FORTVILLE — For the members of the Mt. Vernon football team, the celebration of the program’s first sectional championship since 2006 will last less than 13 hours.
The Marauders expected to get to this point entering the 2012 season, and they expect to compete with the defending 4A state champions next weekend, and that’s why players were expected to report back to work at 10 a.m. today.
On Friday night, Mt. Vernon was challenged thoroughly by an opponent for the first time since its opening-day overtime loss to Kokomo on Aug. 17. But the Eagles’ effort wasn’t enough, and the host Marauders prevailed 28-13 in the Sectional 13 championship.
With its victory, 4A No. 4 Mt. Vernon (11-1) not only earned its fourth sectional crown in school history, but also gathered a regional final date next Friday with No. 7 Cathedral (7-5), the two-time reigning state champions.
The Irish advanced by topping No. 3 Roncalli 34-7 in Sectional 14, winning their seventh straight sectional championship. Cathedral will look to capture its sixth straight regional title against MV.
“They’re a big, tough football school, but we have big, strong guys too. We’ve got guys just as big as them,” Mt. Vernon running back/linebacker Andy Spears said. “We’re going to be pumped up. Cathedral will be a tough task, but I think we’ll be ready.”
Not since its 28-21 setback to Kokomo had the Marauders faced any second-half adversity, but the Eagles proved to be more than game after being shutout 35-0 by MV on Oct. 5 — a win that secured the Hoosier Heritage Conference title for the black-and-gold.
The first quarter was a defensive battle that featured a trio of three-and-outs (two by Delta, one by MV), two takeaways (a fumble recovery by Delta, an interception by MV) and zero points, the first time the Marauders failed to score in the opening stanza all season.
But near the end of the first period, the wheels began to turn on the Mt. Vernon ground attack, which entered averaging nearly 375 rushing yards per game and finished the night with 327.
With 10:07 remaining in the second quarter, Spears plunged in from three years out to cap a six-play, 72-yard drive. The march was highlighted by a 36-yard scamper by Anthony Burnett, and then a 26-yard over-the-shoulder snag by Burnett from QB Jordan Miller on 3rd-and-13 to set up Spears’ 19th TD run.
Delta picked up two first downs on its next drive, but was forced to punt and MV took over on its own 26.
Mt. Vernon running back Tyler Dicks — fresh off a 14-carry, 285-yard performance against Pendleton Heights — burst through the line on the first play for a 74-yard TD, his 22nd rushing score of the season.
The senior, who rushed for 150 yards on the night to up his Hancock County-best total to 1,701, would not have increased his team’s lead to 14-0 without two key blocks from Burnett on the play.
Burnett was near the Delta sideline to begin the play, but then sprinted into the action and took out two Delta pursuers. The second block could be heard from the press box and drew “oohs” from the crowd.
“With Tyler you know he’s going to break it, so it’s about coming from the opposite side and trying to catch someone chasing him down,” Burnett offered. “I happened to see two guys. I nudged one and drilled the other one.”
MV, ahead 14-0 at half, quickly upped its advantage to start the third quarter.
Following a three-and-out by the Eagles, Dicks ran for gains of five and eight before Burnett broke a handful of tackles en route to a 49-yard score, his county-best 25th TD of the year.
Delta quickly recovered, bookending two scoring drives (10 plays, 65 yards and 12 plays, 63 yards) around a MV drive that ended in a failed fake punt pass.
Eagle QB Cade Jones, who passed for 137 yards on the night, capped off both Delta marches with one-yard TD runs.
With 7:12 left in the fourth quarter, MV took over on its own 37. The Eagles were down to one timeout, and the Marauders had a chance to milk the clock dry.
Mt. Vernon gained a first down on three plays, and then faced a 4th-and-two from the Delta 44.
Burnett took the pitch from Miller, collided with Eagle safety Alex Fuatavai, and fell forward for the first down.
“It’s a few yards,” said Burnett, who blocked the extra point after Delta’s second TD. “We work hard in the weight room. I knew I could get a yard if I just lowered my shoulder.”
Burnett, who rushed for 127 yards on 14 carries to increase his 2012 total to 1,550 yards, gained 18 on the next snap, then Spears eventually sealed the game with a run on 4th-and-1 from the Delta 17.
“Those three guys (Burnett, Dicks, Spears), they don’t care who gets the credit,” offered Armstrong, who acquired his third sectional title as a head coach after winning two at New Palestine. “They’ve done it all year.”
When the clock hit zero, Mt. Vernon’s season-long redemption tour, which thus far had claimed the HHC traveling helmet and the Boundary Rail in addition to the conference title, obtained another prize Friday night.
“It feels awesome to get some recognition like the sectional championship. We like the HHC (trophy), but we got some bigger hardware for this,” Spears admitted. “It feels great. All the hard work does pay off. You bust your butt in the offseason, and it does pay off.”
Delta fell short in its bid for the program’s first sectional championship since 2009. The Eagles didn’t have much success on the ground (30 carries, 67 yards), but rallied with their passing game, which appears to be in good hands with Jones, a sophomore.
“It’s hard. This one’s tough. I’m real proud of the way our guys played,” said Delta coach Grant Zgunda. “It would’ve been real easy for them to give up, quite frankly. We just came fighting back.”
Looking ahead to regional, Cathedral has felled Mt. Vernon in the team’s four previous meetings from 1986-88 and in 1992.
“Winning sectional is a goal, but winning a state championship is a goal too,” said Armstrong, who won four state titles as a defensive coordinator for the Irish. “Cathedral is the next team we have to beat to move on.”
Rick Streiff, now in his 18th season at Cathedral, is expecting his former assistant coach to be up to the challenge.
“Doug does a great job,” said Streiff to 1260-AM Friday night. “He’ll have his kids prepared.”
Hardly breaking a smile after his team’s win Friday night, Burnett echoed Armstrong’s visions of high school football’s ultimate accomplishment .
“We didn’t talk about winning sectional in August or last November,” he explained. “We talked about winning state. (Tonight) is just a stepping stone.”
Mt. Vernon 28, Delta 13
DE (8-4) 0 0 7 6 — 13
MV (11-1) 0 14 7 7 — 28
MV — Spears, 3-yard run (Justus kick), 10:07
MV — Dicks, 74-yard run (Justus kick), 5:28
MV — Burnett, 49-yard run (Justus kick), 9:52
DE — Jones, 1-yard run (Jon C. Kern kick), 5:39
DE — Jones, 1-yard run (kick failed), 11:26
MV — Spears, 17-yard run (Justus kick), 1:10
First downs 12 11
Rushes-yards 30-67 47-327
Passing yards 137 26
Comp-Att-Int 17-27-1 1-4-1
Fumbles-Lost 0-0 2-1
Penalties-Yards 3-21 4-40
Rushing: Spegal 14-43, Bechdolt 7-9, Dishman 2-6, Jones 7-9 (DE); Dicks 17-150, Burnett 14-127, Spears 14-61, Miller 2-(-11) (MV).
Passing: Jones 17-27-137 (DE); Miller 1-4-26 (MV).
Receiving: Dishman 6-32, Bickford 7-43, Fox 4-62 (DE); Burnett 1-26 (MV).