VALPARAISO | With momentum clearly in Valparaiso’s favor and needing to travel nearly the entire field for a touchdown, the Merrillville offense got to work.
The Times No. 2 Pirates went 98 yards in 15 plays for an opening-drive score in the second half that helped Merrillville take control of what turned out to be a turnover-ridden 35-8 blowout victory over the Vikings on Friday night.
Bryant Isabell scored the second of his three touchdowns to give the Pirates a 14-8 lead after the Vikings scored all eight of their points in the final 51.7 seconds of the first half.
“We talked to our guys at halftime about taking ownership for the product they put on the field,” Merrillville coach Zac Wells said. “There was a lot of frustration for what occurred in the first half, but our guys persevered, didn’t panic and answered the call in the second half.”
Merrillville led 6-0 late in the first half when Caleb Dawson connected on a 22-yard field goal with 51.7 seconds left. Instead of taking a knee to run out the half, the Pirates (6-1, 5-0 DAC) started their next drive out of the shotgun and the first snap of the drive sailed over the head of quarterback D.J. Wilkins for a safety. Merrillville attempted a squib kick following the safety and the Vikings (3-4, 3-2) trapped the ball for excellent field position. Dawson knocked in a 41-yard field goal with five seconds left in the half to give the Vikings an 8-6 lead.
“That was a series of unfortunate events,” Wells said. “Maybe if I could do it over again we’d take a knee, but we’ve done that snap thousands of times.”
Isabell’s touchdown in the early stages of the second half helped right the ship for the Pirates, but it was 90-yard catch-and-run touchdown from Jonathan Robinson that put Merrillville firmly in control of the game.
“Everybody did their job in the second half,” Robinson said. “The coaches kept us positive on the sideline when we could’ve gotten frustrated.”
Robinson’s touchdown came after Valparaiso fumbled the ball in the red zone for the second time. Viking quarterback David Hittinger threw an interception on the ensuing drive which set Isabell up for his third touchdown and then the Vikings fumbled the kickoff return, leading to another Merrillville touchdown.
Valparaiso finished with five turnovers and had two fumbles in the red zone for the second straight week.
“I’m heartbroken, not for myself, but for these kids,” Valparaiso coach Dave Coyle said. “They really wanted this one tonight and they feel very frustrated. I told them that a big eraser comes out. We need to forget about this one. Everyone is upset, but they didn’t quit.”