Patriots live up to billing
Brian Smith, Sports Editor, [email protected]
It was hard to ignore the No. 2 ranking associated with the Heritage Hills football team come the final horn Friday night in Corydon.
Unbeaten in nine regular season games, the Patriots kept their record clean, using a stifling defense to shut out Corydon Central 49-0 in the first round of the Class 3A Sectional football tournament.
“They are a very good football team,” Corydon Central coach Aaron Humphrey said of Heritage Hills. “They are very disciplined, and I would expect them to make a deep run in the playoffs.”
Humphrey and the Panthers were feeling good during pre-game. A crisp warm-up led to a solid beginning of the contest for Corydon Central.
On Heritage Hills’ first two possessions, the Patriots fumbled, and both were recovered by Corydon Central’s Drew Smith. A tackle for loss by the Panthers’ Brenden Ayres halted the next Heritage Hills drive, forcing a punt.
“That was the best pre-game we’d had all season long,” said Humphrey. “Our guys were focused. We talked all week about the regular season is in the past and this is a new season. We came out and played loose. We did some good things offensively in the first quarter but have to take better care of the football.”
Turnovers were an issue for Corydon Central in the opening half. After quarterback Nolan Adams completed a 7-yard pass to Noah Denbo for a first down, the Panthers fumbled the ball away on the next play. Another fumble on the Panthers’ third drive led to Heritage Hills scoring on a 9-yard dive play to fullback Jacob Wetzel.
Heritage Hills went on to score four touchdowns in the second quarter to take a commanding 35-0 lead at the half. Taking a hand-off to the right side, Wetzel followed a host of blockers to the end zone from 39 yards out.
“They make you defend the whole field,” said Humphrey. “Their quarterback (Cole Sigler) and running back (Gavin Vaal) are home-run threats at any time. (Wetzel) is just a slow death down the field. In option football, you have to start by stopping the fullback. The roster says (Wetzel) is 210 (pounds), but he plays like he’s 240.”
A pair of interceptions thrown by the Panthers helped add to the Patriots’ scoring total. Kaden Feldpausch picked an Adams’ pass near midfield and returned it to the 39. Four plays later, Wetzel caught an inside screen pass, running untouched from the 25 for his third touchdown.
Sigler also made plays on defense and special teams. A ball thrown by Tyler Fessel to what seemed like a wide open Drew Smith down the Panthers’ sideline was intercepted by a Superman-like Sigler racing over from his safety position.
“Those picks, they made big-time plays,” said Humphrey. “We didn’t make bad throws on either, and they made some great plays.”
Sigler capitalized on his pick by hitting Kaden Feldpausch over the top for a 25-yard TD strike. For good measure, Sigler also returned a punt 35 yards to close the half with another score.
Heritage Hills added two more second-half touchdowns: an 85-yard kick-off return from Vaal and a 2-yard rush from Phoenix Rodgers.
Corydon Central’s most promising drive came in the later half. Adams connected with Jaeden Singleton with a sideline catch and run for 37 yards. Advancing the ball to the 1, the Panthers weren’t able to punch it in before turning the ball over on downs.
Heritage Hills limited Corydon Central to 32 rushing yards and 44 in the air. Chandler Money had 24 rushing yards, while Adams completed 2 of 5 passes.
“The thing is, defensively, guys like Owen Shireman, Nolan Adams, Dakota Jones, Michael Basham are sophomores,” said Humphrey. “We put a freshman (Hunter Schmitt when Houston vonSchmittou left with an injury) at middle backer, and he gets his first extensive varsity looks against a No. 2-ranked team. Hunter did a fine job stepping in there. He’s a competitor. I like the fact our guys kept playing. At half, we talked about using the second half as building for next year. I thought the kids kept playing.”
For Heritage Hills, Wetzel closed with 78 rushing and 53 receiving yards. Sigler was 4 of 5 through the air for 78 yards. Vaal had three carries for 74 yards.
The Panthers will graduate six seniors: Dylan Higginbotham, Jesse Wolfe, Jonathon Martin, Christian Wilkerson, Colby Jones and Ayres.
“Those six seniors, they’ve done everything asked of them,” said Humphrey. “It’s not a big or vocal class, but they led by example. They’ve got the culture moving in the right direction. I’m so thankful to have those guys in the program.”
Humphrey said Martin and Wolfe improved the most during the last month of the season, a sign of coming to improve daily at practice.
“Colby Jones made huge improvements, too,” said Humphrey. “In practice yesterday, Higginbotham kicked a 40-yard field goal. He’s put in the work, too. Ayres made tremendous strides to become a two-way starter and anchored both sides of the line.”
The Panthers finished with a 2-8 record, dropping narrow battles to three Mid-Southern Conference teams.
“If things fell our way, we could have been a 5-3 team going into the last week but, instead, we were where we were,” said Humphrey. “I credit the kids; they kept playing and focused in practice. We got better. Our time is coming, I know it is.”
Heritage Hills 7 28 14 0 – 49
Corydon Central 0 0 0 0 – 0
HH – Jacob Wetzel 9 run (Ethan Hill kick); HH – Wetzel 39 run (Hill kick); HH – Wetzel 25 pass from Cole Sigler (Hill kick); HH – Kaden Feldpausch 25 pass from Sigler (Hill kick); HH – Sigler 35 punt return (Hill kick); HH – Gavin Vaal 85 kickoff return (Hill kick); HH – Phoenix Rodgers 2 run (Austin Hill kick).