by Beau Wicker
Winamac gave Whiting a big dose of Tyler Katschke early, and Katschke and the Warriors made big plays often.
The Class A No. 3 Warriors survived a huge test in sectional play with a 41-20 throttling of No. 7 Whiting on Friday night in front of a packed house at Roudebush Stadium.
The Warriors (11-0) travel to West Central (8-3) next week in the Sectional 41 final. Whiting finishes 9-2. Winamac thrashed West Central 51-0 in the regular season.
Katschke was the main workhorse on Friday night, rushing for 200 yards and four touchdowns on 29 carries.
“We came out focused. We knew we had to be physical,” Katschke said.
The big senior fullback was especially busy early. In the game’s first 15 minutes, he had 141 yards rushing and three touchdowns on 23 carries.
His 4-yard TD run with 9:27 left in the second quarter gave the Warriors an early 21-7 lead.
Katschke, who also starts at outside linebacker on defense, had 23 carries with over 33 minutes still left in the game.
“I was wore out a little bit but I just knew I had to keep going keep going to get some yards for the team,” he said.
Katschke had plenty of help from his teammates.
Play-maker Levi Schultz returned a punt 40 yards for a touchdown with less than a minute to go in the first half, but the play was called back by a holding penalty. Schultz didn’t flinch, running the next play 29 yards for a score to give the Warriors a 28-14 lead at the half.
“I knew my teammates were going to block well for me on that play,” Schultz said. “Brant Howard and Wyatt Spence on the left side opened it up for me, Keegan Kasten. It was great offensive line play tonight.”
Schultz talked about the beginning of the game when the Warriors set the tone by grabbing an early two-touchdown lead.
“Offensively we really wanted to show our physicality and we showed that. We knew that we were a pretty physical team and we showed that tonight,” he said.
As for feeding Katschke so much early, Schultz said, “We saw something that worked and the line was getting a great push.”
The Warriors defense opened the second half with a three-and-out. The stop was keyed by a diving open-field tackle by Jeffery Nies that took away a possible big play, followed by a sack on third-and-long by Mitch Reed.
After Katschke was stuffed on a fourth-and-1 play in Whiting territory, he made what was arguably the play of the game.
With the Oilers driving, Katschke stripped a ball-carrier, and the speedy Branden DeGroot picked up the ball and no one was going to catch him as he dashed 60 yards to paydirt to give the Warriors a 35-14 lead with 4:21 left in the third quarter.
Whiting, which scrapped its run game in the second half due to the score and leading rusher Ethan Young leaving late in the second quarter with an injury, answered with a nice drive that was capped by a 7-yard TD pass from Alec Veloz to Mitchell Alicea.
But Schultz recovered the ensuing onside kick — the Oilers recovered the opening one of the game but were unsuccessful on their final three tries.
Katschke then showed off his speed by outrunning the Whiting defense 42 yards for a score to make it 41-20 with 29 seconds left in the third.
Nies had an interception in the fourth quarter. Whiting’s last possession of the game got a little ugly, as after back-to-back personal foul penalties by the bench Oiler coach Jeff Cain was ejected from the game.
“I think an assistant coach popped off and got the flag,” Roth said. “I don’t know if Jeff then said something or an assistant, but the head coach gets yanked.”
The dual penalties resulted in a third-and-50 situation and the Warriors were easily able to force a punt.
The Warriors didn’t attempt a single pass in the game. They didn’t have to, outrushing Whiting 407-35. Veloz finished 21 of 37 for 222 yards and two touchdowns for the Oilers.
Following a 53-yard kickoff return by Keegan Rooke, Young had a 13-yard TD run to tie the game at 7-7 in the first quarter for Whiting.
Later, a Quest Fritz sack set up a fourth-and-17 situation, but Veloz was still able to capitalize with a 20-yard TD pass to Martin Petruf that made it a 21-14 game with 4:27 left in the first half.
That play was again set up by a big kickoff return by Rooke.
“He’s a great returner,” Roth said. “We had been giving up under 10 yards a return and he blew us up.”
But the Oilers did lose a fumble on a kickoff that set up Katschke’s third TD of the game early in the second quarter. All-state kicker Zach Markley recovered the fumble. The Warriors then went to the squib kick after Rooke's second big return.
Markley, who is also a track standout, later ran for 25 yards on a fake punt but lost a fumble on the play early in the fourth quarter. But the Warriors were able to hold off the Oilers from there.
“It was a great game. It took a whole team effort,” senior halfback/linebacker Kasten said. “We worked hard this whole week in practice. We knew this was going to be one of our tougher games and we’re glad we saw some really good competition. They were a great team.
“Our offensive line, it started with them. Then our backs made some cuts, great coaching, it was just an all-around good win.”
The Warriors will be seeking their first-ever back-to-back sectional titles next week at West Central and fourth all-time.
Roth said Whiting coach Cain complimented his squad after the game.
“He said he heard a lot about this team being one of my best. I told him we’re getting there. He said, ‘We’ve never played a team as physical as you guys.’”