MERRILLVILLE | Statistically, this was the worst Merrillville defense in at least the last 20 years, allowing 27.3 points per game.
Coach Zac Wells and his band of Pirates would kindly (OK, maybe not so kindly) suggest where you can stick those numbers.
Friday at Demaree Stadium, Merrrillville contained a Chesterton running game that shredded it for 350 yards in a 40-35 loss just two weeks ago, and came up with five turnovers in an unexpected 45-21 blowout of the Trojans.
"I'm proud of 'em," Wells said. "Son of a gun. They brushed off what was said and continued to work hard day in and day out to improve."
Merrrillville limited Chesterton to 32 yards rushing in the first half. Trojans game-breaker Joe Troop was shackled on -3 yards on eight carries until a 20-yard run late in the game.
"We just had to tighten up the little things," defensive back Ryan Neal said. "It's the little mistakes that lead to big plays."
Neal was a personal highlight reel, intercepting two passes and claiming a fumble recovery.
"I still can't believe it right now," he said.
The whole pendulum swung late in the first half. With the Pirates leading 17-14, Merrillville got sacks on the same series from freshman Shawn Streck and Quentin Lacey-Blackwell, the latter pinning the Trojans back at their 2-yard line in the final 30 seconds of the half.
A 25-yard punt put Merrillville at the Trojans 27. It was at the 1 with 0.7 left. The Pirates initially lined up for a field goal, but after Chesterton called timeout, Wells elected to go for it and Jake Raspopovich took it in for six. The score gave the Pirates a 10-point lead and "Uncle Mo" was in their locker room.
"It was only like 6 inches," Wells said. "We were going to kick and then the coaches up in the box said it's at like the half-yard line. Big credit to our offensive line and our offensive guys for sticking it in there. That was a big momentum shift right there."
It was all purple gang from there.
Bruce Thomas stepped in front of an underthrown Chris Katsafaros long ball to an open Troop for an interception, and returned it to the Chesterton 3, setting up a Jake Raspopovich to Joey Cowser TD pass.
With Chesterton driving down 31-14, Neal went up to snag a pickoff in the end zone. On the next play, DyLon Collins exploded 80 yards down the sidelines to put the dagger in the Trojans.
"Our message at the beginning of the year was, we have a lot of potential," Neal said. "It seems like we were scared of how great we could be. We just had to go play our game the way we know how."
Merriillville ended Chesterton's season for the third year in a row in the semifinals, knocking the Trojans out 48-45 in overtime last year and 48-27 in 2010. The Pirates have been Chesterton's personal Grim Reaper, also ending its season in 2006, 2007 and 2008.
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