MERRILLVILLE — Nick Flesher’s return from an injury has been a huge boost for Andrean, and the timing has been fortuitous.
The plan entering the season was to build around the multi-talented junior receiver who can take direct snaps and thrive as a back if needed. Then Flesher was lost for months in the second game before returning last week in the sectional semifinals.
Friday night Flesher had some big plays early in the game, but the young man who took his place at the epicenter of the Andrean offense was clutch once again on both sides of the ball to help the 59ers defeat Rensselaer 44-34 in the Class 2A Sectional 33 championship at Father Vincent Eckert Field.
Andrean’s Ryan Walsh ran for three touchdowns and had a game-breaking 66-yard fumble return touchdown in the third quarter to keep Rensselaer from ever taking the lead, as unstoppable as its run game often was.
Lewis Cass (11-1) will be in Merrillville next week for the regional championship.
Rensselaer (9-3) ran for 468 yards and never punted the ball all night, but the Bombers could not handle the ball at key moments and ran out of time frantically scrambling at the end of both halves.
Andrean (9-3) scored twice following Rensselaer fumbles in the first three minutes to seize early momentum in a battle of small school titans each seeking their school’s first football sectional since 2014, when both programs went to state.
The powerhouse programs traded scores all night, but the early snafus by Rensselaer ultimately hindered the effort, and the Walsh fumble return put Andrean up 38-20 with 25 seconds left in the third quarter.
“We felt like if we could just get within one score we would be back in the game,” Rensselaer coach Chris Meeks told a local radio station after the game.
“We had that turnover, and that really hurt.”
Flesher caught touchdown passes of 17 and 37 yards and had a 1-yard run for a touchdown.
Walsh carried 22 times for 167 yards and three scores. From his linebacker post he recovered two fumbles. He had the pivotal scoop and score and also recovered Rensselaer’s second fumble of the game early to set up Flesher’s first TD reception.
The juniors scored all seven of Andrean’s touchdowns, and Noah Hamilton was 5-for-6 passing for 121 yards and two scores.
Andrean turned the ball over on downs late but not before milking precious minutes off the clock.
Dalton Kidd broke off an 8-yard score right after Walsh’s fumble return and finished with 163 yards and two touchdowns on seven carries. Noah Bierma ran 28 times for 144 yards and a score, and quarterback Elijah Hickman had 12 carries for 72 yards and two scores and kicked four extra points for the Bombers.