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Braves’ goals still within reach after victory

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A must-win?

That’s not exactly how Indian Creek football coach Mike Gillin characterized last week’s triumph against visiting Providence. But it was close.

“I wouldn’t call it a must-win, but it was a needed win,” Gillin said, referring to a 41-21 Week 4 victory that couldn’t have come at a better time for the Braves.

Reeling from a series of deflating events, including a season-ending injury to the team’s top rusher and the very real prospect of not repeating as conference champion, the Class 3A Braves entered the game at a crossroads. They were 1-2 and on a two-game skid. They were coming off a crushing 33-25 defeat against Class A Eastern Hancock.

And they were recasting an offense minus the services of junior running back Dokken Egenolf, who suffered a season-ending ACL tear in the season-opener. Much of the Braves’ attack had been designed around Egenolf, a 1,000-yard-plus back as a sophomore.

Suffice it to say, much hinged — from a morale and confidence standpoint — on Week 4, particularly for a team that entered the year with lofty postseason aspirations.

“It was nice to see the guys go out and play well in the second half and expand our lead instead of losing it,” said Gillin, whose team had blown a 19-0 first-quarter lead — and given up 33 unanswered points — the week before against Eastern Hancock. “It was a big win and made coming to practice on Saturday morning at 8 o’clock much easier.

“The players and the coaching staff are in a much better mood now. I’m smiling again.”

With good reason.

At 2-2 heading into Friday night’s showdown at Class 3A Mid-Indiana Football Conference rival Brown County (3-1), the Braves can still accomplish a number of their preseason objectives, such as contending for the league title, finishing with a winning record and, most importantly, making noise in the state tournament.

With regard to a winning record, which the Braves have accomplished 12 straight seasons under Gillin, they control their own destiny. Same for postseason success.

But in the race for the conference championship, they’ll need help to win it.

Eastern Hancock, ranked No. 7 in Class A, is unbeaten in league play and is, in Gillin’s opinion, poised to run the regular-season table. If that happens, the Braves will have to focus on other prizes, i.e., the postseason.

Indian Creek has reached the sectional final four straight seasons and is looking for what would be its third sectional title in the past four years. The Braves, who lost to Greensburg in last year’s championship game, won sectionals in 2010 and 2011.

Despite residing in a brutal field that includes Class 3A power No. 6 Hamilton Heights (3-1) and unbeaten Batesville (4-0) and Marshall (4-0), along with Rushville (3-1) and traditional power Guerin Catholic (1-3), the Braves like their chances of accomplishing their big-picture objective of a lengthy postseason march.

“Even with the injuries, we felt like we could have been 4-0. But I told the guys, and even myself, you’ve got to look forward, you can’t look backward,” Gillin said. “We’re trying to improve and just do things we have control over, and that is the next game. You can’t look back.

“The conference is out of our control now, so we’ll just have to keep trying to improve and get better and see if we can take care of business the rest of the season.”

Even without Egenolf, the Braves have the firepower to be a force the rest of the way.

Indian Creek features one of the state’s top wide receivers in Brenden Smith; has two quality quarterbacks in junior Nic Brown and sophomore Gynson Robley (they rotate series); boasts one of the area’s most versatile players in senior H-back/linebacker Austin Wethington; has sure-handed receivers in seniors Cory Utecht and Ethan Whitaker; and has a wealth of experienced linemen, including senior Wess Cornett and juniors Tyler Hamilton and Braxton Zachery.

“We’ve still got some really nice athletes on this football team, and we’re improving,” Gillin said. “This week will be a big test. (Brown County) is going to test us, and we’ve got Milan right after that.

“We don’t get any breaks, no question about it, but I’m excited.”

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