Big picture: Simply, Merrillville dominated Lake Central 42-14 on Friday night at the Burial Grounds in a Class 6A sectional semifinal game. Senior running back Roderick Bell rushed for 103 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Pirates, while junior RB Darius Schultz ran for two more scores.
“I was just following my blocks, trusting my linemen and just playing my game,” Bell said.
Merrillville (7-3) jumped out to a 21-0 lead midway through the second quarter and owned a 28-7 advantage at halftime. Peter Rodriguez, the running half of Merrillville’s dual QB attack, added 71 yards on the ground and a score, while passer Aahric Whitehead completed 4 of 8 passes for 81 yards.
Merrillville will be vying for its first sectional title in three years next week.
“If you want to win the sectional, you’ve got to win the first round,” Merrillville coach Brad Seiss said. “With the bye week (last week), you practice awhile, and our kids were getting tired of practicing. We were ready to play.
“I thought offensively and defensively we were pretty solid up front as far as establishing the line of scrimmage. … When you score 42 points and we were solid with the kicking game, you’re happy to move on to the next week.”
Turning point: After Lake Central scored on a 77-yard scoring pass from Zach Bundalo to Quincy Tribble to pull within 21-7 late in the second quarter, Merrillville responded with a long drive. Darius Schultz capped the nearly 4-minute drive with a 1-yard TD run to put the Pirates up 28-7 with 1:20 left in the second quarter.
Merrillville player of the game: Bell gained most of his 103 yards in the first half as the Pirates built the insurmountable 28-7 lead.
Lake Central player of the game: Bundalo, a senior, capped his stellar career with 157 yards passing and a TD, and he rushed for another score to pace the Indians.
Quote: “We’ve bounced back from a pretty poor year,” Seiss said of last year’s 1-9 mark. “But with that said, without winning that sectional championship it doesn’t make it what it needs to be. So we’ve got big goals to make a deep tournament run.”
Beyond the box score: Merrillville has played Lake Central 17 times in the sectional and now leads the tournament series 9-8. Lake Central won four sectionals in the 1990s under Hall of Fame coach Elmer Britton, but it has won just one since, in 2013.
Up next: Merrillville (7-3) vs. Crown Point (4-7) 7 p.m. Friday.