ST. JOHN | True champions accept blame, acknowledge flaws and learn from mistakes.
Judging by his demeanor following Friday night’s regional loss to Penn, Lake Central quarterback Ethan Darter will be in fine shape entering his final two seasons under center for the Indians.
The 6-foot-3 third-stringer-turned-starter handled himself with aplomb, beating himself up worse than any Penn defender, following a nightmarish night that included four interceptions in a 33-6 Lake Central loss to No. 1 Penn Friday night in a Class 6A regional at the Burial Grounds.
It was Lake Central’s first regional appearance since 1999 and Penn’s 14th title overall. The Kingsmen (12-0), who improved to 5-0 against Duneland Athletic Conference teams this season, travel to face Carmel in the semistate next week.
“I’m going to take this as motivation every single minute,” Darter said. “I’m going to run that extra suicide, go extra hard, keep going harder because I know I hate this feeling.”
The feeling was unpleasant for all the Indians as Penn scored rushing touchdowns on its second and third possessions and led 20-0 on a late first-half touchdown pass before Darter threw the first of his four interceptions, part of a five-turnover night for the sectional champion Indians (9-3).
Darter, who rose to the occasion often in the past as Lake Central’s quarterback situation, was 19-for-40 passing for 216 yards and a third-quarter touchdown pass to one-time starting quarterback Alec Olund.
“All in all he played hard,” Lake Central coach Brett St. Germain said. “He made some nice throws and made some mistakes, but that’s part of being young. All these experiences are going to help him down the road.”
Darter blamed himself after three second-half interceptions, one of which was returned 39 yards for a touchdown.
“It was really basic,” Darter said. “Coach coached me up. I just messed up. I owed this to my team — they really helped me up.
“My team is everything to me. We’re all brothers. We’re family.”
Antwan Davis, a junior, caught nine passes for 104 yards, and Olund had six grabs for 90 and the score. Lake Central, however, only netted 46 yards on the ground.
“I thought in the first half our kids were preoccupied with playing the No. 1 team in the state, rather than just playing football, and it just looked like we were a little bit out of sorts,” St. Germain said. “But at the end of the day, that’s part of the progress of our program. Every year we’ve been taking steps. This year we’ve taken another step, and we have to learn from this and being in this type of environment.”
Lake Central was unable to run the ball much, a predicament exacerbated by Penn’s increasingly swelling lead. The Indians had a tremendous home-field advantage during the first two rain-soaked weeks of the postseason, but the advantage was mitigated by a dry week and freezing temperatures, not to mention a stout Penn defense and high-powered offense.
The Kingsmen were led by Tyler Carpenter, a sophomore who took the first handoff of Penn’s second drive 47 yards for the game’s opening touchdown. He finished with 123 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries. Quarterback Zachary Oakley ran for 58 yards and a touchdown and hit Inoke Moala on a 40-yard touchdown pass with 32 seconds remaining in the first half.
Kyle Treber’s 39-yard interception return touchdown with four minutes to play in the third preceded L.C.’s lone touchdown drive.
The Indians wept after the game and said goodbye to heavy hitters such as Gelen Robinson, C.J. Lessentine, Trevor Miller and Mitchell Oskam, all seniors for fourth-year coach St. Germain.
“It’s going to be tough because this is the class that I came in with, and we’ve been through a lot together,” St. Germain said. “If you look at the state of the program when I arrived and the state of the program now, you’ve really got to commend these seniors and what they’ve been able to accomplish. It’s on them. They’re the ones who made this happen.”