A change in scenery helped restore McCutcheon’s proud football tradition.
The ghosts of seasons past came back to haunt the top-ranked Mavericks on a Halloween night smattered with sheets of snow, rain and gusts of wind that made for a tough night on the gridiron.
Westfield took advantage of an early special teams error, stacked the box against a surely all-state tailback and showed the Class 5A No. 1 Mavericks what they’d missed in their year away from the Hoosier Crossroads Conference with a dominating 28-7 sectional semifinal victory at Ellison Stadium.
Despite the sectional semifinal loss, McCutcheon finished with its first winning record since 2002, also the last time the Mavericks were ranked No. 1.
“I have no regrets and I would take these guys over everybody,” McCutcheon senior defensive lineman Devon Snyder said. “I wouldn’t trade this season for the world.”
The Shamrocks, last season’s 5A runner-up, now face another former HCC foe in Harrison (7-3), also enjoying its most success in years after exiting the league to join the North Central Conference.
McCutcheon (9-1) quickly found itself in unfamilair territory against the same team that ended its season a year ago in the sectional championship. Westfield secured its seventh win in a row in the series on Friday night.
The Mavericks dominated their new schedule, averaging almost 48 points per game. Senior running back Blake Elming entered the Sectional 11 semifinal with 2,200 yards rushing in just nine games. Both of those numbers took a dip thanks to the Shamrock defense.
Westfield (6-4) put at least eight defenders in the box throughout the night, not so much daring the Mavericks to throw in terrible conditions but because that seemed like the most logical way to limit Elming, who finished with 86 yards and the lone McCutcheon touchdown on 22 carries.
“We had to pack it because that’s the only way we could stop him,” Westfield coach Jake Gilbert said. “Their O-line is so good and the running back is so good that we just felt like that was our best chance.”
Meanwhile, the running back on the other sideline was trudging through the mud with much more ease.
Senior Elvin Caldwell rushed for 112 yards and three touchdowns and sophomore quarterback Andrew Sweet gained 92 on the ground, also finding the end zone once, and completed 10 of 13 passes for 101 yards.
“We knew right away we could score and with our offensive line, we were ready,” Caldwell said. “We felt like were going to get a push and keep driving down the field. The defense has been hot all year and our offense had to show what we could do.”
Westfield won the coin toss and kicked with the wind to its back, a decision that led to 14 quick points on two short drives.
McCutcheon’s Donnie Blount fumbled the opening kickoff, leading to a 22-yard touchdown drive, and Caldwell cashed in for the second time in the first quarter with a 7-yard run after a punt return put the Shamrocks inside the 10.
“The coin toss is important and we were on the good side of it,” Gilbert said. “A few games ago against Avon, we were on the bad side of it and were down the exact same way. To be able to jump on them like that, I felt like, especially with wind a factor, it was very helpful.”
Ryan Rubicz’s interception in the end zone in the fourth quarter stalled the Mavericks’ best drive of the night. Westfield had little trouble grinding out yards, finishing with 315 and punting just once while controlling the clock.
After Rubicz’s interception, Westfield held the ball for the final 11:03, kneeling inside the 10 to end the game. The lone offensive miscue came when Sweet was picked off in the red zone by John Bonaguro.
“They were tough and I don’t think we could have done anything different,” Snyder said. “We played our hearts out and left it all out on the field.”