Special teams and turnovers have been pivotal since the resumption of the Central Catholic-West Lafayette football rivalry in 2011.
• In 2011, Travis Smith’s late interception return lifted Central Catholic to a 21-14 victory.
• In 2012, West Lafayette scored a touchdown to pull within three points of CC with 10.3 seconds left in the first half. The Red Devils kicked deep to Timmy Mills, whose 90-yard kickoff return touchdown boosted the Knights to a 24-14 win.
• In 2013, two missed extra points — including one in overtime — made the difference in CC’s 27-26 victory.
• In 2014, West Lafayette turned the ball over four times and allowed Adam Lovell’s 99-yard kickoff return touchdown. But the Red Devils defense stepped up to buck the trend and preserve a 21-17 win.
On Friday, Central Catholic exploited advantages in the kicking and return games and recovered four of West Lafayette’s six fumbles in a comfortable 38-20 victory at LaRocca Field.
“We realized they couldn’t really hang on to the ball like we thought they could,” said Central Catholic linebacker Jack Hudson, who also helped as an upman in the return game. “So we started playing first guy wrap him up, second guy go for the ball. We knew once we got the ball back it would be a huge momentum swing for our offense and help them score.”
West Lafayette employed its usual short kickoff approach. Hudson, who only remembered fielding one kickoff all season, said the Knights practiced all week for “funky stuff” on returns.
Hudson (two returns) and Metzinger averaged 16 yards per return after Red Devil touchdowns. Central Catholic started at no worse than its own 45 after West Side scores.
“Me and Jack just had to take advantage and not be scared to have the ball, and just do what we do and finish plays,” said Metzinger, who also pinned West Side with a big tackle on a kickoff return.
Central Catholic kicker Sam Milazzo repeatedly placed kickoffs inside the 5-yard line. West Lafayette return man Nai Carlisle found more room in the second half, returning one out to his own 40. But in general, the Red Devils were forced to make longer drives all night.
Milazzo also kicked a 43-yard field goal to give Central Catholic a 31-20 lead late in the third quarter.
“We know he’s got a good leg,” Hudson said. “We tell him kick it deep and we’ll get down there for him.”
West Lafayette lost its first fumble just four plays into the game. Travis Rolle broke off a 29-yard gain on fourth-and-inches, but a CC defender knocked the ball loose from behind. It bounded down the field about 20 yards before eventually being recovered by the Knights.
Central Catholic scored two touchdowns in 71 seconds to open up a 28-13 lead before half. In the middle, it forced and recovered a fumble at the West Lafayette 30.
West Lafayette tried to swing special teams in its favor by recovering an onside kick to open the second half. But more fumbles followed, including one on a fourth-and-1 run to start the fourth quarter.
The last turnover came immediately after a rare CC punt. The Knights only had to drive 24 yards for the backbreaking final score.
“The offense just has to move on, and the defense has to keep doing their thing and shutting them down,” West Lafayette senior defensive lineman Chris Kidwell said.