CROWN POINT | Speed is a great equalizer, capable of negating 23 minutes of defensive domination.
If any team should know not to sleep on Merrillville’s speed, it’s longtime conference foe and southern rival Crown Point. The Bulldogs appeared ready to cruise into halftime with a 6-0 lead with 1:03 to play in the first half.
The Pirates didn’t play a perfect game, but when the two-minute drill became a 55-second drill and Merrillville found the end zone at the first-half buzzer, it made all the difference in a 14-13 win over the host Bulldogs Friday night in the Duneland Athletic Conference opener for both squads.
The teams traded turnovers, penalties and single touchdowns in the second half, but that one minute at the end of the first half was the turning point.
It meant a third consecutive win in the series and a fifth consecutive regular-season win in the rivalry for the Pirates (2-1, 1-0) in a game that was still anyone’s to take until Crown Point’s Jake Jatis threw his second interception of the game with 1:48 to play and the Bulldogs out of timeouts.
Merrillville quarterback DJ Wilkins threw for 153 yards on mostly short passes, but his eight-yard touchdown pass to Diante Montgomery, along with Jacob Kovaciu’s critical point-after kick, with 10:52 to go in the game accounted for the final score.
Times No. 3 Crown Point (2-1, 0-1) more or less dominated the first half until the final minute of the second quarter.
After the Bulldogs went ahead 6-0 on Evan Markowitz’s second field goal of the half, No. 2 Merrillville’s Terrance Grayson took the kickoff back 56 yards to the Crown Point 38 with 54.6 seconds remaining.
Wilkins completed passes of five, eight and 15 yards, the latter coming on fourth down from the 25 after three straight incomplete passes. With 3.6 seconds to go on third down, Wilkins hit Tyrie Fuller for a 10-yard touchdown as the clock showed all zeroes. Merrillville’s previous six drives resulted in three punts, two turnovers (one on downs) and a blocked field goal attempt.
The game’s final six minutes featured clutch play by defenders rather than quarterbacks.
After a well-placed Artie Equihua punt inside the 10, Wilkins threw from the goal line, and Equihua intercepted it. However, Merillville’s Ryan Neal intercepted Jatis in the end zone three plays later.
Crown Point’s final drive started at their own 28 with 2:17 to play. After one first down, Jatis went deep, and Merrillville’s Darren Funches saved the day.
Merrillville’s Bryant Isabell ran for 143 yards on 28 carries.
Jatis was 13-for-31 passing for 143 yards and two interceptions. His incomplete passes stalled several quality scoring opportunities for Crown Point. Bulldogs tailback Tristan Peterson ran 26 times for 120 yards but fumbled three times.
Peterson’s 39-yard run in the third quarter put Crown Point inside the five, and Tyler Downing took a direct snap while going in motion left to right, then punched it in for a two-yard touchdown.