PORTAGE — Big-time players make big-time plays.
With Crown Point up by a touchdown with a minute to go, Portage needed to drive 80 yards to tie the ballgame. In a matter of two plays, the Indians suddenly needed to go 92 yards after a pair of sacks Caden Watson that eventually forced a turnover on downs.
"It was a straight bull rush both times," Watson said. "I rushed as hard as I could and the lineman fell over and I got to the quarterback. I really wanted to make a statement for all of C.P. that we came here ready to go and ready to win. We knew what they were going to do and they knew what we were going to do. It came down to who was going to play better, stronger and faster."
Behind a big game from Watson — who also recovered a fumble — and the Bulldogs defense, C.P. won its second straight sectional crown with a 14-7 victory over Portage in a Class 6A sectional championship.
"Caden has been a leader all year for us," Crown Point coach Kevin Enright said. "He's a team captain who has given us two great years at the middle linebacker spot. Honestly, Caden expects those kind of plays from himself and we do from him, too. It's a tremendous compliment to him that he could come up big for us there and that's just the type of player he is."
Crown Point (6-4) forced two Portage fumbles on the Indians' opening two drives, with Watson falling on the first fumble by Cody Russell. The second fumble, by Anthony Maceo, set up C.P. at the Portage 43, propelling the Bulldogs to their first score on a 10-yard pass from Ryan Bolda to Eric Mahaffey.
C.P. took over at its own 34 after a turnover on downs, but an offensive pass interference pushed them back 15 yards on the first play of the drive. Eventually forced to punt, Portage was flagged for roughing to keep the drive alive.
Following the penalty, Tyler Gomez ran for a 14-yard gain and then a perfect 47-yard pass from Bolda to Tyler Jones down the right sideline put the Bulldogs in business at the 5-yard line. Two plays later, Bolda hooked up with Jones again on a fade route for a 14-0 halftime lead after a two-point pass.
Bolda passed for 154 yards and two touchdowns. Jones had four catches for 62 yards and Timmy Angel added four receptions for 42 yards.
"I thought Ryan and our receivers on the edge stepped up big," Enright said. "We knew we had to throw to loosen them up a little bit. We've been able to consistently run the football all year, but as you get deeper in the playoffs you have to be more well-rounded and balanced. Credit to our kids that they were able to step up like that through the air.
The Bulldogs ran 36 times for 108 yards, with Gomez gaining 89 on 23 totes before exiting in the third quarter with an injury. Kicker/H-back Ben Fridrich also left with an injury, and both players' status is up in the air for next week's regional against Penn.
"Any time you have injuries, you have to recover from that," Enright said. "It hurt us a little bit, but you have to play through it. Anytime you come out here and play football, especially in playoff time, and come away with a victory, you're extremely pleased. The guys fought through some adversity and it's a big win for us."
With Portage quarterback Maceo battling a shoulder injury suffered last week against Lake Central, the Indians turned to sophomore Zack Warchus to start up the passing game. After a James Priddy punt pinned Portage at the 1-yard line, Warchus' heave to Greg Milledge was brought down for a 99-yard score. Milledge had two catches for 134 yards.
Portage totaled only 56 yards on 27 tries on the ground, and Maceo ran 15 times for 51 yards.
"I'll say this, Maceo's got a lot of heart," Portage coach Darren Rodriguez sad. "It was kind of a freak thing against L.C. that happened and it limited what we can do with Anthony as a thrower. When the other team figures that out, you can only hide it for so long. It's the unfortunate part of the game of football, people get hurt.
"With Zack being a younger guy, we didn't want to make it complicated in what to look for. Greg's an explosive kid and if the look was there, we wanted to get him the ball."
It is the sixth sectional crown for Crown Point, which heads to a regional rematch with the mighty Kingsmen of Penn, who won 23-0 in 2016.