HAMMOND | A jubilant sea of white uniforms flooded Morton's Maurey Zlotnik Field on Friday night after two teams fought tooth and nail to etch the first entry in their respective high school's record books.
With E.C. Central and West Side lighting up the scoreboard all night, the Cardinals survived a 16-point rally from the Cougars and went on to win, 46-44, in the Class 4A Sectional 17 championship game. The Cardinals play host to New Prairie in a Class 4A Regional next Friday.
“Words can't even explain how it feels,” E.C. Central quarterback Carlos Fernandez said of winning the school's first sectional championship. “It's an amazing feeling. I've never had this feeling before and it can't get any better.”
Like he has been all season long, Martayveus Carter was Friday's workhorse. By halftime, he had 13 carries for 190 yards and three touchdowns, also hauling in a fourth score on a 55-yard touchdown pass from Fernandez. Carter scored all of his touchdowns in the first half and ended with 24 carries for 291 yards.
A heroic performance no doubt, but Carter also lost two fumbles, the second of which came midway through the fourth quarter deep in West Side territory.
Like all good players, however, Carter regrouped and helped chew up time the Cardinals so desperately needed.
“I started to get frustrated after a while,” Carter said. “After my second fumble, I was like 'My team really needs me.' Coach (Stacy) Adams was like 'Get the ball secured first. Don't worry about the hand off and just do what you gotta do.'”
At one point, E.C. Central scored 21 consecutive points over the second and third quarters and looked to be in control with a 46-28 lead at the end of the third quarter.
However, West Side's explosive offense struck with two fourth-quarter touchdowns, first on a 1-yard run from West Side quarterback Ramone Atkins, and the second on a 46-yard pass from Atkins to JonVea' Johnson that put the Cougars within two points.
The Cardinals (10-2) attempted to run the clock down on the ensuing possession. However, a kneel-down on fourth down with 13 seconds left gave the Cougars (7-5) one last shot to win the game, but E.C. held on defensively.
“It was a brain cramp,” Adams said. “We almost gave them the game back.”
Atkins passed for 407 yards and five touchdowns, four of them to JonVea Johnson, who had 316 receiving yards.