CHURUBUSCO — “We played tough,” ’Busco head coach Lee Etzler said as he addressed his team in postgame comments. “We need to play tough again next week.” With those comments Etzler both summed up Friday night’s 45-28 Northeast Corner Conference title clinching win over the visiting Lakeland Lakers, and set the tone for next week’s opening round of the IHSAA sectionals.
The Eagles clinched their second consecutive share of the NECC crown, dropping the Lakers for the second year in a row.
Churubusco jumped on top 8-0 midway through the first quarter on an 85-yard punt return for a touchdown by senior Kyle Monk, who took the punt on his own 15-yard line retreated almost 10 yards as he circled to his right and then broke down the sideline before cutting back to the middle to juke his way through the Lakers for the first score of the game.
On the next possesion the Eagles marched 40 yards downfield on four consecutive carries by senior Kyle Mathewson before a fumbled snap blunted the Eagle drive and kept the score 8-0 at the end of the first quarter.
The Lakers kept the game close early as quarterback Cody Richardson hit Scott McKibben for a 36-yard touchdown pass that cut the Eagle lead to 8-7 with 11:08 left in the first half.
Churubusco regained the momentum on a 78-yard, five-play drive capped by a 48-yard Monk to Hunter Nicodemus aerial that put the Eagles up 16-7 with 4:48 left.
The ’Busco defense came up with the big play on the Lakers ensuing possession. On Lakeland’s first play from scrimmage, junior Alex Zolman picked up the interception. Following a penalty that put the Eagles deep in their own territory, Busco saddled up Mathewson for the entire series. The senior running back ripped off 94 yards, including the final 48-yard run for the score that put the Eagles up 24-7 at the half.
Mathewson picked up 174 yards rushing in the first half and 202 yards in just under two and a half quarters of play to pace the Eagles.
’Busco padded its lead in the third quarter, stopping the Lakers on their first possession and starting with a first down on their own 46-yard line. Fueled by 27 yards rushing by Mathewson and a 24-yard scamper by Josh LeFever, the Eagles drove deep into Lakeland territory. Monk completed the drive with a 10-yard scoring pass to LeFever to put the Eagles on top 31-7 at the end of the third quarter.
The host Eagles started the fourth quarter on the right foot with Monk hitting Jordan Turner for a 42-yard touchdown on the first play of the quarter to stretch the lead to 38-7.
The Lakers made an attempt to close the gap, picking up two quick touchdowns early in the quarter. The first came on a 45-yard run by junior Dustin Wolheter and the second on a five-yard pass play following a ’Busco fumble on the ensuing kick-off.
With the lead cut to 38-21, the Eagles went back to the air with Monk hitting a 22-yard pass to Spencer Conrad, and consecutive passes of 10 and 27 yards to Zolman, who scored on a one-yard plunge on the next play to put Churubusco up 45-21 with 3:24 left to play.
Laker quarterback Richardson picked up the final score of the contest on a 49-yard run up the middle to account for the final 45-28 margin.
“It’s always tough to run offense against them (Lakeland),” Etzler said. “Their defense always gives us fits. Fortunately we were able to move the ball through the air enough to gain quite a few yards.”
Monk was 8-14 through the air for 200 yards and three touchdowns. The Eagles also rushed the ball 39 times for 241 yards in the win.
The Eagles will play host to the Adams Central Flying Jets next Friday night at 7 p.m.