MISHAWAKA | Battling a LaPorte team that has faced a tidal wave of emotions the last month, Mishawaka used an opportunistic defense and an efficient offense Friday to pull away for a 38-14 victory in the opening round of Class 5A Sectional 9.
LaPorte closes the season 1-9, a season in which the Slicers dealt with the loss of junior linebacker Jake West, who died of a heart condition during a practice.
“The kids have been fantastic,” Schellinger said. “They’ve come to practice every day. You’d never know this team had the adversity it did, and it’s not over.
“People think, ‘It’s been a month, it’s over.’ Well,’ it’s not over. People don’t know what goes on on our field and in our locker room with kids. It’s been really tough.
“Life goes on, and you say a prayer that you’re strong enough to handle it and move on. Sometimes it’s a matter of more than wins or losses.”
Schellinger, a veteran of 32 seasons, dealt with the tragedy with dignity. On Friday night, West’s No. 26 burned bright on the Mishawaka scoreboard as both teams met at midfield for a moment of silence in West’s honor.
“Maybe that’s why God put me in this spot this year, to be with these kids,” Schellinger said. “I love them. I’m so proud of them. They never quit. If you would have come out to practice any night, you would have said, ‘This team has gone through what they’ve gone through? I don’t see it,’ They just battled and battled and battled and did a great job. A lot of that comes from their parents. We have great families.”
LaPorte marched 72 yards on the opening possession. Miguel Barron smashed into the end zone from the 4 before Casey Cornett’s extra point.
Mishawaka (7-3) made sure that LaPorte’s 7-0 lead didn’t last long. The Cavemen drove 66 yards on their first possession and scored on Tanner Bradley’s 1-yard run with 3:43 left in the first quarter to tie it at 7.
Special teams and defense ignited a Mishawaka surge that led to a 21-7 halftime lead for the Cavemen.
LaPorte’s second-half highlight came when Noah Boardman scooped up a Mishawaka fumble and sprinted 53 yards for a touchdown with 5:46 left.