MERRILLVILLE | It was a comedy of errors for both teams Friday at Demaree Stadium, but only Times No. 2 Merrillville could manage a smile after the haphazard Duneland Athletic Conference finale.
The Pirates turned the ball over four times, but the Trojans doubled them, setting up three second-half scores that carried Merrillville to a 31-7 triumph. The Pirates claimed the outright DAC title with the win. It's their third straight, but the first by themselves since 2009.
"It wasn't exactly how we envisioned it, to say the least," Merrillville coach Zac Wells said. "It was ugly, but that happens. We'll have to right the ship a little bit and be a little sharper, but I'm happy with the kids. They persevered under some difficult circumstances and to finish as undefeated conference champions is a nice accomplishment. I'm really proud of the guys."
The game took a decisive swing in the third quarter. Chesterton trailed 12-7, but reached the Merrillville 1, only to have Cole Teal fumble the ball into the end zone. Two plays earlier, he had a 10-yard scoring run negated by a holding call.
"You're talking 14-12," Chesterton coach Mark Peterson said. "The game takes on a different complexion."
The team traded interceptions on back-to-back plays with another Teal cough-up coming two snaps later. Bryant Isabell cashed that one in with a 15-yard jaunt up the middle to make it 19-7. A Darnell Robinson pick led to Tyrie Fuller's 3-yard scoring run and Fuller later scampered 35 yards for another score. Isabell racked up 166 yards and two scores on 20 carries as the Pirates rushed for 311 yards.
"It was really nice to be able to spread the ball around," Wells said. "All those guys have had big games at different times."
Chesterton finished with six turnovers in the second half.
"We were able to get a lot of guys to the football," Wells said. "A couple times, we were close to getting the hit as they were getting ready to secure it. They're an option team and when you're able to blow up that mesh, it creates some indecision."
Merrillville (8-1, 7-0) lost the ball three times in the first quarter, yet managed to come out of it up 6-0 on DJ Wilkins' 3-yard keeper. Chesterton led for most of the second quarter on Teal's 11-yard run, but Isabell put Merrillville back in front at 12-7, scoring from the 3 in the last minute of the half.
"We were on the wrong side of the field the majority of the first half," Wells said. "Though we didn't always execute well, I liked what we were able to put together in the second half."
Chesterton (3-6, 2-5), which has lost five in a row, has had two other games with seven turnovers in addition to its eight Friday.
"At a point it's one of those situations where we're pressing a little bit, trying to make a play, make the right read, get the extra yard, and the ball pops out," Peterson said. "We've got to get out of this tailspin offensively here."