BY CHAD DARE
CAYUGA, Ind. —
Brayden Woodard has made numerous big plays as the North Vermillion quarterback.
But the 5-foot-11, 175-pound junior made one of his biggest plays on Friday from his safety position on defense.
Woodard’s interception and 79-yard return turned the tide of momentum for the Falcons as North Vermillion went on to beat the North Central Thunderbirds 27-14 in an IHSAA Class A Sectional 38 contest.
“They scored a touchdown there earlier in the game on a similar play,’’ said Woodard as North Central took a 7-0 lead on a 6-yard pass from Dillon Bailey to Dante Rehmel. “I just played it a little differently, I was a little closer. He tipped it up and I went up and got it.’’
This time the pass glazed off the hands of Rehmel right to Woodard at the 5-yard line. His return gave North Vermillion the ball on the North Central 16.
Two plays later, the sixth-rated Falcons (11-0) were taking a 20-7 lead on Woodard’s 12-yard touchdown pass to Jacob Earl.
“It went from them being inside of our 20 and we ended up having the ball inside of their 20,’’ Woodard said. “That was a huge momentum shift for both our offense and our defense.’’
North Central coach Travis Nolting agreed completely.
“We had driven into a scoring position and we had an opportunity to take the lead,’’ said Nolting, whose team trailed 13-7 at the time of the interception. “That play worked earlier and it was open again, but it just got tipped up this time.
“The Woodard kid is a great athlete and he made a huge play.’’
That was just one of many on Friday night from Woodard, who finished with 155 yards rushing on 19 carries to go along with 5-of-8 passing for 57 yards.
“Brayden was his usual self,’’ according to North Vermillion coach Brian Crabtree. “His biggest play might have been our last score, when he pulled the ball on an inside zone read and scored.
“That’s an option that he read right and got into the end zone.’’
That was Woodard’s second rushing touchdown of the game to go along with one passing. He made the most of that zone read against the North Central defense, averaging 8.2 yards a carry.
“They were closing down on (Kody) Zumwalt and coach always tells me that I’m supposed to pull it and run,’’ Woodard said. “But, everything we do starts with the line.
“They make the holes that Kody and I run through.’’
Zumwalt had a very workmanlike game with 90 yards on 26 carries and his 6-yard touchdown run in the second quarter got things started for North Vermillion.
That touchdown allowed the Falcons to tie the game at 7-7 after the Thunderbirds (8-3) got the first points on the touchdown pass to Rehmel.
“We kept our composure when we got down and we just kept battling,’’ North Vermillion senior lineman Dakota Uplinger said. “We know the other team is going to make plays — we just need to make more plays.
“We feel the game is won and lost in the trenches. When we did well up front — the team did well.’’
That understanding by his football players was the most rewarding aspect of Friday’s victory for Crabtree.
“There are always going to be swings in a game,’’ he said. “The big thing for us was that our kids played with so much composure. That’s been a process. We’ve had to work on that. I felt that we kept our emotions in check.
“It’s always fun to win, but you want to see what you got when the chips are down and things are against you.’’
And even after Woodard had an interception return for a touchdown by North Central’s Chase VanSchoyck with 5:18 left in the third quarter, allowing the Thunderbirds to close within 20-14, the Falcons still responded in a positive fashion.
Two possessions later, Woodard capped a seven-play, 57-yard drive with 2-yard run giving North Vermillion a 27-14 lead with 9 minutes, 40 seconds left.
“When they hit us with a good play, we hit back with a good play,’’ Woodard said. “Going back and forth like that is the best type of a game.
“We didn’t fall down or anything, we just kept playing and trying to hit back with another big play.’’
North Vermillion will attempt to defend its Class A Sectional 38 title next Friday when it travels to Attica to face the Red Ramblers, a 54-0 winner over the Cloverdale Clovers.
The Falcons defeated the Red Ramblers 28-20 on Sept. 22 in the regular-season meeting between the two teams.