By Nicole Minier
CHURUBUSCO — What was expected to be one of the most competitive games in the area finished with a lopsided score, as Churubusco handled Northfield Friday night, 31-15.
Excluding a one-play mistake in the final minutes of the game, Churubusco’s defense shut down Northfield in the second half — and that made the difference in the game.
“Our defense made some adjustments and the kids stepped up,” said Churubusco head coach Paul Sade. “When you make plays in the backfield against a team that runs the option as well as Northfield, it frustrates them and takes them off their rhythm.”
Northfield’s offense started the game competitively, nearly keeping up with the Eagles, who scored on every possession of the first half.
The Eagles opened the game with the ball and meticulously moved 65 yards downfield, with two receptions by Mason Anderson, two carries by Joey Emenhiser and three carries by Nathaniel Keener, including the last play of the drive, an eight-yard touchdown run.
Churubusco burned over three minutes off the clock in the possession, but Northfield had an answer.
The Norsemen also started from their 35-yard line. Churubusco’s defense forced a 4th-and-14 just three plays later, but Northfield successfully faked a punt to not only earn the first down, but pick up 11 more yards. The drive ended in a 25-yard field goal at the 3:01 mark to make the score 7-3.
Emenhiser, a running back and kicker for the Eagles, wouldn’t be outdone by his competitor. After the offense moved the ball to the 14-yard line, Emenhiser completed a 31-yard field goal early in the second quarter.
Northfield scored on its next possession, but missed the point-after attempt, making the score 10-9 with 6:58 left in the half.
On the heels of Nathaniel Keener, who carried the ball in nine out of 13 snaps, putting the Eagles within 12 yards of the end zone.
In 3rd-and-9, quarterback Tom Richards looked for an open receiver but couldn’t find one, keeping the ball and running to the five-yard line.
In a 4th-and-2, Paul said had the option to try for another Emenhiser field goal, or extend the Eagles’ lead even further.
Sade elected for the touchdown attempt in a perfectly executed play. Richards handed the ball off to Sam Wood just as he was being tackled, and Wood ran the ball all the way home, putting Churubusco ahead 17-9 with 13 seconds left in the half.
The Eagles’ defense came out on fire in the second half, forcing a 4th-and-12 in the first play from scrimmage in the second half.
Emenhiser attempted a lengthy, 43-yard field goal and missed, but Churubusco quickly got the ball back after Trevor Holloway scooped up a Northfield fumble. That possession ended with a turnover-on-downs, as the Eagles fell short of a first down and were out of field goal reach.
Northfield made it to the Churubusco 36-yard line, but on fourth down, the Northfield quarterback attempted a pass that was snagged out of the air by defensive lineman Brayden Simmons.
“It was just instinct — I was in the right place at the right time,” Simmons said.
By then, the Eagles got into the Norsemen’s heads.
The Eagles were faced with a difficult 4th-and-1 situation, but after the teams were lined up and before the ball was snapped, the whistle blew and Northfield was charged with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, handing ’Busco the first down. Three plays later, the Norsemen were again flagged for a personal foul.
The drive resulted in a touchdown run by Gage Kelley to put ’Busco ahead 24-9 with 7:59 left.
On Northfield’s next play, a long pass to Kade Kennedy had the crowd on the edge of their seats, but Emenhiser knocked the ball out of Kennedy’s hand, and it was again scooped up by Holloway.
The Eagles scored again, just 2.5 minutes later, on a carry by Austin Lehman.
Churubusco got a little too comfortable with its lead, and Northfield scored on the kickoff, making the game more competitive in the final five minutes; however, Churubusco’s defense held off Northfield, and the final score was 31-15.
The Eagles will host Adams Central next Friday for the sectional semifinal.
Churubusco hasn’t faced Adams Central since 2010, when the Eagles advanced to the semistate game under coach Lee Etzler.