Summary: New Prairie found itself in another tight game Friday night on the road against Elkhart Central. They couldn't overcome the Blue Blazers, however, falling 31-28 on a last-second Bryan Ramirez 36-yard field goal, dashing hopes of an undefeated regular season and an outright Northern Indiana Conference title.
"Things just didn't click tonight," said NP head coach Russ Radtke. "Guys couldn't put it into the end zone (when we needed to). They didn't have the determination. I mean, we're still the conference champions, though. We were able to run the ball well and make big plays, just couldn't do it in the (clutch) situations."
Turning Point: Elkhart Central had the ball on the 49-yard line with less than 30 seconds to go. Overtime seemed inevitable with the teams deadlocked at 28. The Cougars were playing a prevent defense so they couldn't get beat by the deep ball. The Blazers knew that and ran a draw to their star running back Mark Brownlee, wh0 gashed the New Prairie defense for 29 yards, setting up Ramirez's field goal try.
"They knew we weren't going to allow them to throw deep," said associate head coach Bill Gumm. "So that's the risk you're willing to take when you're in a prevent. Even though we weren't in a true prevent, it still opens that middle up and allows you to run."
Key Stat: Ramirez's 36-yard field goal. Following Brownlee's 29-yard rush, Elkhart Central quickly spiked the ball with nine seconds left after some clock confusion with moving the chains. Instead of running one more play and risking a turnover, Elkhart Central sent out its field goal unit with Ramirez, a first-year kicker who plays soccer as well. He booted it right down the center with enough power to be good from 50 yards with five seconds left. New Prairie senior Wyatt Kmiecik bobbed his way around on the ensuing kickoff, but couldn't find his way into the end zone.
New Prairie Offensive Player of the Game: Kmiecik. The senior plays a big role on the team as both a wide receiver and cornerback, but he made his presence most felt on the offensive end. He made a crisp move on an out-route to haul in New Prairie's first touchdown, and burned his defender for a 53-yard touchdown pass with less than a minute remaining in the second quarter. He ended the game with a pair of touchdown grabs and was an integral part to the Cougars' passing dominance, which figures to be a factor at some point in the playoffs.
New Prairie Defensive Player of the Game: Safety Chase Ketterer. Yes, you read that correctly. After a pair of drives where the Cougars' safeties let the Blazers' receivers get behind them for big gains, defensive coordinator Julio Cisneros made a bold change in personnel that's rarely been seen this year. He inserted Ketterer at safety, and the senior proved he's more than just one of the state's best quarterbacks — he can play some quality defense, too. Ketterer's impact defensively was most present deep in New Prairie's territory with Elkhart Central threatening to score. On consecutive third and fourth down plays, he punched the ball out of a wide receiver's hands and dove to tip the ball from a receiver on the end zone, turning the ball over on downs.
Quotable: "Now they know what it's like to lose a game," Gumm said. "Obviously you never want to lose. But I'll tell you this: This is going to light a fire underneath them. They know how it feels to lose, and I can guarantee you they'll do everything they can to make sure they don't feel like this again."
Up Next: A rematch with South Bend Riley (5-4) on Friday in the Class 4A Sectional 18 opener. The Cougars (8-1) won 48-21 in week eight, pulling away with three fourth-quarter touchdowns.