FOUNTAIN CITY, Ind.
When Northeastern led state-ranked Eastern Hancock by 15 points at the 5:48 mark of the third quarter, you might think the game could be under control.
But not with the white-hot offense of the visiting Royals.
The state’s highest scoring football team ran off 36 straight points in just over a quarter, taking control of the game and winning the Class A, Sectional 45 championship game 57-36 on the Knights’ home gridiron.
Senior Spencer Gilbert showed his special skills, ripping off scoring runs of 39, 65 and 72 yards on the way to more than 300 yards on the ground.
The memorable comeback moved EH to 12-0 on the season, while a historic NE season ended at 9-3.
It was a very emotional team huddle for the Knights on the field after the game ended, with good reason. Northeastern’s graduating seniors had led the team to its first-ever Tri-Eastern Conference championship and to this memorable performance against the fourth-ranked Royals, who entered the game averaging more than 60 points a game.
That’s right, averaging more than 60.
The Knights had the Royals on the ropes, but the Royals responded like the talented team they are.
“All credit goes to our kids. They executed what we wanted them to do perfectly,” NHS coach Mike Roeder said. “I thought we started to tire a little bit in the second half, and they took advantage of it. Number 3 (Gilbert) is special. He’s really fast and strong. We haven’t played anybody like him this year. We gave them all they wanted, and I thought we did about as good a job as we could have done.”
Gilbert, unofficially, had 320 yards on just 17 carries. On one third-quarter possession, Gilbert ran 65 yards on a single play for a Hancock score, then a second Gilbert run on a fourth-quarter possession resulted in the 72-yard carry to paydirt.
In building the huge lead, Joey Claypoole of Northeastern ran for one touchdown and passed for two others. He also passed to Kelsy Kirkland twice for two-point conversions. Kirkland ran for two other touchdowns and one two-point conversion. J.J. Fleming caught one Claypoole scoring aerial, Tyler Sandlin hauled in the other.
Claypoole’s 1-yard touchdown run, then a Kirkland conversion run, that moved the score to 36-21, setting the stage for the EH offensive explosion.
“We knew we could play with them. We had studied film, and we did it into the third quarter, but we just couldn’t keep it up,” the senior Fleming said after the team talked on the field.
“I couldn’t be more proud of my team. We accomplished great things,” said Lareland Cooper, another Knight senior standout. Colt Overby, Brennan Parker and Colten Cowen were the other three of just five Northeastern seniors who finished fine careers Friday night.
Eastern Hancock will play South Putnam, which beat Indianapolis Lutheran, in next week’s regional. The team had not only the highest scoring average of any Indiana high school team coming into the game, but also an average margin of victory of 46 points.
Those numbers didn’t happen against Northeastern.