MERRILLVILLE | Momentum is a fickle old sort in the game of football, switching sides at the slightest whim without as much as a moment's notice.
Well, most of the time anyway.
Merrillville seized control of Friday's Class 5A regional against Carroll with a 45-yard Jake Raspopovich to Aaron Dye touchdown pass just 95 seconds into the game, and the little snowball quickly became an avalanche.
A Ryan Neal interception led to a Matt Warren field goal. A blocked punt set up a Bryant Isabell scoring run. When Raspopovich connected with BJ Jenkins for a 65-yard TD on the first play of the second quarter, the Pirates led 22-0 and the rout was on. A Tyrie Fuller 1-yard run on the last play of the half made it 36-0 and Merrillville was thinking about semistate.
"All cylinders were all there," Raspopovich said. "Offense, defense, special teams, all three came together. From the beginning, we brought the energy, even in the pregame. I'm so proud of our team. The seniors, we knew, no matter what, that this was our last home game, and we wanted to come out with a victory."
Raspopovich threw for three scores and ran for another, earning the fourth quarter off as Merrillville rolled to a 50-point lead. Yep, 50. In a regional, against the team that beat Penn.
"Very surprising," said linebacker Brandon Oliver, who snagged his fourth and fifth interceptions of the season. "It all started in practice, with coach (Zac) Wells emphasizing that we had to be disciplined, but we also had to play hard and fast. That's what we try to go out and do every single game."
Practice doesn't always translate into performance, but in this case, it did.
"We had a really good week of practice," Wells said. "The kids were extremely focused on the task at hand, which is difficult as you move deeper in the tournament. That's a pretty good sign of leadership. You can talk all you want, but if they don't believe what you're preaching, it doesn't really matter."
Raspopovich was salivating at the prospect of his receivers getting single coverage from Carroll and the result was the same it's been all season -- defenders seeing the backs of Merrillville pass catchers sprinting to the end zone.
"When I found out they played man-to-man, I was really excited," Raspopovich said. "With our athletic receivers and great line giving me all the time I wanted, I just have to throw the ball. It makes the game easy for me."
Merrillville's defense continued its post-season renaissance, pitching a shutout until the first unit was pulled.
"It's really been just getting healthy, getting all of our guys back," Oliver said. "We wanted this really bad."
Merrillville will head to Fort Wayne next Friday to face Snider, which rallied for an overtime win over Fishers. Lucas Oil Stadium is one game away for the Pirates.
"When you get this far, it's like, 'Wow, it's really happening,' Raspopovich said. "But we're not looking ahead. We're going to focus on Snider. Obviously, they're a great team. When you look ahead, you get beat."
At least on this night for the Pirates, there was no looking back.
This column represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.