WARREN — In a game featuring the state’s highest-scoring team and two of Indiana’s top running backs, it was instead a defense that earned accolades Friday at South Putnam.
Specifically, the Eastern Hancock defensive unit, often overshadowed by the Royals’ 60-points-per-game offense, came up with five turnovers in a 29-14 regional championship win.
It’s the Class A No. 4 Royals’ first regional title since the state championship year of 1985, and they’ll host equally undefeated No. 1 Linton-Stockton (13-0) next Friday with a chance to return to downtown Indianapolis.
The Royals’ march toward the semistate had been due largely to its high-powered offense, which scored at least 50 points in 10 games and 70 points three times. The EH defense notched three shutouts this season, but never against the quality of opponent it faced Friday in No. 5 South Putnam (11-2), which was led all year by running back Lucas Lorian.
The Eagles’ junior ran for 170 yards Friday to up his final season total over 2,800 yards, but he was unable to take over the game as Eastern Hancock snared three interceptions and forced two fumbles, including one by Lorian.
“It’s always been about the offense and what they can do,” said EH linebacker Hunter Knopp, whose 49-yard interception return for a touchdown gave the Royals the lead for good at 15-14 with four minutes, 11 seconds left in the second quarter. “It really got to us this week when they said we couldn’t contain 25 (Lorian). That was the main objective, and we got it done.”
The Eagles’ defense was in charge to start the contest. Of the Royals’ first four drives, two ended in South Putnam territory when the visitors couldn’t convert on fourth down and two more drives ended with interceptions thrown by EH quarterback Logan Splater.
With the Royals shutout in the first quarter for the first time since Sept. 6 at Indian Creek, South Putnam took a 14-0 lead into the second quarter on a four-yard touchdown run by senior fullback Joe Waters and an unusual, double-pitch 41-yard run by Lorian.
With 3:18 remaining in the opening quarter and holding a 7-0 lead, Waters received a handoff and was nearly tackled for a loss. As he was going down, though, he pitched to QB Grady McHugh, who was also nearly taken down before he hurriedly tossed the ball to Lorian, and the Eagles’ runner was off down the right sideline to the end zone.