MERRILLVILLE — Lewis Cass senior running back Caden Zeck stood alone in the north end zone at Father Eckert Stadium on Friday night. He hugged it out with teammates, family and friends one final time.
Zeck and his teammates gave it all they had against Andrean but lost 36-14 in a Class 2A regional championship.
“This game — we grew up since the second, third grade wanting this more than anything in the world,” said Zeck, who finished with 45 yards rushing. “Sometimes in life you slip short, but coming from where we’re from in Walton, Indiana, you learn that you need to work for what you get in life. Hardships are going to happen in life, and they’re there for a reason and God has a plan.”
No. 1-ranked Cass (11-2) trailed 22-14 at half and got the ball to start the third quarter. It just never get anything going consistently on offense to make up the deficit.
“We just couldn’t get field position all night long, and that third quarter killed us,” Cass coach Jeff Phillips said.
“We couldn’t get out from their side of the 50. We went for on fourth down a few times, made it, and a couple times we didn’t. I thought field position was critical in that third quarter and they won the field-position battle.”
After a scoreless third quarter, Andrean (10-3) made it a two-score lead when Ryan Walsh scored on a 15-yard run over the right end for a 28-13 lead. Andrean converted after the first of two interceptions by Isaac Chambers, as the Kings were trying to move the ball against a stout Niners’ defense. Cass finished with just 166 yards of total offense.
Chambers’ second interception led to another Andrean touchdown in the fourth quarter for the final 36-14 count.
“We kept hanging in there until they pulled away late in the game,” Phillips said. “We kind of wore down a little bit. You can’t fault the effort. It’s a heck of a group, and they’ve got a lot to be proud of — conference champions, sectional champions. Very proud of them.”
Chambers was harassed all night, completing just 3-of-13 passes for 43 yards.
“We left nothing out there,” Chambers said. “We came up here and gave it our best shot. They’re a great team. Hopefully, they’ll go on and win state. I hate to say that, but that’s reality.”
Walsh was the catalyst for Andrean, finishing with 263 yards on 26 carries and three touchdowns.
Gabe Eurit led the Kings with 69 yards on 23 carries, while Easton Good added 13 yards on the ground.
“It was a great game,” Zeck said. “I couldn’t be more proud of my guys. We weren’t expected to win sectional, win conference. All the working out in the summer, winter and fall, it all comes together. We’re just a big family, win or lose. It doesn’t matter. We’ll always be a family.”
After Walsh broke off a 74-yard TD run for an 8-0 lead, Cass responded. Easton Good returned the kickoff 83 yards to the Andrean 13-yard line.
Andrean would get a strip-fumble to stop the drive, but Cass returned the favor covering an Andean fumble at the 33-yard line. On the very next play, Eurit took a screen pass down the left sideline to knot the score at 8-8 with 4 minutes and 25 seconds left in the first quarter.
Andrean answered again when Nick Flesher hauled in a 30-yard pass from Noah Hamilton against single coverage for a 14-8 lead with 1:24 left in the first quarter.
Cass would tie it up again with a time-consuming 15-play drive Zeck finished with a 16-yard TD run up the middle. That tied the game at 14-14 with 6:59 left in the second quarter.
Andrean retook the lead on a Walsh 1-yard run for a 22-14 lead with 1:10 left.
“We played our hearts out,” Phillips said.
Andrean advances to play Eastbrook in the semistate.
“They’re a great team,” Zeck said. “You’ve got to give them credit for it. They prepared for us really well. We’ve seen some of the best guys in the state of Indiana in football, and these guys did their homework. Props to them.”