LIGONIER – West Noble was loud first on Friday but certainly not loudest or last.
The Chargers’ early success was not sustained as they fell 42-20 to Mishawaka Marian in the Class 3A sectional semifinal game. Marian scored all 42 of its points unanswered in the final three quarters and change.
“It was kind of tough at first because we haven’t been down this year,” said Mishawaka Marian’s Mitchell Floran. “But our defense came out and they fired up our offense.”
The Chargers looked like they were making a statement early on. The very first Mishawaka Marian drive, Maddix Bogunia was picked off by Xhua Martin-Garcia deep in Knights territory at the 15 yard line. A few plays later, Brandon Pruitt took it in from two yards out and gave West Noble the initial 7-0 lead.
Less than two minutes later after a Marian three and out, Josh Gross made a big play, cutting and weaving through the Knight line to scamper 57 yards for a second straight West Noble score. Heads turned, the Chargers were hyped up and then there was silence. The silence didn’t come from the crowd but from the Charger offense, which then had little to no success moving the ball from there on out.
Luck swung Marian’s way at the end of the first quarter and they stayed in control even if luck didn’t have much to do with it. With 19.2 seconds left in the opening quarter, the ball was tipped on a pass as Gross hit Bogunia, but Floran was in the right place to grab the tip on the pass that wasn’t intended for him and Marian got onto the scoreboard it ended up dominating.
“You have to throw some luck in there too, every team needs a little bit of luck,” Floran said. “And I think we had that at the beginning to help overcome that 14-point deficit.”
The teams traded possessions early in the second, but with 7:02 left, Greg Atkinson took the Gross punt back to the house from 52 yards despite looking like he may have stepped out near the West Noble 30 yard line. His score and the subsequent extra point erased the only lead West Noble would ever have in this sectional game. After a Thomas Ewing interception of Kyle Mawhorter later in the quarter, Marian’s Malcolm Anderson ran in untouched from five yards out and Marian headed to the break up 21-14.
Two quick touchdowns in the third on runs from Anderson and Bogunia turned the game from interesting to a loud Marian statement that it can still be a power in Class 3A on this side of the state. West Noble looked to have some hope deep in the third quarter, forcing a Marian punt with 4:29 left but Gross fumbles the return after calling for a fair catch and the Knights’ Floran was able to recover inside the West Noble 10 yard line. Two possessions later, Bogunia made a 10-yard touchdown pass to Jayson Johnson in the back right corner of the end zone to increase the lead to 41-14.
“They came out stronger than we did in the first half, so we said ‘we have to win the second half.’ It doesn’t matter the score, we have to win it,” Floran said.
One third of Mishawaka Marian’s drives in the first three quarters started inside West Noble’s 35y-ard line. By the end of the game, Marian had started six of its 14 drives of the game in West Noble territory.
After their initial success, the two headed horse of Pruitt and Gross just never got started on the ground, save for a 24 yard tough run from Pruitt late in the fourth quarter. Pruitt did finish with 102 yards on 26 carries, but wasn’t able to cover significant ground per rush. Gross ended up with 49 yards on three attempts. Instead, Marian’s defense was just too tough into the backfield and just too loud with its physicality. Gustavo Taylor did make some headway on the ground late in the fourth, eventually punching in a score with 57.9 seconds left in the game to end Marian’s unanswered scoring run.
“We are just a bunch of friends having a lot of fun out here,” Floran said. “It is an honor. Not every team gets to play for a sectional championship. We have to work hard this week and hopefully come out with another win.”
At 10-1, the Knights will now play Jimtown (7-4) for the Sectional 26 title in Class 3A. West Noble ends its season a program-best 10-1, equaling the 1981 campaign.