A new scoreboard made its long-awaited debut behind the south end zone at Devere Fair Stadium on Friday.
Decatur Central and visiting Whiteland played like they couldn’t wait to break it in.
Hawks junior quarterback Bryce Jefferson threw for 298 yards and rushed for 86 as Decatur Central rallied for a 49-34 victory in the Mid-State Conference opener for both teams.
Coming in, the victorious team in the last eight Whiteland-Decatur Central games averaged 37.1 points.
The latest version didn’t disappoint with the Hawks scoring the game’s final 28 points over the final 7:55 to improve to 2-1 overall.
Despite the program’s first 0-3 start since 2011, Warriors coach Darrin Fisher wasn’t about to fault his team’s effort.
Led by the 137 rushing yards of junior Ryan Hammond, Whiteland carried the football a total of 52 times for 262 yards.
“We wanted to play the game for each other. We wanted to leave everything that we had out here, and I thought we did that,” he said. “I thought we played good, smart, physical football.
“I think (Decatur Central) has two great weapons on offense. Those two guys, Jefferson and (junior wideout Tyrone) Tracy are really hard to defend.”
Jefferson, who typically rolled to his right or left before deciding whether to throw or run it himself, completed 25 of 31 passes. Tracy, a 6-foot-1, 175-pound junior, snagged nine receptions for 144 yards and touchdowns covering 8 and 25 yards.
Whiteland led from the start, extending its lead to 34-21 after senior quarterback Jace Carpenter broke free from a defender and tossed a 10-yard scoring pass to sophomore Charlie Ogega.
It was then the floodgates opened.
The Hawks pulled closer on a 5-yard touchdown run, then took its first lead with 5:48 remaining on Jefferson’s electric 55-yard run along the right sideline.
Tracy scored a 15-yard TD run at the 3:26 mark, and the Hawks defense struck paydirt with a 15-yard return of a Warriors’ fumble to close the scoring.
“A lot of our kids grew up tonight, and we’ll be better for it in the long run,” Fisher said. “Right now it hurts really bad, but I think these young guys getting some experience and playing in these kinds of games is going to pay off.
“We certainly don’t view ourselves as an 0-3 football team, but that’s what we are.”
Decatur Central scored on the last play of the first half when Jefferson rolled right and delivered an 8-yard touchdown strike to Austin Mitchell.
This cut Whiteland’s lead to 20-14.
This contrast in offensive styles featured Jefferson passing for 132 yards and two touchdowns the opening two quarters. The Warriors were more than up to the task with 136 rushing yards compared to only two pass attempts.
Thirteen of Whiteland’s runs took place in the game’s opening drive, which led to a 42-yard field goal from senior Jacob Ballain.
On the ensuing series, Jefferson wasn’t ready for a second-down snap from center. Junior linebacker Austin Cook smothered the football at the Hawks’ 20 and the Warriors were back in business.
This, too, led to a Ballain field goal — this one a 25-yarder from the left hash mark at 11:07 of the second quarter.
Another Decatur Central fumble, this one pounced on by Warriors’ junior lineman Addison Watson, would lead to the team’s third score, a 30-yard TD run straight up the middle by Hammond.
The Warriors’ 13-0 advantage was short-lived. Decatur Central marched 78 yards in nine plays with Jefferson connecting with Tracy from 8 yards at 4:21 of the second quarter.
Eighty-eight yards of Hammond’s final rushing total was amassed in the first half.