LAFAYETTE – The Clinton Prairie football team’s season came to an end Friday night with a 51-0 loss to the undefeated Central Catholic Knights.
The Knights’ defense, which has allowed an average of just about five points a game this year, proved too much to overcome for the Gophers. Clinton Prairie’s defense was able to stop Central Catholic on two of the Knights’ three first-quarter drives, but the Gophers were never able to take advantage.
After Prairie went three-and-out on the opening possession of the game, junior linebacker Braxton Barrett intercepted Knights quarterback Avery Denhart in Gophers territory and returned it 28 yards to the Central Catholic 38-yard line, giving the Gophers great field starting field position.
The Gophers moved the ball to the Knights’ 26-yard line on a pass interference penalty but were not able to capitalize on the opportunity to take an early lead on the Knights, turning the ball over on downs after hurting their selves with a holding penalty.
“When you walk off with a zero, you are disappointed about a lot of things,” first-year Clinton Prairie head coach K.C. Woods said. “We got the ball and got behind the chains on a false start. It happens. We could have battled back out of it. The defense did what we asked. We told them to get a stop, and they got a stop. Unfortunately, we didn’t put anything on the board. We had some opportunities tonight, but we know that is a terrific football team. We know the level we need to get to know, and we are going to do it.”
When Central Catholic got the ball back, they put together a 75-yard drive capped by an 8-yard touchdown run by senior running back Jackson Anthrop to lead 7-0.
The Gophers went three-and-out on their third possession of the night, but the defense stepped up again, forcing a three-and-out of their own.
At the end of the first quarter, Clinton Prairie trailed just 7-0.
Another Gophers drove went three-and-out to start the second quarter, and the punt attempt, backed up on their own 4-yard line, went awry when a high snap sailed through the end zone for a safety. When Central Catholic got the ball back on the Gophers’ 48, they quickly went 52 yards in five plays. Anthrop ran in from 17 yards out this time, and the Gophers suddenly trailed 16-0. After another Prairie three-and-out, Kristian Peters recovered an Anthrop fumble, but the Knights got the ball back three plays later when Jack Hudson intercepted a Chase Joseph pass attempt. On the ensuing play, Denhart found senior receiver Luke Fusiek with a back-shoulder throw in the corner in the end zone to put Central Catholic ahead 23-0.
Short offensive possessions for the Gophers and continually improving field position for the Knights made life harder for the Prairie defense, which had been keeping the Gophers in the game. Anthrop continued to grind away at Prairie, scoring from one yard out with three minutes remaining in the second quarter, and the Knights led 30-0 at halftime.
Anthrop rushed for another touchdown and Fusiek caught two more to give the Knights the 51-0 lead by the end of the third quarter.
Woods said he was pleased with his team’s effort versus the No. 1 ranked Knights.
“We said we are going to walk off this field win or lose, and we want the legacy to be set on how we are going to play football here, and we did that. We battled through four quarters and gave it everything that we had. I think our kids can walk off the field knowing that Clinton Prairie is going to play football at a great level moving forward because of what this group did.”
After the Gophers’ did a good job of containing him early, Anthrop went on to run for 201 yards and four touchdowns on 19 carries. His longest run of the night went for 36 yards.
“What our team has been good at all year is flying hats to the football,” Woods said. “We are not the biggest team, which, in a situation like us, helps us. We are able to fly. We have defensive lineman chasing him down from behind the play. We were able to use our speed to get enough harts to him to make a game of it early, and then, obviously, he started cranking away on us as the game wore on.”
Denhart finished with 226 yards, three touchdowns and an interception on 13-of-18 passing. All three touchdown passes were caught by Fusiek, who finished with five catches for 95 yards.
For the Gophers, sophomore running back Sam Schoonveld quietly chipped away for 88 yards on 24 carries, which Joseph finished with 67 yards and two interceptions on 10-of-26 passing. His longest pass of the night was a 23-yarder to Cayde Selke.
The Gophers finished 8-4 and were third in the Hoosier Heartland Conference in Woods first year guiding the program.
“We told this group to lay the foundation, and I think they did that,” Woods said. “They did a terrific job and we told them to leave a legacy of hard work, playing together as a team, loving the game and always being on the attack. We did those things. I will always cherish the 2015 group because I believe they laid an excellent foundation for Prairie football.”
With the first season now in the books, Woods is looking forward to what he sees being a bright future for Clinton Prairie football.
“I am extremely excited,” he said. “We saw some top-tier teams, and we know what we have to do to get there. We ought to have a great offseason in the weight room – speed development and weight development. Now that we have a system in place, we can really focus on those things, just our athletic development. We know that we’ve got to get there, and I think that we can do it.”