Brett Luke | The Journal Gazette Nathaniel Keener of Churubusco dives over the line for a touchdown against Central Noble during the first quarter at Churubusco on Friday night.
Saturday, September 29, 2018 1:00 am
Churubusco 42 Central Noble 14
Eagles avenge loss for division title
Josh Patterson | For The Journal Gazette
CHURUBUSCO – Not keen on the idea of losing to rival Central Noble for a second straight year, Nathaniel Keener carried Churubusco to a 42-14 victory Friday in Churubusco. The Eagles' steady back ran for 127 yards on 27 carries and added a touchdown as the hosts secured an outright title in the Northeast Corner Conference's small division.
“We wanted nothing more this week and this season to be conference champs all by ourselves,” Keener said. “They out-physicaled us last year in the trenches, so that was motivation for us.”
Motivation manifested in many forms for Churubusco. The Class A No. 3 Eagles led in the second half of 2017's matchup before the Cougars rallied, ultimately forcing a three-way tie for the NECC Small Division when Central Noble lost at Eastside the following week.
When Nick Rawles scampered 80 yards to bring the Cougars within 21-7 with 2:35 left before halftime, seeds of doubt could have crept into mind on the Churubusco sideline. Gage Kelly put a stop to that, taking a jet sweep around the left side and sprinting 45 yards to put the Eagles up 28-7 at intermission.
“I think it was a great momentum booster for our team, and it really got us pumped up for the second half,” Kelly said.
As Central Noble coach Trevor Tipton explained, Kelly's touchdown served dual purposes – helped keep the hosts moving forward while also dampening his squad's spirits entering the locker room.
“They're third in the state for a reason,” Tipton said. “It sort of broke our back when they scored right before half.”
With the Eagles soaring into the second half, lineman Dustin Barkley found his motivation by looking down at his reconstructed knee. The junior tore multiple knee ligaments against Central Noble in 2017, the injury prematurely ending his football season while also keeping him out of basketball and track.
“It's an amazing feeling, going from that to outright conference champs,” Barkley said. “All week at practice, the coaches were getting on us at practice and tonight we played hard. The coaches' game plan came into action and we executed.”
That game plan? Play four quarters. Starting slowly on multiple occasions this season, Eagle coach Paul Sade noted that last year's defeat aided with his squad's effort from start to finish on Friday.
“You try to keep your emotions in check, but it would be foolish for me to sit here and say (the loss in 2017) wasn't entering their thoughts,” Sade said. “We wanted to make sure we played four quarters.”
Churubusco ground out 442 rushing yards as a team, with Jake Fulk (102) and Sam Wood (101) joining Keener in surpassing the 100-yard mark. Kelly and Wood each picked off Cougar quarterback Nick Alwine, while the Eagle defense finished with 11 tackles for loss.
“If we can contain them, we can stop them,” said Churubusco's Reese Wicker, who also had a sack. “It's a great win for us, and we just have to keep improving off of it.”