INDIANAPOLIS — Pat Echeverria has said it so many times, he admits he sounds “like a broken record.”
But, the mantra Echeverria has repeated to his Eastern Hancock football team all season — and that he noted again Friday evening — is undeniable: “The team that makes the fewest mistakes and plays the most physical game is going to win.”
The Royals came up short on both of those counts against Class A No. 7 Scecina Friday, and the Crusaders claimed a 35-19 Sectional 37 championship at the University of Indianapolis.
Scecina (9-3) — last year’s state finals runner-up to Lafayette Central Catholic — began its first two drives inside the Royals’ 30-yard line thanks to a fumbled kickoff return and a partially blocked punt.
The Crusaders scored touchdowns on both of the ensuing possessions to build a 14-0 lead and, although Eastern Hancock (6-6) never stopped competing, the hole proved to be too deep.
“We made a couple mistakes early, but we bounced back,” said Echeverria, the Royals’ second-year head coach. “I’m proud of the kids’ effort.”
Scecina advanced to the one-game regional championship to face No. 6 North Vermillion (12-0). The Crusaders didn’t cement a second-straight sectional title until the end of the third quarter Friday.
With Scecina ahead 21-6 to start the third quarter, the Royals’ defense forced a three-and-out, and EH went to the no-huddle offense to produce a five-play, 61-yard drive capped by a one-yard touchdown run by junior Spencer Gilbert to pull the visitors within 21-12 with nine minutes, 21 seconds remaining in the third quarter. (EH missed an extra point and failed on a two-point rush on its two touchdowns).
Thomas Allgood, who finished with a game-high 154 yards rushing on 21 attempts, helped put the victory in the Crusaders’ pocket on their next drive, which spanned seven minutes and 59 seconds and 15 plays.
Allgood had seven carries on the clock-eating drive, including a finishing touch, nine-yard touchdown score to give Scecina a 28-12 advantage.
In the fourth quarter, Scecina compiled a seven-minute, 21-second assault that comprised of 18 plays, culminating on a one-yard rushing score by Jordan Brown, who notched 79 yards on 12 carries during the drive.
“That’s a physical football team,” Echeverria said. “One of my philosophies as a defensive-minded coach is that you try to prevent the big plays — and I think we did a pretty good job of that tonight — because teams can’t drive the ball 15 plays every single time.
“Well, they did. They ground it out on us. We made them earn it, and they did. That’s a very good football team.”
Brown’s final score for Scecina made it a 35-12 game, and the Royals’ Gilbert found the endzone on a three-yard run with 31 seconds to go for the last tally of the night.
Gilbert, a junior, finished with 104 yards on 21 carries, although 53 of those yards came on the final drive.
Overall, Eastern Hancock gained 187 yards on the ground and 134 yards through the air.
Scecina rushed for 336 yards on 55 attempts and passed for 54 yards.
Allgood had three touchdowns for the Crusaders, including runs of 10 and 49 yards — one of the few high-yardage plays allowed by the Royals — in the first half. Scecina’s other first-half score came courtesy of an endzone fumble recovery by junior lineman Sam Burck after the Crusaders’ ball-carrier lost the ball near the goal line.
Eastern Hancock sophomore quarterback Logan Splater cut Scecina’s lead to 14-7 early in the second quarter on a 10-yard run. Splater finished with 71 yards on the ground, and he completed 7-of-18 pass attempts for 112 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions.
Splater, Gilbert and the majority of the Royals’ starters will return next season in an attempt to continue the programs’ upward march.
The team’s six wins this season are more than the Royals won in 2009, 2010 and 2011 combined.
“Like I told the kids there at the end (after the game), where we were June 1 last year compared to where we are now, I’ve seen tremendous improvement,” Echeverria said. “And it’s 100 percent because of the effort and dedication that these guys have put into football.
“We took a step forward. And I think our kids believe in themselves and I think they believe in each other and I think they believe in the coaches. The community has been extremely supportive in what we’ve been doing and good things are coming.”
Only five seniors were listed on the Royals’ 48-man roster Friday: Dalton Korlowicz, Sam Novick, Mitchell Kramer, Jake Hicks and J.T. Marley.
Echeverria made it a point to track the players down individually as the final post-game huddle broke up Friday. As the coach and veteran players met, the conversations turned emotional.
With tears in his eyes, Echeverria said, “These seniors, they had it rough their first couple years. But they’re going to leave a legacy of the being the group that started turning Eastern Hancock back to where it should be. And where it’s going to be.”
Notes: The game took only two hours and five minutes to complete, ending at 9:05 p.m. … Eastern Hancock had no penalties and only the single turnover on the fumbled kickoff return. Scecina had no turnovers and two penalties. … EH finished behind Indian Creek and Milan in the Mid-Indiana Football Conference this season. Indian Creek lost its 3A sectional-championship game Friday to Greensburg 27-19. West Washington beat Milan 24-7 in the Class A Sectional 39 title game. … Scecina defeated North Vermillion 35-8 last season in the regional on the way to a 38-7 loss to Lafayette Central Catholic in the state championship.
Scecina 35, Eastern Hancock 19
EH (6-6) 0 6 6 7 — 19
SC (9-3) 14 7 7 7 — 35
SC — T. Allgood, 10-yard run (Frain kick), 9:43.
SC — Burck, 0-yard fumble recovery (Frain kick), :00.
EH — Splater 10-yard run (kick failed), 7:50.
SC — T. Allgood, 49-yard run (Frain kick), 5:17.
EH — Gilbert, 1-yard run (2-yard run failed), 9:21.
SC — T. Allgood, 9-yard run (Frain kick), 2:15.
SC — Brown, 1-yard run (Frain kick), 2:18.
EH — Gilbert, 3-yard run (Henderson kick), :31.
First downs 13 20
Rushes-yards 41-187 55-336
Passing yards 134 54
Comp-Att-Int 7-18-0 4-9-0
Fumbles-Lost 2-1 0-0
Penalties-Yards 0-0 2-20
Rushing: Splater 16-71, Gilbert 21-104, Henderson 4-12 (EH); T. Allgood 21-154, Brown 12-80, Leffler 5-21, Tarver 7-50, Henley 1-2, Broschart 3-14, Rennick 6-15 (SC).
Passing: Splater 7-18-112, Henderson 1-1-22 (EH); Rennick 4-9-54 (SC).
Receiving: Gilbert 2-42, Henderson 3-22, Noel 2-48, Smith 1-22 (EH); B. Allgood 1-8, Cox 2-8, Broschart 1-38 (SC).