BY CHAD DARE
---- — FARMERSBURG, Ind. — Special players can make a difference in a football game, but on Friday night, it was a whole group of players that found a way to get the job done.
The Fountain Central Mustangs used a balanced attack to beat the North Central Thunderbirds and running back Chase VanSchyock, 34-20 in a IHSAA Class A Sectional 47 semifinal.
“North Central have some great football players and some great athletes,’’ Fountain Central coach Brian Moore said. “This is a good football team and that No. 21 (VanSchoyck) is a special player.
“But we have some special players as well, and we have a great team. We came together and a lot of different people made plays.’’
VanSchoyck, who came into Friday’s game with 2,229 rushing yards in 10 games, did finish with 152 yards and 16 carries and he scored all three touchdowns for the Thunderbirds (8-3), but for all he did, the Mustangs (10-1) always had an answer.
North Central pulled within 28-20 on a VanSchoyck’s 5-yard touchdown reception with 3 minutes, 28 seconds left in the third quarter.
That’s when the Fountain Central team pulled together on the ensuing offensive possession.
“It took heart and a special mentality,’’ Fountain Central’s Daniel Harrison said.
The Mustangs ran 13 plays — 12 of those on the ground — covering 65 yards and taking 6:59 off the clock. Senior Jared Fishero, who carried the ball on the final six plays, capped the drive with a 1-yard touchdown plunge giving Fountain Central a 34-20 lead.
“Our offensive line did a great job,’’ said Moore, as Fountain Central was 3-for-3 in third-down conversions on those drives. “And, our running backs made the plays.’’
Fountain Central wound up with 288 yards on the ground as Harrison led the way with 194 yards and a touchdown, while Fishero chipped in with 72 yards and two scores.
“Our line did a really good job of opening the gaps, and we just ran through the holes they created,’’ Harrison said. “Our offense has been pretty balanced all year between the run and he pass. Tonight, we should that we can run the ball down the throats of our opponents.’’
Not only did Harrison play a key role in the Mustangs 435 yards of total offense on Friday, he was also one of four Fountain Central linebackers responsible for containing VanSchoyck.
“That’s an area that has been scrutinized all year,’’ Moore said. “I think our linebackers played their best game all year. We tackled really well except for one play.’’
And that one play was an 80-yard touchdown run by VanSchoyck, but his other 15 carries amounted to just 72 yards, well under his 12.96 yards a carry average he had coming into the contest.
“When the gaps would open, we would just be there to fill them and create the pile,’’ Harrison said.
The Mustangs also adjusted their defense a little bit with junior Collin Strange moving up from his defensive back position into an outside linebacker spot.
“We had a pretty good game plan for him,’’ Strange said of VanSchoyck. “We just made sure to shut the holes as fast as we could, and we knew we had to get him to the ground.
“My job was coming off the edge. I’m pretty quick and I can get into the backfield pretty fast. Jared (Fisher) is pretty quick on the other edge and we knew we had to get in there fast and keep him contained.’’
That defense not only bottled up VanSchoyck, but it was also good enough to stop North Central quarterback Dillon Bailey, who had 68 rushing yards on 24 carries. Additionally, Bailey was just 2-of-14 passing for 22 yards in the contest, but two of his final five pass attempts wound up in the arms of Fountain Central safety Trevor Loveall.
The second interception in the end zone by Loveall sealed the victory for the Mustangs.
“I’m excited for these kids and I’m excited with the way that we came out and played,’’ Moore said. “We made some mistakes. But in big game, you are going to have some mistakes. The key is overcoming them and we did.’’
Fountain Central committed four turnovers — two fumbles and two interceptions — but North Central was only able to capitalized on one of them.
Instead it was the Mustangs coming up with the majority of the big plays, especially in the first half, as Fountain Central scored on its first three possessions building a 21-0 lead.
One of the biggest plays came on a 83-yard completion from quarterback Koby Pierce, who threw for 147 yards, to Strange, who was marked down at the North Central 3-yard line. Two plays later, Harrison had a 1-yard touchdown run.
“My mind got moving a little faster than my feet,’’ said Strange, who did get a touchdown reception on a 3-yard pass from Pierce with just 10 seconds left in the first half.
With the victory, Fountain Central advances to next Friday’s sectional championship game against the Attica Red Ramblers, a 13-7 winner over North Vermillion.
“This means a lot, getting to the sectional championship game,’’ Harrison said. “We knew this was going to be a tough game, and it was.’’
The IHSAA Class A Sectional 47 championship game will be held at Fountain Central High School. Kickoff is tentatively set for 7 p.m. (Eastern).
In the regular-season meeting between the Wabash River Conference rivals, the Mustangs defeated the Red Ramblers 45-6 on Sept. 20. Fountain Central will seeking its ninth sectional title in school history and its first since 2010.