With the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks only two days away, there was a certain element of remembrance coupled with enthusiasm as Greencastle looked to open up a season 4-0 for the first time since 1995.
With camouflaged undershirts on the players, firefighter and national guard hats on the coaches and Army Reserve units serving as a backdrop, the Tiger Cubs managed to eek out a 26-24 win over Triton Central.
Although they started off well, there were times in the game Friday night that Greencastle didn't look like a 3-0 team against the visiting Tigers.
On the first play from scrimmage, Greencastle quarterback Nick Gilliam hit Ryan Battin for 45 yards down the middle of the field to put the Tiger Cubs deep in Triton territory.
Three plays later, Derrick Lenihan when through the middle of the offensive line for a two-yard touchdown that put the hosts up 7-0.
Triton Central would pull some of that back after a solid kick return brought them out to midfield. Getting as far as the Greencastle 16-yard line, the Tigers had to settle for a Luke Stephenson field goal to cut the deficit to 7-3.
After a couple of early penalties to start the second drive, Greencastle tacked on to the lead as Gilliam's arm ate up a large chunk of yardage, this time with a 43-yard pass to Mac Shuee.
Lenihan carried three straight times to set the hosts up on the five yard line before Gilliam called his own number and went in to give the Tiger Cubs a 14-3 lead.
After trading punts, the Tigers went on a 12-play drive, which included three conversions on third down and a face mask penalty on the Tiger Cubs. The drive ended when Stephenson snuck in from one yard out to cut the deficit to 14-10.
A big kick return by Battin set up the Tiger Cubs at the Tiger 44-yard line on their next possession. Ten plays later, they scored again when Lenihan, with his fifth carry of the drive, slammed in from two yards out to give the hosts a 20-10 lead with the extra point no good.
With 2:11 to go following the Tiger Cub score, the visitors took the kick-off to their own 41-yard line. Another face mask penalty allowed them to get deep into Tiger Cub territory and gave them a chance to score.
That chance was taken, but it needed a spectacular catch from Dakota Nelson to happen. After being the recipient of a 4th and 2 pass, Nelson caught a pass in the end zone, while on the ground, after the ball was tipped by Greencastle's Hayden Stuckwisch.
The catch kept Triton Central in the game as they went into halftime down 20-17.
Both teams went three and out to start the second half, with the Tiger's second drive stalling at midfield. Greencastle would proceed to use Lenihan as a battering ram in the following drive as he carried the ball five times for 68 yards.
The big hit was the final one, as, just into the fourth quarter, Lenihan started up the middle but bounced out to the right side and beat everyone to the end zone for a 24-yard score. The extra point was blocked, but Greencastle held a 26-17 lead.
The visitors promptly took the next kickoff into Greencastle territory to start from the host 47. Even with the field position, the Tigers stalled out and were forced to punt, only to be given a lifeline when Chad Keyt muffed the punt and Zach Cooper recovered for the visitors.
Even with that reprieve, Triton Central's drive stalled again. The ensuing field goal attempt from Stephenson was blocked by Levi App, which would prove critical later.
Greencastle secured one first down with the clock beginning to tick away but turned the ball over on downs after failing to convert a 4th and 1.
The Tigers, starting from Greencastle's 44-yard line, punched it in six plays later, again helped by a Tiger Cub penalty, which put them in position three plays later to see Stephenson hit Marquis Kingery for 15 yards and the score to close the gap to 26-24.
Greencastle would recover the attempted onside kick and, facing a 4th and inches to ice the game, powered through when Gilliam rode his offensive line for the first down, sealing the close contest for the home side.
Even with the win, the mistakes throughout permeated Greencastle head coach Josh Buis' thoughts.
"We didn't execute very well tonight, and I'll put that on me. I didn't do a very good job preparing these kids. I didn't do a very good job of coaching discipline because the penalties have killed us the last two weeks," Buis said.
"I can assure that we'll get it fixed this week in practice and come ready to play and be disciplined next week. But, this game, I'm going to put on me. We have good kids who work had and I didn't do enough this week to prepare them for this football game."
The game plan for the night was to get the passing game going to complement an already solid running attack, according to Buis.
"I wanted to come out and throw the ball. We've been running the ball well the past couple of weeks. They're a 3-4 team. They didn't do a lot of blitzing. They left the middle of the field open but did a good job of taking away our outside vertical game tonight," Buis said.
"But I wanted to come out throwing the ball, getting the defense spread out even more, which we did a good job of that early in the game.
"But when we had penalties and 3rd and 10s, 2nd and 18s in a close ball game like tonight, we're going to hand the ball off to Derrick Lenihan, try to grind down the clock, keep their offense off the field and ours on the field," Buis added.
It wasn't the prettiest game, but the win gives them some momentum heading into next week's clash against South Putnam at Indiana State University. Though the game was ugly for Buis, the result was what was needed.
"I told Coach (John) Perkins after the game we didn't play very well defensively, or offensively tonight. But the offense got us a lead and the defense found a way to win it for us," Buis said.
"When we don't play very pretty games, I want to get out of here with a win."
Triton Central 3 14 0 7 - 24
Greencastle 14 6 0 6 - 26
G -- 10:52 Lenihan 2-yard run (Stuckwisch kick) 7-0
TC -- 7:28 Stephenson 33-yard field goal 7-3
G -- 3:10 Gilliam 5-yard run (Stuckwisch kick) 14-3
TC -- 7:33 Stephenson 1-yard run (Stephenson kick) 14-10
G -- 2:11 Lenihan 2-yard run (XP no good) 20-10
TC -- 0:22 Nelson 17-yard pass from Stephenson (Stephenson kick) 20-17
G -- 11:22 Lenihan 24-yard run (XP no good) 26-17
TC -- 2:27 Kingery 15-yard pass from Stephenson (Stephenson kick) 26-24
Triton Central -- 32-123, TD; Anders 14-31, Stephenson 9-25, TD, Vannoy 5-24, Miller 4-43
Greencastle -- 35-168, 4 TD; Lenihan 23-132, 3 TD, Gilliam 8-27, TD, Battin 3-4, Shuee 1-5
Triton Central -- Stephenson 12-23-91-2 TD; Nelson 6-43, TD, Kingery 2-23, TD, Crafton 3-9, Zeigler 1-8
Greencastle -- Gilliam 9-12-140-INT; Shuee 6-75, Keyt 2-20, Battin 1-45
Next game -- Greencastle plays South Putnam at Indiana State University next Saturday at 4 p.m..