BY AARON PATTERSON
---- — CAYUGA, Ind. —There might never be a bigger contrast in emotion than what separated the two sides of the football field at North Vermillion High School on Friday.
On one side, pure elation. Joy. Bliss. And on the opposite end of the field, heartbreak, agony, distress, and for some, the realization that they will never again wear their school colors in full pads in a competitive environment.
Those feelings were ultimately expected following Friday’s Class A sectional semifinal between the No. 2 North Vermillion Falcons and the Attica Red Ramblers. But, few probably expected the previously undefeated Falcons to have their season cut short before having a chance to defend their back-to-back sectional titles.
At minimum, a trip back to the sectional championship game was penciled into the books. But the Red Ramblers brought with them to Cayuga a bag of erasers and ultimately wrote an alternate ending to the Falcons’ story. The one that is now permanently etched into the IHSAA record books reads a final score of Attica 13, North Vermillion 7.
“This week we just practiced (hard),” Attica senior quarterback and defensive back Brady Sheridan said. “If we gave it our all, we knew we had it in us to be able to beat North Vermillion. Once we came on the field, everybody gave it their all, and it just all came together.”
The win sends Attica (8-3) to the sectional championship — where it will face Fountain Central — for only the third time since 2008. The Red Ramblers haven’t won a sectional title since 2000 when they lost their only game of the season in the state title game.
That’s where the Falcons (10-1) had hopes of being this year. The loss ends an otherwise successful undefeated regular season in which they won their second consecutive Wabash River Conference title.
But the end of an impressive run meant more to the Falcons than simply wins and losses.
“I don’t think there’s any way, really, to express it accurately,” North Vermillion coach Brian Crabtree said. “It’s heartbreaking. It’s one thing to lose a game, but knowing that you’re never going to get to play again with that group of seniors; we’re never going to get to coach them again. Their high school careers are done.
“I don’t think you can put words on how hard it is on the night that it all ends. But, they’re an awesome group of kids and they’ve got awesome futures ahead of them, and they’re going to do great things because of who they are.”
The Red Ramblers didn’t have to contend with North Vermillion dual-threat quarterback Brayden Woodard, who passed for over 1,000 yards and finished his final high school season eight yards shy of 1,000 rushing yards. But Attica still had an answer for other threats like back-up quarterback Cody Wright and 1,600-yard rusher Jacob Earl.
The Falcons managed only 44 total yards of offense in the first half and trailed 13-0 at the break. Sheridan helped the Red Ramblers take advantage of a short field on their first possession of the game — starting at the North Vermillion 30-yard line — and ran 22 yards on their third offensive play to go up 7-0 three minutes into the contest.
Not only did it give Attica momentum and the lead, it forced North Vermillion to fight through the adversity of trailing for the first time since losing to Indianapolis Scecina in last year’s regional.
Attica scored its second touchdown on a 36-yard pass from Sheridan to Carson Davis with one minute, four seconds left in the first half. North Vermillion’s lone score came with 4:26 remaining in the third quarter when Earl capped a 66-yard drive with a one-yard run.
With the defense holding steady, the Falcons had multiple opportunities late in the game, but turned the ball over on downs on three consecutive possessions in the fourth quarter. Their final drive ended with an interception by Sheridan. It was the fourth turnover by the Falcons in the game (three fumbles, one interception), in addition to turning the ball over on downs four times.
“It’s unbelievable” Attica coach Ryan Good said. “We came in with a solid game plan. We weren’t sure how it was going to turn out, but we all stayed positive. Like I said just now with the kids, it’s all about effort and giving everything you’ve got from start to finish in the game. I think that’s what we did. We were out-matched talent-wise, maybe, position-wise, but I think overall, our kids gave every ounce of effort that they could and just gave everything that they could possibly give.”
Sheridan completed 12 of his 17 pass attempts, and rushed for 62 yards. Carson Davis was Attica’s leading receiver with seven catches for 62 yards. Davis also completed a pass for 19 yards to Logan Harmeson on a fake punt at the end of the third quarter.
Earl ran for 103 yards on 24 carries, and Wright rushed for 77 yards.
“It was a great run,” North Vermillion senior lineman and linebacker Ethan Kunkle said. “I had so much fun during this run during the season. I love every one of my team members. We had a great run.
“Congrats to Attica. They played tough. We just don’t know — don’t know what happened.”
North Vermillion is now 22-2 in the last two seasons, but will have to wait until next season to defend its WRC title and continue its 19-game regular season win streak.
Attica will take on Fountain Central next week in the sectional championship in Veedersburg.