KNIGHTSTOWN — Knightstown’s defense had a clear game plan for Eastern Hancock’s offensive weapons. But it forgot about Clayton Cochard and Luke Splater.
Cochard, a junior tight end, pulled in four receptions for 68 yards and two touchdowns in the first half with Denny Denny and A.J. Muegge, the team’s leaders on offense, struggling to gain traction against a well-prepared Panthers team.
Thanks to Cochard’s efforts and a late touchdown from junior Luke Splater, who also secured the game-winning interception, No. 12 Eastern Hancock topped rival Knightstown on Friday, 26-21, after trailing 21-14 at the end of the third quarter.
Junior quarterback Jarett Lewis found Splater in the end zone for a 20-yard touchdown catch — Lewis’ fourth touchdown toss of the game — with 1:14 left on the clock to take the final lead of the game.
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Splater, also a defensive back, then intercepted Panthers’ quarterback Tyler Burton deep in Eastern Hancock territory as time expired to seal the win.
“We just made the best out of everything and tried to make separation (on final catch),” Splater said, who was falling to the ground as he caught it. “My mind went straight to practice. A former player, Austin Smith, always said you have to high point the ball.
“I just thought I have to (catch) this.”
Lewis finished 17 of 34 passing for 232 yards while Cochard finished with 96 receiving yards. Denny finished with 118 yards on 22 carries and had a big second half on Friday, including a receiving touchdown.
The Royals hold on to the Plowshare and Anvil trophy for another season and have now won four in a row over the Panthers. Last season, Eastern Hancock beat Knightstown (1-4) 53-28 and currently owns the overall series 19-16.
Panthers quarterback Tyler Burton totaled 157 yards through the air and 142 on the ground Friday evening.
He helped Knightstown take a 21-14 lead early in the third quarter. After repeated ground attacks, Burton found running back Jon Simmons for a 17-yard touchdown pass with 8:01 on the clock. The Panthers, who dominated the time of possession in the quarter, held the same margin to begin the final quarter of play.
With 8:14 left in the fourth quarter, Lewis found Denny for the team’s first points of the second half. However, the Royals still trailed 21-20 until the heroic catch from Splater at the end.
“It’s amazing to get a win over Knightstown,” Splater said. “It really bonds us as a family. We were all in tonight.”
After four punts combined to begin the game, Eastern Hancock got on the board first on a fourth-and-7 play from the Knightstown 12-yard line. Lewis scrambled right and was nearly knocked out of bounds before finding a wide open Cochard in the right back corner of the end zone for a touchdown.
Cochard put Eastern Hancock up 14-7 with 5:57 remaining in the half on a crossing route over the middle after a quick Panthers touchdown. Knightstown again answered right back, though, and used a 34-yard touchdown run from Burton pull within one, 14-13, after the extra-point attempt failed with 4:13 remaining until the break.
The Royals nearly scored before halftime but were stopped at the Panthers one-yard line with 58 seconds left on the clock.
Both teams combined for seven penalties in the first seven minutes of the game in a shaky first half and had 19 by the end of the second quarter.
Eastern Hancock will look for its fourth consecutive win next week at home against North Decatur.