This was supposed to be the season where Central Catholic was surpassed in the Hoosier Conference.
West Lafayette, Rensselaer and Tipton were loaded with talent and experience. The Knights relied on too many freshmen or other unproven varsity players.
Friday was supposed to be the night someone else celebrated at LaRocca Field. Class 3A No. 3 West Lafayette brought a multi-faceted offense and athletic defense into a Hoosier Conference championship game with the resilient Knights.
Yet when an extra-point kick attempt sailed wide in overtime, Class 2A No. 2 Central Catholic’s players met a swarm of their classmates at midfield to celebrate a 27-26 victory and their third straight conference championship.
“It’s the most unbelievable thing in the world,” said CC senior Joe Smith, who rushed for 94 yards and three touchdowns. “We fought our butts off the entire game. You can’t give up, because one point makes a difference.”
The Knights (8-1 overall, 6-0 Hoosier Conference) won their first overtime game since 2005 and improved to 18-0 since rejoining the Hoosier Conference in 2011.
“Everyone just kind of counted us out, and we weren’t really too happy about that,” CC senior quarterback Ty Preston said. “I think we showed that tonight.”
Central Catholic rallied from a 14-0 first-half deficit behind Preston, who completed 29 of 43 passes for 258 yards. He also handled placekicking for the injured Sam Milazzo, and after throwing a 4-yard touchdown pass to Mitch Witteveen in overtime, Preston’s point-after kick put CC up 27-20.
Maurice Woodard capped his monster night with a 6-yard touchdown run to pull the Red Devils (8-1, 5-1) within a point. But junior Jake Gutwein, who had earlier missed two field goals and an extra point, missed the point-after kick wide left.
“We knew they were going to fight back. They always do,” said Woodard, who rushed for 274 yards on 36 carries and scored on runs of 2, 80 and 6 yards. “We’ve seen it week in and week out — they come down to a close game and they always seem to pull it out. Unfortunately for us, they did it again tonight.”
With the score tied 14-14 midway through the fourth quarter, CC sophomore Adam Lovell broke up a Parker Ronchetto pass intended for Brandon Watt. Smith intercepted the deflection, then scored on a 26-yard run four plays later.
But Preston’s kick failed, leaving the score 20-14. The Red Devils hammered away with Woodard on the ensuing drive before Ronchetto went over the top to find Watt for a 43-yard game-tying touchdown pass.
Yet Gutwein’s kick went wide right, maintaining a 20-20 tie with 1:45 left. Central Catholic turned the ball over on downs at the West Side 40 with 42.1 seconds left, and the Red Devils drove down to set up a 35-yard field goal attempt, which also missed wide right as time expired.
“This game is the type of game that neither team should have lost,” CC coach Kevin O’Shea said. “It shouldn’t have come down to extra points and that. But it was really a great win for our kids, the way they fought and came through all of this.”
Central Catholic converted 7 of 9 third-down attempts in the second half and overtime, including 4 of 5 when needing 7 or more yards. Jarrod Patzschke, who hadn’t played all season while recovering from arm surgery, led the Knights with 81 yards on seven receptions. Witteveen, who had one catch all season, totaled 52 yards on five receptions.
That efficiency helped sideline a West Lafayette offense that rushed for 406 yards. Ronchetto rushed for 132 yards and threw for 100 more.
“I wouldn’t say the offense didn’t move the ball in the second half,” WL coach Shane Fry said. “We didn’t have the ball in the second half.”