South Putnam stunned the No. 3 ranked Cougars 40-22 to win the 2011 Class 2A sectional title, its first since the 2002 season.
"It was a great team effort," South Putnam head coach Troy Burgess said. "First off all, let's say the obvious here -- North Putnam is a great football team. They are a very, very good football team. They have great athletes; they're very well coached, so that's just the obvious. And for our kids to do what they did tonight -- wow.
"What a lot of guts, a lot of heart -- our kids played outstanding. I just couldn't be prouder of a group of kids than this group tonight. They took everything we put in all week long, everything we did and they bought into it. They believed in the coaches, but more importantly they believed in each other," he added.
North Putnam head coach Brian Crabtree said he team was simply outplayed following the game.
"Honestly, South Putnam just looked a whole lot fresher than we did," he said. "My hats off to them -- they outplayed us tonight. It wasn't because our kids weren't giving great effort. I just think we're pretty beat up at this point. That's not to take anything away from them -- they won the ballgame. They were the better team tonight."
"We knew they were good. There isn't anybody here who took anything lightly or looked past anything. Nobody involved with our program did any of that. It just didn't happen for us tonight," Crabtree added.
The story within the story was the efforts of South Putnam senior Rob Gibson. Gibson set a Class 2A sectional single game rushing record, racking up 269 yards on 40 carries. He also had four total touchdowns on the night for the Eagles. And while it goes against what he normally does, Burgess couldn't help but single out his senior tailback.
"We never single anybody out, you know I don't, but No. 33 was the best player on the field tonight," he said. "We blocked, our blocking was unbelievable, but we had a game plan going in that we were going to put the ball in his hands and see what happened.
"Everybody bought into that, they blocked, they did their job and he continued to make play after play," Burgess added.
Crabtree said Gibson took the game over and commended the senior on being a great football player.
As for the running back himself, he said it was the plan of his coaches and the play of his line that allowed him the chance to run so well.
"We had been told all week 'You're not going to run on this team,' and coach Burgess got the game plan together and goes 'You know what guys, the run is what got us here. We can't change what we've been,'" Gibson said. They told us we were going to run the ball against North Putnam and we trust coach Burgess with everything we do, whether it's school, family problems -- being a coach isn't just coaching football; it's above and beyond.
"It's a family and he's our dad in this family and when he tells us what we're going to do, we're going to do it," he added. "Our linemen are nothing short of amazing. Nathan Criss got hurt; we're going to celebrate with him. We took care of business for him. This one's for Becky Brothers as well. It's really incredible."
The deciding factor in the game came in the third quarter. Most teams dream of dominating a quarter, allowing them to eat up clock, put up some points and leave an opposing team flat. For South Putnam it wasn't a dream, it was reality.
North Putnam ran just two plays in the third quarter, as the Eagles chewed up chunks of yards on a 17-play second half opening scoring drive. Gibson gave the game its only score of the third quarter on a 13-yard run.
Burgess spoke about how important the start of the second half was to the Eagles.
"I saw coach Crabtree get on them, I had a feeling he was getting in their backside at the huddle right at halftime," he said. "I knew he would in the locker room, and like I said, that's a great football team. We felt like the first five minutes of the second half was the most important. We had to come out and not go three and out. We had to move the ball, get some first downs and see if we could get some momentum and we took it a step further."
With the Eagles leading 26-20 entering the final stanza, North Putnam needed to find some momentum and quick. After the Eagles scored five seconds into the fourth quarter to make it 34-20, the Cougars needed to make something happen.
They did just that after one of their own drives stalled at the two-yard line. Jake Worth took down South Putnam rusher Zack Smith in the endzone for a two-point safety. But instead of capitalizing on its newfound fortune, North Putnam's sideline showed little reaction and they gave the ball back to the Eagles two plays later on an interception.
South Putnam added another score in the final minutes of the game when Hammond hooked up with Justin Bumgardner for a three-yard touchdown with a minute remaining to seal the win.
"I think at that point, these kids weren't going to be denied. They weren't going to be happy just turning it over on downs and taking a chance. That's a good football team. I didn't feel good up 12 points with a minute to go. I've seen what they can do. They're explosive and we weren't going to give them the ball back," Burgess said.
While the focus was on Gibson's performance, and rightfully so, Burgess also pointed out another player whose contributions to the team this season are perhaps as important as any.
"Seth Hammond, there's the X-factor, man. He was just unbelievable, how much he's improved from day one. I'm so glad we got him back out this year. What a difference maker. I'm just so proud of this team," Burgess said.
The game began positive for North Putnam as they struck first blood, scoring with 7:30 on the clock when senior Kolten Everts rushed in from three yards out to give North an early lead.
As would be the story of the first half, South Putnam answered just before the end of the quarter when Gibson scored his first touchdown on a 16-yard scamper. The quarter ended with the squads knotted at 6-all and they continued to trade touchdowns in the second quarter.
Everts hit Jameson Brewer for a nine-yard score and senior Hank Spencer scored from 35-yards out, carrying a South Putnam defender into the endzone in the process.
Gibson provided South Putnam its first score, breaking out for a 51-yard touchdown. Fellow senior Seth Hammond added a rushing score of his own, outracing the Cougar defense for a 22-yard score.
Then came the pivotal third quarter.
As for the rushing record, Gibson said that once he realize what he had accomplished, he went and thanked his linemen and fullbacks for their efforts and thanked Burgess for allowing him the chance go get it done.
Although his team came up short of its ultimate goal, Crabtree laid the blame at his own feet.
"Our kids have nothing to hang their head about, they have nothing to be ashamed of. This isn't about anything they did wrong. In the end, it comes down to me not getting the job done. I apologize for that. It's on me," he said.
For Burgess, the win means one more week to play and said that playing on the road at Guerin Catholic will be a challenge, but one his team will fight head on.
South Putnam travels to Guerin Catholic Friday at 7 p.m.
At North Putnam
Class 2A No. 30 Sectional Final
South Putnam 6 12 8 14 -- 40
North Putnam 6 14 0 2 -- 22
NP -- Everts 3 yard run, kick NG 7:30
SP -- Gibson 16 yard run, kick NG :02
NP -- Everts 9 yard pass to Brewer, kick good
SP -- Gibson 51 yard run, kick blocked
NP -- Spencer 35 yard run, kick good
SP -- Hammond 22 yard run, conversion failed
SP -- Gibson 13 yard run, conversion good
SP -- Hammond 9 yard pass to Gibson, conversion good
NP -- Safety
SP -- Hammond 3 yard pass to Bumgardner, conversion failed
Rushing -- Gibson 40-269 3 TD, Hammond 4-39 TD, Custis 3-17, Heller 1-2, Smith 2-(-1)
Passing -- Hammond 5-12 48 yards 2 TD, Gibson 0-1
Receiving -- Bumgardner 4-32 TD, Gibson 2-16 TD
Rushing -- Spencer 17-89, Everts 11-61, Shorter 4-0, Smerage 3-2
Passing -- 13-17 114 yards, TD, 2 INT
Receiving -- Shorter 2-32, Brewer 4-21, Smerage 2-18, Spencer 1-14, Stanley 3-29