La PORTE — Scoring before the break, followed by scoring to begin the second half can be gigantic in football.
La Porte used that formula flawlessly against Lake Central on Friday night. Locked in a tight contest, the Slicers kicked a field goal late in the opening half, then tallied a touchdown to start the second stanza. That turned a 7-7 tie into a 10-point lead as La Porte seized control.
The Slicers racked up 364 yards rushing and dominated time of possession, sending them to their first victory of the season after an 0-4 start, 31-14, over the visiting Indians on Senior Night.
“That was probably the biggest thing to happen all night,” La Porte running back Jeremiah Ruiz said of the pair of scores to end and begin each half. “That really changed the whole momentum of the game.
“I'm so happy right now. Words can't explain it.”
After Lake Central (2-3, 1-2 Duneland Athletic Conference) knotted the contest 7-7 midway through the second quarter, the Slicers (1-4, 1-2 DAC) responded with a methodical drive to go ahead right before the break.
They used all rushes, including converting a fourth down and 1 at their own 41-yard line to continue the drive with about five minutes left in the half. Ruiz got the bulk of the carries on the drive and running back Isaac Alexander ripped off a 20-yard run to move the ball near the red zone. La Porte then eventually got the ball inside the 5-yard line and got Javier Robles’ 21-yard field goal to make it 10-7 at half. The drive continued after the visitors were called for pass interference in the end zone on fourth and 8 from the 20.
To start the third, the Slicers' defense stuffed the visitors on fourth and 2 near midfield. It then took them a mere two plays to build a 10-point cushion. Ruiz darted 40 yards up the middle, shedding a tackle about five yards downfield. That pushed the lead to 17-7 only 1:40 into the second half.
“That's a great opportunity to take over a football game," La Porte coach Jeremy Lowery said of the 10-point swing near half. "It changed everything. It kind of just changed the whole complexion.”
On the ensuing kickoff, the Indians fumbled the ball and Marcus Gray recovered it at Lake Central’s 23. Only five plays later, quarterback Collin Bergquist had a 14-yard touchdown run. Bergquist had a good fake up the middle and sprinted down the left sideline to the end zone. That made it 24-7 with 8:42 remaining in the third.
It was a breakthrough win for the Slicers. Not only was it Lowery's first victory at La Porte after coming over from Paoli, but it was the team's first victory of the year after a tumultuous start.
“I'm happy for our kids,” Lowery said. “I'm really, really happy for our kids. I'm proud of them. We had every excuse to start packing it in. It's been a struggle.”
The Slicers' defense forced three turnovers, held the Indians to just 99 yards rushing and limited them to 14 points. They also had some crucial fourth-down stops, including the aforementioned turnover on downs on fourth and 2 early in the third, holding running back Sir Felix Garcia just shy of a first down by mere inches. That set up La Porte's 10-point cushion early in the half.
“The defense did a great job getting stops, getting turnovers, giving us short fields,” Lowery said. “That's huge. Turnover ratio is such a big part of the game.”
Ruiz guided the Slicers with 154 yards rushing and two touchdowns, and quarterback Collin Bergquist followed with 73 yards on the ground and a TD. Running back Isaac Alexander had 66 yards rushing and a touchdown.
Ruiz said numerous factors contributed to the win.
“Definitely the offensive line holding up blocks was crucial,” Ruiz said. “The defense getting stops. And the special teams being special.”
La Porte moved the ball fairly effectively to begin the game, but couldn’t quite score. It drove 33 yards, however, the drive stalled at the Indians’ 33 after it couldn’t convert a fourth down and 2 on a rush.
The second time, the Slicers cashed in. After their defense forced a punt, they marched 81 yards in 12 plays. They finished the drive with Alexander’s 8-yard TD run to the short side of the field on third down and goal on the first play of the second period to make it 7-0. Alexander and running back Jayden Parkes both had a few productive runs on the drive. Lake Central also had a key personal foul penalty on fourth down and 3 near midfield after it had stopped La Porte.
The Indians answered with a long drive to tie it, 7-7. They went 62 yards, capped with Garcia’s 6-yard run to pay dirt in the Wildcat on third down and goal. That knotted the contest midway through the second.
Later, after the Slicers went ahead 17 in the third, the visitors rallied. After dropping the shotgun snap, quarterback Mateo Cedano fired a 28-yard TD pass to wide receiver Daniel Nykiel. That cut La Porte's advantage to 24-14 midway through the period.
Then, in the fourth, with Lake Central attempting to make it a three-point game, the Slicers' defense rose up with a pair of interceptions by linebacker Austin Buda and 6-foot, 300-pound defensive linemen Jorden Steinhiser. Both came in Indians' territory and Steinhiser's was a one-handed grab after the ball was tipped at the line by defensive linemen Matt Neff. That led to Ruiz's 4-yard touchdown run, icing the game by pushing the margin to 31-14 with just over four minutes left.
“That interception by Jorden was beautiful,” Neff said. “He jumped up and lobbed it in his hands. It was one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen. I had a front-row seat to it, too. I was right there.”
La Porte's defense bottled up Garcia for only 63 yards rushing on 17 carries. He did have a touchdown run.
Cedano went 12-for-22 passing for 135 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions.
La Porte 31, Lake Central 14
Jeremiah Ruiz rushed for 154 yards and two touchdowns for the Slicers.