CAYUGA, Ind. — There’s no substitute for experience — especially when it comes to the postseason — and the North Vermillion Falcons have had plenty of it in the last two years.
But for the Falcons’ group of seven seniors, they haven’t experienced nearly as much of the postseason as they would like. They have one final opportunity to realize their dreams. That hopeful journey begins on Friday in their first round sectional game against the Rockville Rox (6-3).
The Class A No. 2 Falcons (9-0) have been crowned sectional champs in each of the last two years, and they are primed to make it three in a row. Losing in the regional the last two years, however, has made them hungrier than ever to get that elusive regional trophy.
“That makes us really hungry,” North Vermillion senior quarterback Brayden Woodard said. “We have the chance to do it again and go on further, possibly. We’re very hungry, but we stay humble.
“Since we went through it last year and we got beat in regionals the last two years, we know this is our last chance and we’re going to try our hardest to get to state.”
Standing in their way will be the Rox who will be on a mission to spoil the Falcons’ plans. North Vermillion has won three of the last four meetings in the Wabash River Conference rivalry including a 39-0 win this season on October 4. Still, the Falcons aren’t taking anything for granted.
“Anytime Rockville and North Vermillion play football, it means a little bit more in terms of a rivalry game,” North Vermillion coach Brian Crabtree said. “That helps our kids maintain focus a little bit more. On the other side of it, we also stress a lot the opponent needs to be approached as faceless. In other words, we prepare the same whether we’re playing Rockville and a rivalry, or a team that we’re not necessarily rivals with.”
Based on the results, the Falcons have prepared quite well over the last two seasons with Crabtree at the helm. His record as the head man at North Vermillion is 21-1. The lone defeat came in last season’s 27-0 regional loss to Indianapolis Scecina.
Since the loss, the Falcons have outscored their opponents an average of 52.2-7.1. That includes five shutouts and only six touchdowns given up by the first team defense in nine games. Five of them came against Class A No. 6 Fountain Central (8-1).
Woodard has so far passed for 1,040 yards and 12 touchdowns, and has rushed for 915 yards and 16 touchdowns. Sophomore running back Jacob Earl has also accounted for 1,412 yards on the ground and 27 touchdowns. But all members of the program are in agreement that it is defense that sets the tone.
“Defense is always where our football program starts,” Crabtree said. “The saying is, ‘Defense wins championships.’ From that standpoint, we have to play good on the defensive side of the ball. But, it’s always a total game. Even in those low-scoring affairs when the defense is playing tough, your offense has to be able to help you hold field position, and special teams, you have to work on holding field position and not making a mistake. It’s still three phases.”
The North Vermillion defense has recorded 16 interceptions so far this season with Woodard, Jacob Earl, and Cody Wright accounting for three each. Rockville quarterback Kiontre Wilkey has thrown for 564 yards and has rushed for a team-leading 1,216 yards and 16 touchdowns.
In the Falcons’ win over the Rox earlier this season, Wilkey threw for only 39 yards and rushed for 70. But they realize anything can happen in the postseason, and containing the junior play threat will be their biggest challenge.
A win would advance the Falcons to the second round for the sixth consecutive season, and help them take another step toward their ultimate goal.
“I think the previous two seasons having won the sectional and lost in the regional, everybody, if they’re being honest, would like to take the next step as a program,” Crabtree said. “But, none of that matters if you don’t take care of business each week. You never have to worry, especially with our draw the way it came out, you never have to worry about looking ahead to anything because it’s a solid, very good opponent every Friday from here on out.”
One opponent the Falcons could possibly contend with later in the tournament is the Fountain Central Mustangs (8-1), which gave North Vermillion its toughest challenge of the season. The Falcons defeated the Mustangs 42-35. Class A No. 6 Fountain Central has since defeated Rockville 55-27, and will host Riverton Parke (1-8) on Friday.
North Central (Farmersburg), which is ranked 10th in Class A, will take its 7-2 record on the road to face Turkey Run (1-8).
The Seeger Patriots (3-6) will attempt to rebound from their 51-6 loss to North Vermillion when they visit Pioneer (7-2) on Friday. Covington (2-7) will try to win its third straight game playing on the road against the Attica Red Ramblers (6-3), who enters the contest riding a three-game winning streak.
All games are scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. EST.