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Guerin Catholic slips past Braves in closing minutes

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For Indian Creek football coach Mike Gillin, the difference between beating ranked teams the past two weeks and Friday’s game was just a few plays.

And no play was bigger than one with under a minute left in the game.

Guerin Catholic scored on a fourth-down, 26-yard pass with 38 seconds remaining to shock the host Braves 24-20 for a Class 3A sectional championship.

“Come down to a game like that, a few big plays at the end of the ballgame,” Gillin said. “We made them the first two weeks (of the state tournament). Tonight, we didn’t make them.

“We didn’t make the big play at the end of the ballgame, and that’s the bottom line. And they did. Hats off to them.”

And Gillin was proud of what the team accomplished this season.

Indian Creek started the season 1-2 but overcame injuries and rattled off eight straight victories, including two over ranked teams — No. 3 Batesville and No. 10 Hamilton Heights — the first two weeks of sectional play, before falling to the unranked Golden Eagles.

While senior Brenden Smith rushed 18 times for 164 yards with a touchdown and caught seven passes for 92 yards with a score, the Braves (9-3) were unable to secure their third sectional title in four years after having reached the sectional final for five straight seasons.

“We rely on Brenden so much,” Gillin said. “He’s our best receiver. He’s our running back. He obviously ran out of gas a little bit there. We made some mistakes. Boy, it was a heartbreaker.”

Trailing 20-17, Guerin Catholic (5-7) started its final drive on its 13-yard line with 2:37 left. Just over two minutes later, junior quarterback Matt Labus threw a pinpoint 26-yard pass on fourth down to junior Brian Matthews, who caught the ball right at a front pylon for the game-winning score.

“It came down to a big play right there,” Gillin said. “We left man-up coverage over there. The quarterback made a hell of a throw. The receiver made a hell of a catch.”

The Braves started their final drive on their 40-yard line with 34 seconds left.

Sophomore quarterback Gynson Robley connected with Smith on a 30-yard pass to the Guerin Catholic 22-yard line with 19 seconds left. Two attempts to Smith in the end zone fell incomplete. And a fourth down pass was intercepted to end the game.

After taking a 20-10 lead midway through the third quarter, Indian Creek locked into a defensive battle with the Golden Eagles.

But they used a couple of big plays to pull off the win.

Not only did they have the last scoring play, but they also returned a blocked punt for a touchdown late in the third quarter.

The Golden Eagles got with three points when they blocked an Indian Creek punt. Smith went to punt, but Evan Hansen got his hands on the ball and batted the it into the air. Grant Gaynor grabbed the ball and ran five yards for the score.

“We had a chance to put them away,” Gillin said. “The blocked punt was a huge, huge play.”

The Braves’ defense forced two turnovers on consecutive Guerin Catholic possessions to start the second half.

Senior Cory Utecht had the second turnover, returning an interception 35 yards to the Guerin Catholic two-yard line. That return led to a seven-yard touchdown pass from Robley to Ethan Whitaker.

Smith began the first half where he’s left off the last few weeks, rushing the ball.

But he finished the first half catching the ball, something he also does well as one of the state’s leading receivers.

After the teams traded punts, Smith took a handoff on Indian Creek’s second play of its second drive, bobbled the ball, followed a few blocks and sprinted 70 yards for a touchdown. He rushed eight times for 136 yards in the first quarter.

Trailing 7-0, Guerin Catholic rolled off 10 straight points.

But the Braves got the ball on their 38-yard line with 3:31 left in the first half. On that drive, Smith caught three passes for 38 yards, the last a 12-yard touchdown reception thrown by junior quarterback Nic Brown with 1:20 left in the half.

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