EAST CHICAGO | It was an instant classic, forever to be etched in the minds of Northwest Indiana football fans. Simply put, this was one for the ages.
Martayveus Carter's 2-yard touchdown run in overtime followed by a Daniel Flores extra point proved to be the difference that opened the floodgates of blue E.C. Central jerseys into a sea of postseason football jubilation at Pete Rucinski Field, as the Cardinals edged No. 3-ranked New Prairie 38-37 in a Class 4A regional championship.
“It's a full rush,” Carter said. “It's a great feeling. Nobody believed in us. Everybody thought (New Prairie) was going to win. They're a great team. It was a hard-fought game and we came out on top.”
With Carter usually the guy making huge plays for the Cardinals (11-2), senior quarterback Carlos Fernandez stepped up as a playmaker. He threw three touchdown passes — two to TreQuan Burnett and one to Deontae Rush — and also ran for a 1-yard score in the second half. Fernandez ran for 63 yards and passed for 288, keeping the Cardinals in the game with his legs and arm.
All this while playing banged up. Fernandez was noticeably limping a few times during the game. His 64-yard TD to Burnett gave the Cardinals a 31-28 lead late in the game before a 27-yard field goal by New Prairie's Collin Szymanski forced overtime.
“We've got a lot of players who are banged up,” E.C. coach Stacy Adams said. “That was just a great football player making a great play. That's just football. But the biggest thing about the whole game was our offensive line did a great job giving him enough time to get rid of that ball.”
Carter wasn't featured much during the first half, but came on in a big way when called upon. With Fernandez stealing the show, Carter got into the scoring column with an 8-yard touchdown run with about eight minutes left in the game.
“This team has a lot of heart,” Adams said. “With Martayveus being one of our team leaders, he wanted the ball.”
After a 62-yard touchdown pass from Fernandez to Burnett put the Cardinals up 6-0 two minutes into the game, New Prairie fired back with three straight rushing touchdowns to go ahead 21-6.
Things looked bleak for the Cardinals until Fernandez plunged in from one yard out. A 32-yard touchdown snag by Deontae Rush followed the run with a little more than a minute remaining before halftime, cutting the Cougars' lead 21-18 at the break.
The Cardinals will travel to Fort Wayne Dwenger for a Class 4A semistate championship next Friday.