CHESTERTON — Stalwart starts this season had become fairly common for La Porte’s football team.
It was sustaining those quality beginnings which has proved challenging. That was the situation again on Friday night.
Even though the Slicers had a productive opening drive on the first possession of the game, they weren’t able to punch it in the end zone or even make a field goal, despite reaching Chesterton’s 5-yard line.
The Trojans, meanwhile, scored touchdowns on their first three series to jump ahead 21-0, spearheaded by sophomore quarterback Chris Mullen. And their defense clamped down on La Porte after its first drive, sending the Slicers to their fourth straight loss to begin the season, 29-7.
“We show flashes in the pan,” first-year La Porte coach Jeremy Lowery said. “We're not stringing it together. We've got to string it together. We've got to have more attention to detail.”
The Slicers (0-4, 0-2 Duneland Conference) couldn't contain the signal caller Mullen most of the night, especially in the opening half when he guided two drives of at least 70 yards, and another one of 61 yards.
Mullen finished 17-for-25 passing for 305 yards with four TDs for Chesterton (3-1, 1-1 DAC). His lone blemish was an interception, which went off the hands of a receiver to linebacker Justin Forker, who darted 70 yards to pay dirt for a touchdown in the third quarter.
"He's really good," Lowery said of Mullen. "And their scheme is nice. They put a lot of pressure on your secondary. And you've got to decide whether you're going to lay back and let them pick you apart in the zone or if you're going to try and get after him and send some pressure. They're good."
La Porte moved the ball effectively on the first drive of the contest. But it stalled at the Trojans’ 5-yard line as two tackles for loss moved the ball back to the 16. On fourth down and goal from there, Ben Slatcoff intercepted sophomore quarterback Collin Bergquist in the end zone for a touchback.
“We had a blown assignment, we lost some yards on the play,” Lowery added. “It's hard to catch up. We also had another blown assignment on the play after that. You get behind the sticks down there, you've got a shorter field. You've got to be better. You've got to be more detailed and more focused.”
It then took Chesterton a mere four plays to jump ahead 7-0. Mullen connected with Slatcoff on a 60-yard touchdown strike down the middle of the field with 4:32 left in the opening quarter.
On the Slicers’ next series, Bergquist’s 57-yard TD run was negated due to an illegal motion penalty. They then went three plays and out, and the Trojans pounced. It took them only five plays to reach the end zone the second time. Mullen again found Slatcoff for a touchdown pass, this time from 39 yards out on third down and 9 to push the lead to 14-0 on the last play of the first period.
After another short La Porte series, Chesterton had a more methodical drive, marching 70 yards in 10 plays, capped by Mullen's third touchdown pass of the opening half, a 4-yard jump ball that the 6-foot-6 Jake Warren high pointed to make it a 21-point margin with just under five minutes to go before the break. The score stayed 21-0 at half as the Slicers moved the ball a little, but couldn't convert a fourth down and 10 late in the half near midfield.
Then, to begin the third, the Trojans used exclusively pass plays to take firm control. They marched 63 yards as Mullen went 3-of-5 on the drive, including a 51-yard screen pass for a touchdown to Ethan Pickering on third down and 20. That put the visitors in a 29-0 hole early in the third after a two-point conversion pass.
Later in the quarter, Forker had his aforementioned 70-yard interception return for a touchdown. That cut the deficit to 29-7 with 3:02 to go in the third. He had a nifty move where he stopped and let a Chesterton player run by him at about the 30-yard line and he galloped the rest of the way down the right sideline.
“He's a great teammate,” Lowery said of Forker. “He's a good-hearted kid. He practices hard. He plays hard. Good things happen to those who work hard, play hard and are great teammates.”
Bergquist made his first varsity start at quarterback for La Porte. He's previously played running back. Bergquist went 1-for-2 passing for three yards with an interception. He rushed for 37 yards on 14 carries.
Lowery said the coaches decided to give Bergquist the start at signal caller because they liked his running prowess.
"He's a better runner," Lowery added. "We felt like our strength was in our run game. And it wasn't just necessarily him at quarterback, it was the combination we could put together on the field. We thought that was the best combination. We'll evaluate the film and each week's a new week."
Running back Jeremiah Ruiz led La Porte with 86 yards rushing on 15 attempts, and sophomore running back Jayden Parkes had 62 yards rushing on 10 carries.
Late in the contest, Ruiz ripped off a 45-yard run to the Trojans' 45, and Bergquist had a hard-nosed 23-yard run down to the 2. But the Slicers fumbled on the next play and Chesterton recovered.
Slatcoff led the Trojans with 112 yards receiving and two touchdowns.
Despite the setback, Lowery tried to remain upbeat.
“Our kids played hard,” he said. “The effort's there. We've just got to get better. We've got to stick together.”
Chesterton 29, La Porte 7
Jeremiah Ruiz rushed for 86 yards on 15 carries for the Slicers.