NEW CARLISLE — When Bobby Siford went down with an injury in the second half Friday against Plymouth, a couple quick thoughts went through the mind of Ben Fronk as he buckled his chin strap and took the field.
"It's game time," the New Prairie sophomore said. "Let's go."
Fronk entered the fray, joining the Cougars secondary of Chase Ketterer, Ian Skorog and Tyler Graeber as it defended an all-out aerial assault from the Rockies and 2,900-yard quarterback Joe Barron.
"I was pumped up. I knew I had to step up and make plays," Fronk said. "The team needed me. I was going to do anything I could to get this win."
Barron went just 3 of 14 in the fourth quarter, which started with New Prairie nursing a precarious 28-27 edge. Plymouth was still a score and a two-point conversion away from a tie after Chase Ketterer's fourth touchdown put the Cougars up eight, and Fronk was came up clutch, knocking away a deep ball on the Rockies' final set of downs. If Fronk hadn't reacted the way he did, the outcome may have been different.
"I was just looking for the ball," he said. "I was just supposed to get the flats on that play. There was a little miscommunication, I saw no one ran with the receiver. I just went up and got it."
Cougars coach Russ Radtke pointed out Fronk's play along with that of the rest of his secondary.
"He's only a sophomore, but he's played a lot, too," Radtke said.
The tireless Ketterer, who ran the ball 46 times, never left the field on defense.
"Some people don't like see that type of player on defense," Radtke said. "Chase is a good defensive player. He had some big hits at the end. Our conference is tough. It makes you play really aggressive. It was different than (Culver Academy), when we were able to get a lot of pressure. (Plymouth) was running a lot of quick stuff where (Barron) was getting it off fast."
New Prairie didn't have much success getting Barron on the ground, but its move from man-to-man to zone coverage proved pivotal as he misfired on 13 of his last 17 passes.
"Coach (Julio) Cisneros and (Jim) Schwingendorf made a good adjustment," Radtke said. "With that package, whatever they did, we were always able to have to one more guy there. If they had two (receivers), we'd have three (defenders). If they ran trips, we'd have four."
The end result for Barron was the worse statistical night of his season both in accuracy (12 of 33) and yards (156).
"There's so much hype around the offense, it feels good when the defense is able to play good," Fronk said.
The Cougars' biggest plays on defense may have come in the third quarter. Leading 27-21, Plymouth had third and 1 at the NP 49 when Taylor Adams stuffed Ivan Winkle for a two-yard loss. The Rockies went for it on fourth and 3, running virtually the same play, and Adams was there, forcing Winkle wide, where Blake Kessler was able to clean up.
"From watching film, we knew all their plays, so when they came out in unbalanced, we knew almost 100 percent that it was going to be a run," Adams said. "Our line got two cuts to fill the hole and I was just able to fly around. (Fourth down) was about the same. I just filled the hole and forced them to go someone else."
Adams thought the pendulum swung for the defense after the blocked extra point on the fumble return touchdown that put Plymouth up 27-21 in the third.
"The offense had been rolling all game except for a couple drives," he said. "Once we got the ball in their hands, we knew they were going to score and we'd be up one again. We knew they were definitely going to throw a lot. We got enough pressure where we were able to push (Barron) back a little and make him throw it deeper or shorter, and our DBs were able to block it."
Like Fronk, Adams was glad to see the Cougars' less-acclaimed side of the ball have a say in the outcome.
"At the start of the season, everybody knew our offense would score a lot of points and was doubting our defense," he said. "We're a faster, smarter defense. We just have to play to our strengths."
A sophomore when NP won the sectional in 2017, he was hurt and didn't play in the regional. Now he scarcely leaves the field.
"Playing both ways, it feels great," Adams said. "Our goal was to win championships this season. We've won two so far. Now we're looking to keep it going."