La PORTE — Squaring off versus unblemished Valparaiso, La Porte knew its margin for error was extremely slim.
Unfortunately for the Slicers, they committed too many mistakes in a football sectional final. And the Vikings didn't need any extra help. Their 32-point-average margin of victory and perfect record entering Friday night proved that.
La Porte turned the ball over six times against Valpo's vaunted defense, trailed 17-0 after the opening quarter, and couldn't solve the prowess of the Vikings. It added up to the Slicers' season-ending, 45-0 loss in the Class 5A Sectional 9 final at Kiwanis Field.
“First of all, congratulations to Valparaiso,” La Porte coach Jeremy Lowery said. “A fine football team. A really talented roster and well coached. Best wishes on their journey to a state championship. They've got a really nice shot.”
The Vikings (11-0) parlayed two turnovers by the Slicers (3-8) into touchdowns in the first half on a fumble return and an interception return. They followed by closing the half with a fumble return and translated that into a touchdown run to build a 38-0 cushion at the break.
With Valpo leading by at least 35 points at the break, a running clock was used the whole second half per IHSAA rules.
“There's really no weak link in the chain,” Lowery said. “You go through the film and you watch and you try and figure out how you're going to attack them and there's really no weak link in the chain. It starts there and their kids have worked hard, and their coaches have coached them well.”
Valpo wasted no time jumping ahead 7-0.
It received the ball first and used an uptempo offense to march down the field. It capped a 62-yard, seven-play drive with Tommy Burbee's 4-yard touchdown run a little over two minutes in.
After La Porte's defense held the visitors to Liam Shepherd's 25-yard field goal on the Vikings' next series, the Slicers moved the ball effectively on its next possession. And it appeared they scored a touchdown to cut it to 10-7, but Robbie Kiner's 38-yard TD pass to Grant Ott-Large was negated due to an illegal motion penalty. On the very next play, Cooper Jones scooped up a fumble in the backfield and raced 49 yards to pay dirt to make it 17-0 Valpo late in the first period.
La Porte was playing catch-up the rest of the way.
“It's been focus and effort,” Valpo coach Bill Marshall said. “We knew we had the ability to do it. It was just a matter of doing it again. It's always hard to beat a team twice, especially on their home field.”
The Slicers matriculated the ball down the field at times, but six turnovers proved costly, including four in the first half.
“I felt like we moved the ball all night, I really did,” Lowery said. “We were our own worst enemy. A lot of self-inflicted wounds. The kids played hard. Our kids have played hard all year long. We did not execute at our highest level tonight and it hurt us.”
CJ Opperman added a 7-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Osorio midway through the second to finish a 68-yard drive, pushing Valpo's cushion to 24.
Minutes later, the Vikings' Mason Maple had a 31-yard interception return for a touchdown. The visitors then pounced on another fumble and five plays later it resulted in Matt Tomczak's 10-yard touchdown run up the middle to make it 38-0 with just over one minute to go in the first half.
The Slicers had a new wrinkle offensively with some shovel passes.
Kiner completed three shuffle passes to Jayden Parkes and they all went for significant or decent yardage.
“Obviously, they've got those two great pass rushers on the edge who really try and get after the quarterback, so there's a nice natural lane there if you can pin the inside down, get the linebackers to drop into coverage,” Lowery said. “So we really liked that going in.”
Despite the huge deficit after the break, La Porte continued to battle.
“We haven't been the best team, but we've always fought for victories,” Slicers' senior Isaac Alexander said. “We've got some talent.”
Parkes guided the Slicers with 47 yards receiving and he added 25 yards on the ground with a 3.6 yards-per-carry average. Jeremiah Ruiz chipped in 35 yards rushing, while Kiner finished 7-for-19 passing for 68 yards with an interception.
Burbee led Valpo with 102 yards rushing and a touchdown, and Hayden Vinyard followed with 75 yards on the ground. Opperman went 7-of-10 passing for 68 yards with a TD.
The Vikings travel to Mishawaka (8-3) for a Class 5A regional final next Friday night. The Cavemen downed Elkhart Central 42-36 on Friday night.
La Porte, meanwhile, finished a challenging season at 3-8, however, it did improve dramatically from the first four games.
“If you'd have asked me five weeks into the season if we were going to be in the sectional championship, I'd have laughed at you,” Lowery said. “But that's a tribute to our kids, our kids worked and they worked hard. They never blinked.”
Class 5A Sectional 9
Valparaiso 45, La Porte 0
The Slicers’ Robbie Kiner and R.J. Anglin combined to pass for 86 yards.