Vikings Prove They Can Hang with the Best

Vikings Prove They Can Hang with the Best
By: Paul Jankowski Last Updated: November 17, 2018

Conventional thinking throughout most of Indiana is that the best athletes and sports teams are produced within a fairly tight radius around of Indianapolis.

The rest of us are just easy roadkill on their road to glory.

That wasn't necessarily the case Friday night for mighty Carmel, the No. 3-ranked team in Class 6A from a school with an enrollment of 5,057.

Before a near-capacity crowd at chilly but not uncomfortable Viking Field, Valparaiso gave the Greyhounds all they could handle. It wasn't over until Valpo's final possession ended on an incomplete pass with one minute remaining, allowing Carmel to escape with a hard-fought 14-10 win, a score that will surely cause many throughout the state to blink their eyes and shake their heads.

Carmel (11-2) advances to next Friday's state championship against No. 1 Warren Central, which defeated Center Grove 27-20.

The No. 10 Vikings (10-3) fell one game short of their ultimate goal of playing in Lucas Oil Stadium against another Indianapolis mega-school. While this may be the end of the road for a talented group of seniors, they helped re-establish a once-proud tradition of football excellence and ignited community spirit not seen around the football stadium in many years.

They were led by a first-year head coach in Bill Marshall, and that was his message to the team after the game.

"What I'm going to tell you is this - you will never be forgotten," Marshall said while the players kneeled on the field. "You seniors have set the standard. And those from last year standing back there, you're as much a part of this as these seniors are this year. I know our captains and seniors will thank you for that."

Early in the game, Carmel partially blocked a Valpo punt and recovered on the Vikings' 24-yard line. But Valpo's super defense, led by seniors Tyler and Max Bukur, Reece Crossin and Troy Barton, pushed the Greyhounds back 15 yards to force a punt.

Carmel would open the scoring on its next possession, however. Carmel quarterback Gabe Quigley executed a  perfect option play with running back Dylan Downing.

The Valpo defense, and everyone in the stadium, bought Quigley's fake handoff to Downing. Half the Vikings tackled Downing behind the line of scrimmage, while Quigley sprinted up the middle of the field nearly untouched for a 49-yard touchdown.

The Vikings responded, however, driving down the field inside the 5-yard line. A deep pass from CJ Opperman to senior Jesse Harper was a key play on the drive, but the Vikings had to settle for a short field goal by Liam Shepherd to make it 7-3.

That remained the score until early in the third quarter, when Carmel put together its only long touchdown drive of the game to take a 14-3 lead. But again, the Vikings came back with a nice drive of their own, capped by a 7-yard touchdown run by Harper to make it 14-10 late in the third.

Valpo's defense, solid all year, came up with a couple of key stops in the fourth quarter to give the offense a chance. But the Vikings had a three-and-out, and their final drive was hindered by a questionable personal foul penalty.

With just over one minute remaining on a fourth-and-15, Opperman threw deep to Harper down the right sideline. Harper made a diving attempt between two Carmel defenders to make the catch just past midfield, but couldn't haul it in.

There are 27 seniors on the roster, many of whom have played together since their Pop Warner days. Harper is one of them, along with tight end Jake Evans who had a key catch early in the game, running back Jackson Kurth and linemen Ayden Bennett and Jarred Craft.

But the future is bright. Marshall did an excellent job leading the team to 10 consecutive victories after an 0-2 start, and several starters will return that will make the Vikings early favorites to earn their third straight Duneland Athletic Conference title.

It was a tough way for the season to end, but they had a lot of big victories including the 21-0 win in the sectional championship at Penn two weeks ago.

"I love each and every one of you," Marshall told the players. 

"I want you to soak it in, because it's everything you've poured your hearts into right now that's come to an end. And that sucks. I know it. We've all been there who have played and worn a jersey.

"But have no regrets about the job that you did, the family that you've created and the brothers that you'll have for life."