The Northwestern High School football team was four minutes away from clinching at least a share of its first conference title in more than 50 years.
But after Indian Lake quarterback Clay Jacobs hit Ethan Cummins in the back of the end zone on a two-point conversion with 42 seconds remaining to give the Lakers a one-point lead, the Warriors celebration was put on hold.
The Lakers held on to beat the Warriors 8-7 at Taylor Field, clinching at least a share of their fourth straight Central Buckeye Conference Mad River Division title.
“I know it hurts for these kids,” said Northwestern coach Shane Carter. “It hurts for our program and our staff. It’s one of those things where you learn and get better. You can pout about it and go in the tank or you can learn and get better.”
The loss means Northwestern (5-3, 2-1) will need some help to win its first conference championship since 1967. The Warriors host Kenton Ridge in CBC crossover action next week before traveling to Graham in Week 10.
Northwestern’s high-powered offense struggled in the first half, failing to move the ball into Lakers territory. The game was played in a near downpour, which affected both teams’ spread offense.
Indian Lake nearly took the lead before halftime, but the Warriors defense held on fourth down from the 2-yard line with 1 second remaining.
“It speaks a lot about our kids,” Carter said. “In the past, we maybe don’t get that stop. The fact that they manned up and were able to do that really impressed me. I was proud of our effort.”
At halftime, the Warriors moved Berner to quarterback to run the read option. He finished the game with 133 yards on 21 carries.
“I thought we made a good adjustment,” Carter said. “I thought our defense played well enough to win the game. We just didn’t make enough plays down the stretch to win.”
Midway through the third quarter, a bad punt snap gave Northwestern the ball at the Lakers 40-yard line. A few plays later, Berner scored on a 4-yard TD run to give the Warriors a 7-0 lead.
Northwestern held the Lakers scoreless on several possessions. They were unable to convert on fourth-and-20 from the Lakers 35-yard line with four minutes remaining, giving the Lakers one last chance to find the end zone.
Indian Lake converted three third downs as it drove into the red zone. With 42 seconds remaining, Jacobs found Austin Beck from 13 yards out to pull the Lakers within one point at 7-6. The Lakers called timeout, opting to go for the two-point conversion to take the lead.
Indian Lake is 3-5 and 3-0 in the Mad River Division. The Lakers can clinch the league title with a win against Urbana next week.
With an Urbana win next week and a Northwestern victory at Graham in Week 10, the Warriors can still achieve their conference title dreams.
“We can’t go backwards from here,” Carter said. “We have to go forward. I think that I’ve tried to implement some things in our program to make us resilient and make us a tougher program. We have keep trying to chip away at the block and do the things we have to do to make ourselves winners.”