Whether it was long kickoff returns, hard-hitting defense or Isaiah Calaway dragging tacklers several yards at a time, Whiteland wouldn’t be denied in Friday’s Class 5A football sectional championship game against visiting Floyd Central.
The host Warriors took control midway through the third quarter, breaking a 20-all tie by scoring the game’s final three touchdowns en route to a 41-20 win against the Highlanders in front of a large, enthusiastic crowd at James Sleighter Field.
The win gave third-ranked Whiteland (9-2) its fourth sectional title in school history, and its first since 2006. Floyd Central’s season ended at 8-3.
The Warriors will host fifth-ranked Cathedral (7-5), which defeated Anderson 56-13 in its sectional final, next Friday.
In the meantime, the sectional title win meant a lot to Calaway, who said Michael Williams, a Whiteland student who sustained serious injuries in a Tuesday afternoon car accident near the school, motivated him throughout the week and in Friday’s contest.
“I played that game for him and the seniors,” said Calaway, a junior who normally plays wide receiver, but carried six times for
55 yards and had a 73-yard first-quarter kickoff return to set up Whiteland’s first touchdown. “(Williams) cheered us on at all the games.
“Coach (Darrin Fisher) talks about mental toughness, and it was a hard week for all of us. We showed our mental toughness this week.”
Calaway and teammate Shawn Cloud arguably swung the game’s momentum in Whiteland’s favor for good.
After Floyd Central tied the game 20-all, Cloud returned the ensuing kickoff 53 yards to the Floyd Central 20-yard line.
On the next play, Calaway took his first handoff of the game. He was initially hit at the 15 but kept his legs churning and, with an assist from the Warriors’ offensive line, moved the pile all the way to the 3-yard line. Cloud scored on the next play, giving Whiteland the lead for good, 27-20.
With senior running back Jeffery Wooten still limited with a high ankle sprain, Cloud led the Warriors (9-2) with 95 yards on 10 carries and a pair of second-half touchdowns. His second score, a 37-yard gallop with 6:11 remaining in the game, concluded the scoring.
Wooten did score the Warriors’ first touchdown, a 9-yard run with 6:12 remaining in the first quarter, but only carried three other times the rest of the game. His backfield mates picked up the slack, rushing for 256 yards and the other four Whiteland touchdowns.
Brandon Benson and quarterback Donnie Richard also ran for scores for the Warriors.
Meanwhile, the defense limited Floyd Central’s running back-quarterback tandem of Gaige Klingsmith and Colton Kimm. Klingsmith ran for one touchdown and caught another, but managed just 61 rushing yards on 22 carries, and 37 of those yards came on his touchdown run. Kimm completed 9 of 14 passes, but managed just 105 yards, 25 below his season average. Floyd Central converted just 3 of 13 third-down plays.
“The defense played fantastic,” Fisher said of the group which, heading in, was allowing 35.2 points per game. “Our willingness to hit people and not shy away from that was critical.
“We knew we had to take them on squared up, and we did that.”
The final buzzer triggered a wild celebration, with students storming the field to greet the players. While traditional power Cathedral awaits next week, the Warriors, who also won the Mid-State Conference title, took time to celebrate Friday’s championship.
“It means everything,” said Landyn Fleming, a senior defensive lineman. “Ever since we were little kids, we came to the games and watched this program. Now, it’s us.”