HAMMOND | The first six minutes of Friday's Greater South Shore Conference showdown between Wheeler and Bishop Noll couldn't have gone much worse for the Bearcats.
After giving up a 35-yard field goal to Bishop Noll's Aaron Garza, the senior kicker scooped up a fumble on the ensuing kickoff and returned it for a 24-yard touchdown.
Facing an early 10-0 deficit, the Bearcats regrouped and dug their cleats in on defense, holding on for a tough, 21-19 comeback win over the Warriors on their Homecoming night.
“We asked them all week to step up, and we asked each individual guy to take a step,” Wheeler coach Tony Klimczak said. “We had a few guys really take over ownership of our defense and get it done.”
One of those guys was Sam Bolla, who picked off Noll's Nick Thrasher in the waning seconds of the game as Noll was trying to get in position for a last-second win.
“Defense is the heart of the team,” Bolla said. “If your defense steps up, they're not going to score and it gives you more opportunities (offensively).”
Kyle Burch shined on both sides of the ball for Wheeler (4-4, 4-2 GSSC). Offensively, Burch hauled in passes of 54 and 26 yards from quarterback Riley Smith. Defensively, Burch had Wheeler's other interception and was a big part of a unit that didn't allow any offensive touchdowns in the game.
“Kyle has been an amazing player all year,” Klimczak said. “He's come up big when we've asked him to. Big players make big plays in games like this. I'm extremely proud of him.”
Noll scored its other touchdown on a 93-yard kickoff return from Jahari Davis and got a second field goal from Garza,a 29-yarder in the second quarter.
However, Wheeler's defense bottled up the Warriors (4-4, 4-2 GSSC) far too many times on third down.
“We didn't finish enough drives,” Noll coach Mike Juscik said. “We moved the ball OK at times, and then we would stall out. We left ourselves with some long field goal attempts.
“It was a good football game. We may see them again. I think if we see them again, it will again be a good football game.”