MUNCIE — Before Queen’s “We are the Champions” blared from the speakers, before the student section rushed the field, before they posed for photo after photo… the Delta Eagles needed a semi-miracle.
A 22-point second-half lead had evaporated just moments earlier, and the Eagles faced fourth-and-21 from the Pendleton Heights 23-yard-line with less than three minutes left in a tie game. Not too many teams have a 21-yard play to dial up, but Delta quarterback Ryley Pease knew just where to go with the ball: 6-foot-6 Mitchell Hahn.
Pease lofted a perfect ball to Hahn, who lost his defender and then eluded a safety to reach the end zone – his third touchdown of the night – and give Delta a 46-32 win and its first sectional championship since 2009.
“The odds were totally against us, but we don’t quit,” said Pease, who threw four touchdowns and ran in another. “I like to take the mentality of, ‘We’re never out of the fight.’”
Pease then sighed and looked around the field at his celebrating teammates before continuing: “I’m just kind of in shock right now. I’ve been working so hard for it, so I’m just glad it happened.”
Pease and Hahn make it look easy at times, but Delta coach Grant Zgunda emphasized how hard the Eagles work to vary their formations to get Hahn single-coverage opportunities. The game-winning play was one that the Eagles had tried to run the first time they played Pendleton Heights on Oct. 2, but 30-mile-per-hour winds made the pass sail wide.
But lined up in trips formation, Hahn took a hard jab to the inside and blew past his stumbling defender, capping off an eight-catch, 208-yard performance.
“Me and Ryley have been playing together a long time, and we knew each other well,” Hahn said. “He put a great ball up there for me.”
Delta (9-3) was cruising as Pease’s quarterback sneak from one yard out gave it a 32-10 lead with 4:22 left in the third quarter. But the Eagles offense went cold as a three-and-out and then a turnover allowed Pendleton Heights (5-7) to tie the game with 6:43 left.
But Pease, who was 9 of 16 passing for 217 yards, saved his best for last, leading a 12-play, 72-yard drive to win the Eagles’ sixth sectional title under Zgunda.
“He’s just a heck of a player,” Zgunda said.
Mills added a 4-yard touchdown run with 26 seconds left after Blake Green broke up Pendleton Heights’ fourth-down pass to turn the ball over on downs. The state’s leading rusher, Mills finished with 163 yards on 27 carries with three total touchdowns.
“I thought we had it at halftime, but I knew we needed come out because I knew they weren’t going to shut down on us,” Hahn said.
“You just have to fight and stay in it.”
Contact sports features writer Ryan O’Gara at (765) 213-5829. Follow him on Twitter @RyanOGaraTSP.