killed the final 7:57, converting a third down with a pass interference penalty, then setting up first-and-goal when Brown found 6-7 tight end Brooks Thomas near the pylon. On fourth down, after BNL called a timeout with 1 second left to set the defense while the Warriors scrambled to get set and snap the final play, Brown lofted a strike to Adyson Thomas for the score and the 7-6 margin at halftime.
Harrison’s time of possession in the first half was a whopping 20:05. BNL did not record a first down and managed only nine total yards. And somehow owned the lead. William Henry Harrison, the first Indiana governor and the school’s namesake, was the nation’s ninth president and served only 31 days in office before an illness claimed his life. And his tenure lasted longer than BNL’s time with the ball.
“They played a heck of a first half, keeping the ball away,” Barker said. “I think that quarterback is one of the best players we played against all year. He’s something else. They converted some big plays. It was definitely frustrating.”
“We weren’t on the field very long,” Louden said. “It’s kind of tough, not getting the ball. It was frustrating, we couldn’t do what we’re capable of.”
Adding insult to injury, especially after the Stars listened to a tongue lashing at halftime, Gates returned the opening kickoff of the second half 90 yards for a touchdown – except it was erased by an illegal block penalty.
Then came the most important drive of the season. Louden started it with a 12-yard strike to Gates. On third down, he connected with Maddox Ray for 17 yards. On the next third down, he found Ray again for 20 more. Gates broke loose for 23 yards, and Louden capped the 88-yard march by scampering home from 6 yards for a 13-6 lead.
“That was huge,” Barker said. “We just needed to get back to being ourselves, and it started with that first drive. The offense responded. Momentum is big, it’s a real thing. So getting that score, being able to take a deep breath and get some confidence, was huge. We were rolling from there.”
BNL took control after that. The next drive covered 63 yards, highlighted by Louden’s fourth-down run to keep it going, and was capped by Louden’s 11-yard touchdown strike to Gates with 9:26 left. The Stars ended the suspense after that, stopping Harrison on fourth down from its own 39. Seven plays later, Louden blasted to the end zone from 14 yards.
All of BNL’s stats were compiled in one half. Gates ran for 97 yards, Louden threw for 70, and Ray caught four passes for 34.
“We came out here and did our thing,” Louden said. “After scoring, it takes the pressure off everyone.”
Brown finished with 87 rushing yards, although BNL had four sacks. He was also 9 of 20 passing for 116 yards. Every time he handed the ball off, it was a win for BNL. “He didn’t run it enough,” Harrison coach Moe Sutton said.
Webb’s blocked punt was BNL’s fourth of the season. The Stars also had four fourth-down stops.
“We had to just keep getting stops, over and over again,” Webb said. “We had to help the offense out and make sure they didn’t score.”
In the other half of the Sectional 24 bracket, Evansville Memorial thumped winless Evansville Central 38-8, while Jasper jolted Evansville Bosse 41-24. Memorial (7-3) will visit Jasper (7-3) in the other semifinal.
Bedford NL 7 0 6 6 – 27
Ev. Harrison 0 6 0 0 – 6
BNL – Cal Gates, 2 run (Ruel Steele kick), 9:28
EH – Adyson Thomas, 7 pass from Deshawndre Brown (kick failed), 0:00
BNL – Memphis Louden, 6 run (kick failed), 7:35
BNL – Gates, 11 pass from Louden (Gates pass from Louden), 9:26; BNL – Louden, 14 run (kick failed), 4:18
BNL – First downs 11 (7 by run, 4 by pass); Rushing 26-141; Passing 7-14-0-70; Total yards 211; Fumbles 0; Penalties 5-40
EH – First downs 11 (6 by run, 4 by pass, 1 by penalty); Rushing 34-93; Passing 9-20-0-116 Total yards 209; Fumbles 0; Penalties 2-15
Rushing – (BNL) Louden 8-43, Gates 17-97, Brosamle 1-1; (EH) Brown 19-87, Sutton 3-(-2), Bavone 4-2, Reed 7-11, Thompson 1-(-5)
Passing – (BNL) Louden 7-14-0-70; (EH) Brown 9-20-0-116
Receiving – (BNL) Gates 2-23, Ray 4-34, Nelson 1-13; (EH) B. Thomas 2-17, Reed 4-53, A. Thomas 2-31, Johnson 1-5