INDIANAPOLIS — Bend but don't break.
The old axiom is on the cover of East Central's defensive playbook.
In Saturday's Class 4A state championship, the Trojans employed the philosophy to win a title, stopping Lowell twice in the red zone and a third time on a drive in the final two minutes to turn back the Red Devils 14-7 at Lucas Oil Stadium.
"When you only get like six possessions, you've got to take advantage," Lowell coach Keith Kilmer said. "We didn't play bad, we just didn't make plays. It was hard for us to get into a groove. We like to work down to find what's working and go to that, but we never got a chance to do that offensively."
It sure didn't start that way. Lowell's opening drive covered 78 yards on 11 plays, capped by a 1-yard plunge by Jordan Jusevitch at 2:54 of the first quarter. Ethan Igras completed three passes for 61 yards on the possession, two of them to Jaeger Gill and another to Jusevitch to set up the score.
Lowell was up 7-0 but wouldn't score again.
"They started bringing pressure," Igras said. "The outside linebacker started sitting on that seam route."
East Central responded with its own 78-yard drive, 16 plays consuming 7:51 to tie the game. Alex Maxwell floated a pass over a pair of Lowell defenders for a 13-yard touchdown to Justin Brown. The Trojans had lined up for a field goal at the 20, but the Red Devils (14-1) jumped offsides on fourth-and-5 to extend the drive.
"They went snap down, hard count," Kilmer said. "We have that play in our book. You've got to be disciplined. We had a couple penalties here and there. That's what big ball games are. It was two pretty equal teams. We might have had the two best athletes, but they were a little more disciplined. That was probably the difference in the ball game."
Lowell's second possession didn't start until 6:58 of the second quarter. It reached the East Central 11 but as Igras scrambled he was intercepted in the end zone by Nathan Lloyd, trying to connect with Gill.
"We were trying to run a double cross like they did," Kilmer said. "He saw Gill flash open. You've got to put a little zip on the ball there."
The game remained 7-7 into the fourth quarter. Lowell started at its own 13 late in the third and rode Jusevitch all the way to the East Central 13.
"We put all our eggs in one basket on that drive," Kilmer said. "We thought if we could punch it in, we could hang on, but we came up short."
Jusevitch was stopped for a yard loss at the 13 and taken down by Maxwell for another loss of five on third down.
"I knew he was going to run to my side," Maxwell said. "He's a great runner. I knew I had to make a play."
Igras' pass to Gill on fourth-and-12 was broken up at the goal line.
"I probably should have called a downhill play there (on third down), move ball to the middle of the field," Kilmer said. "That loss put us in a zone where we had a better chance with our horses than kicking."
East Central (14-1) responded with the game-winning drive, most of it covered by the feet of Maxwell, whose 37-yard run to the Lowell 8 set up his own 6-yard score with 2:02 left.
"Jusevitch going both ways was really a key," East Central coach Justin Roden said. "He's fantastic, but he can't be everywhere every play. With our style of play, we knew it would be a challenge to be on the field 48 minutes. Him running I formation, we weren't upset if he gets a few yards because we were hitting him."
Lowell's bid to for the tying score ended when Igras was intercepted, again by Lloyd, who snared a pass targeted for Mitch Wildman.
"We were waiting on the ball," Kilmer said. "He stepped in front and made a great play."
A few kneeldowns later, it was all over.
"We made mistakes and we couldn't recover from them, we couldn't bounce back," Gill said. "It was a great season. We made a lot of accomplishments. Making it to state was our No. 1 goal, but we didn't achieve the all-around goal, to win state. I'll remember that forever. It's won't be a good memory."