Running backs Spencer Gilbert and Cooper Henderson carried the No. 4 Eastern Hancock Royals (14-0) to a 37-16 rout over No. 1 Linton-Stockton (13-1) in the IHSAA Class A semistate game at Eastern Hancock High School on Friday night.
With the victory, the Royals advanced to the Class A state championship game against Tri-Central at Lucas Oil Stadium on Nov. 29 at noon.
Gilbert rushed for 135 yards and two touchdowns on the night, while Henderson ran for 96 yards added a touchdown of his own.
“Spencer and Henderson have been carrying us all year long and they’d be the first to tell you, without the guys up front and the receivers blocking, they couldn’t do it,” Royals head coach Pat Echeverria said. “I’m really proud of all of our players, but those two backs are pretty good.”
Henderson got Eastern Hancock on the board in the first quarter, as the junior took the ball for a 9-yard touchdown run followed by a second rush into the end zone for a two-point conversion to put the Royals ahead 8-0.
“I just followed my backs,” Henderson said. “Spencer, the line, they opened up holes all night, big holes.”
In the second quarter, Eastern Hancock junior quarterback Logan Splater scampered 24 yards for a touchdown to extend the lead to 15-0.
The Miners answered just before the half, as senior quarterback Beau Eaton threw a 45-yard pass to senior wide receiver Zane Hayden that got Linton-Stockton down to Eastern Hancock’s 2-yard line. Sophomore running back Michell Eberhardt punched it in from there and a 2-point conversion made it 15-8.
Eastern Hancock dominated the second half, as Henderson and Gilbert teamed up for a touchdown, with Henderson taking the snap and tossing a pass to his senior teammate that extended the Royals’ advantage to 23-8 in the third quarter.
Eastern Hancock put the game out of reach in the fourth quarter with another rushing touchdown by Gilbert. Already leading by 22 points, Splater later threw a 34-yard pass to junior wide receiver Derrik Noel, who ran it into the end zone and fumbled, but saw teammate Austin Smith recover it to make it 37-8.
Eberhardt would score once more for Linton-Stockton, but it was too-little-too-late as Eastern Hancock went on to celebrate its first state championship game berth since 1985.
“(Our defense) stepped up and held a very good offensive team to 16 points, and I’m extremely proud of them,” Echeverria said.
Gilbert echoed his coach’s sentiment, saying the team lived up to its potential Friday night.
“Everybody played their part and everybody did their role,” Gilbert said. “We knew if we played like we could, we’d win the game. And that’s what happened. We came out and got it done.”
Now that they have gone where no Eastern Hancock team has gone in nearly three decades, Splater said the game plan for the Royals in the state final next week is a simple one.
“If we come out prepared again and do what we do, we’ll be fine,” he said.