Big plays lead Cougars to big win

Saturday, September 24, 2011
North Putnam senior Jake Smerage (22) hauls in a first quarter catch over Greencastle defenders Hayden Stuckwisch (87) and Mac Shuee (5) before turning and running the ball in for a 43-yard touchdown.

While rolling to a 20-1 record over the last two seasons, North Putnam football has shown its killer instinct in a variety of ways.

They showed three of their methods in the first eight minutes of Friday's game with Greencastle with a long passing touchdown, a run up the middle and a 70-yard defensive score.

The quick start carried the day for the Cougars (6-0, 3-0 WCC) as they held off the Tiger Cubs (4-2, 1-2 WCC) for a 28-14 West Central Conference victory.

"It's a goal of ours every week to come out fast, try to get out quick and try to establish our presence," Cougar coach Brian Crabtree said. "We were able to do that again. It's a few weeks in a row. It's just gotta be more consistent with fundamentals throughout the game -- taking care of the football the entire game."

The two teams roared out to 35 points in the first 19 minutes of the game before combining for just 7 in the remainder. For both coaches, turnovers were the key. The Cougars put the ball on the ground six times, losing four. Greencastle lost one fumble and threw three interceptions.

"We killed numerous drive for us by just turning the ball over," Crabtree said. "It's an area we need to improve but it's awful nice to have a defense that can pick you up when you're struggling on offense."

"What it came down to was making big plays," GHS coach Josh Buis said. "In the first half they had two big pass plays, they had a scoop and score on a fumble that we'd caught for a first down. Those are game changers."

The first of those big plays came quickly when Cougar quarterback Kolten Everts found fellow senior Jake Smerage on the right sideline. The wideout came back to the ball and outjumped Tiger Cub defensive back Mack Shuee. He then cut to the middle of the field and outran Shuee and Hayden Stuckwisch for a 43-yard score.

After North Putnam interception, Smerage was at it again, hauling in a 76-yard catch and run from Everts only to be drug down short of the goalline.

Hank Spencer scored on a three-yard plunge, making the score 14-0 with 4:41 remaining in the opening quarter.

On the ensuing possession, the Cougars added to their momentum on a long defensive score. Nick Gilliam completed what would have been a first down pass to Nick Hutcheson, but Allain St. Victor knocked the ball loose. Tyler Shorter scooped the ball up and found paydirt 70 yards later.

North Putnam led 21-0 with 4:06 still remaining in the first half.

Greencastle was able to also light the scoreboard in the first when Gilliam found Derrick Lenihan on a 43-yard screen pass with 2:34 remaining.

With the score 21-7 after a quarter, it looked like the game would see a lot more fireworks. Much like the weather, though, things cooled a bit.

Over the last three quarters, the teams were hindered by the turnover bug and an inability to execute in the red zone.

The Cougars added their final score with 2:25 remaining in the second quarter on a 2-yard Everts sneak.

GHS twice drove inside the North Putnam 20 in the third quarter, running 23 plays for 109 yards in the quarter while netting zero points.

They added their final score with 1:03 remaining in the game when Hutcheson used his 6-foot-6 frame to make a catch over a Cougar defender and run the rest of the way for a 43-yard touchdown.

The story of the night was defense, though, with both teams holding potent offenses in check.

"I thought our defense played great tonight. Defense carried us," Crabtree said. "The last few weeks we've been rolling on offense and tonight we really hurt ourselves on turnovers."

"The fact of the matter is our defense gave up 21 points. If you look back at the last two years, there haven't been too many defenses to hold North Putnam to 21," Buis said. "That's a testament to Coach (John) Perkins, the defensive staff and how hard guys pursued to the football tonight."

Unable to put up big points, a bigger key for the Cougars may well have been their ability to eat up clock with the ground game. The biggest chunk of that credit goes to Spencer, who ran 23 times for 142 yards.

In the passing game, Everts was 8-of-14 for 151 yards and a touchdown, including going 7-of-9 for 142 in the opening quarter. Smerage was on the other end of most of those yards, catching three passes for 125.

"In the first half we threw the ball a little bit. In the second half we figured out what we needed to do, we made some adjustments," Crabtree said. "We were able to run the ball, it's just that we hurt ourselves by turning the ball over."

The Greencastle passing game wasn't its usual self, as Gilliam completed just 24 of his 60 pass attempts. However, that was still good enough for 314 yards and two scores. He also threw two interceptions, with Ryan Battin adding another on a failed quarterback throwback.

"We came in wanting to throw the ball and throwing the ball kept us in the game," Buis said. "If we make some tough catches and we catch the balls that are wide open it's a ballgame."

Crabtree was proud of the progress his defensive backfield has made and the showing they gave against the GHS air attack.

"Early in the season we struggled defending the pass a little bit. We had a lot of inexperience," Crabtree said. "We flat out knew they were going to come out and sling it. Gilliam's a heck of a quarterback, throws a heck of a football.

"I feel like our guys in the defensive backfield did a great job."

Lenihan ran seven times for 30 yards.

Both teams are back in conference action next Friday, as North Putnam hosts Monrovia and Greencastle hosts Cloverdale. Both games are slated for 7 p.m.

At Greencastle

North Putnam21 7 0 0 -- 28
Greencastle 7 0 0 7 -- 14

First Quarter

NP -- Smerage 43-yd. pass from Everts (Freund kick) 9:46

NP -- Spencer 3-yd. run (Freund kick) 4:41

NP -- Shorter 70-yd. fumble return (Freund kick) 4:06

GHS -- Lenihan 40-yd. pass from Gilliam (Stuckwisch kick) 2:34

Second Quarter

NP -- Everts 2-yd. run (Freund kick)

Fourth Quarter

GHS -- Hutcheson 43-yd. pass from Gilliam (Stuckwisch kick) 1:03

Team Stats

First Downs1615

North Putnam (6-0, 3-0 WCC):

Rushing (49 carries, 235 yards) -- Spencer 23-142, Smerage 8-34, Belcher 7-28, Shorter 4-17, St. Victor 4-10, Everts 4-4

Passing (8-14, 1 TD, 0 INT, 145 yards) -- Everts 8-14-1-0, 145 yds.

Receiving -- Smerage 3-125, Stanley 1-8, Brewer 2-7, Shorter 2-5

Greencastle (4-2, 1-2 WCC):

Rushing (10 carries, 22 yards) -- Lenihan 7-30, Gilliam 3-(-8)

Passing (24-61, 2 TD, 3 INT, 314 yards) -- Gilliam 24-60-2-2, 314 yds., Battin 0-1-0-1, 0 yds.

Receiving -- Lenihan 3-83, Hutcheson 7-81, Keyt 3-50, Shuee 3-47, Battin 8-35, Stuckwisch 1-20