By DOUG ZALESKI
Despite allowing just six points in the first half of his team’s football game Friday night, Yorktown coach Mike Wilhelm saw potential signs of trouble throughout the first two quarters. And what he felt at halftime alarmed him.
“It’s the whole ‘have fun as a group’ mentality, and that was our challenge at halftime,” Wilhelm said. “I walked in the locker room and was like, ‘Is anyone having fun?’ I looked at the sideline (in the first half) and there was a bunch of moping around. No one was talking, and no one was whooping it up.”
Suffice to say the fun arrived in the second half. Yorktown scored touchdowns on a fumble return in the third quarter and a pick-six interception in the fourth on the way to a four-touchdown spree after halftime that delivered a 33-14 victory over Muncie Central.
For the Tigers’ defense to provide that kind of spark shouldn’t be a surprise. They opened the season a week ago with a shutout victory against Anderson, and Wilhelm expects the unit to have a major impact on their won-lost record.
“That’s always been my dream for Yorktown High School,” Wilhelm said. “We’ve always been known as a great offensive school, and I still want to be a great offensive school. But the cliche is true, defense wins championships. That’s always been my dream for Yorktown, and I think we’re close.”
Outside linebacker John LaPradd provided the first jolt for the Tigers (2-0) in the second half. He blitzed and sacked Central quarterback Max Pittman, forcing the ball loose. JJ Evans scooped the ball and ran 19 yards for a touchdown to give Yorktown a 13-6 lead just over 2 minutes into the third quarter.
“I saw people jumping around on our sideline, and then we were having fun,” Wilhelm said. “I started having fun, coaches started having fun, managers started having fun.”
Evans said the ball popped up into his hands and he saw an open path to the end zone. “We have great playmakers who make plays when they need to,” Evans said. “I expect our defense to make plays. We’re full of playmakers. We have fun, energetic guys who can do what they have to do.”
Hill, also a talented receiver who committed in June to play football at Ball State, sealed the victory when he picked off an errant Central pass and returned it 45 yards for a touchdown with 2:59 left in the game. The score put the Tigers on top 33-14.
“It’s great to play back there at safety because you can see plays unfold and come in slow motion,” Hill said. “I’m an offensive guy, but I will say it feels nice to take that momentum away (with an interception), and then score on the play. I don’t want to say I like it a ton more, but it is a good feeling.
“I definitely think our defense can be the tone-setter. … It’s fun to come out and punch the other team in the mouth - not literally - but to set the tone. Our defense can set that tone.”
The Bearcats lost their second straight game to start the season, but first-year coach Darrick Lee saw his team improve in Week 2.
He liked how his team fought in the first half and went to the intermission with a 6-6 tie. It was especially gratifying because the Bearcats lost five starters during the game, including three players on the offensive line.
“It gives those (backups) some tape on the (game) field, and we can go and coach them up get them into positions to make plays, especially along the offensive line,” Lee said. “A lot of guys were excited at halftime. We’re just going to keep getting better every week, every single practice. I definitely saw some very encouraging things.”
Sophomore Shoka Griffin ran like a bulldog and scored the Bearcats’ touchdowns on rushes of 3 and 10 yards. Central’s defensive front, like it did a week earlier against Delta quarterback Brady Hunt, hounded Yorktown’s Reid Neal and pushed him off his preferred passing spots.
“They played a great game, had a great game plan, and challenged us on our (offensive) front,” Wilhelm said. “Griffin is a great running back. They should be happy because they have a great future.”
Yorktown will play at Class 5A No. 1 New Palestine in its Hoosier Heritage Conference opener next Friday. Central will be at Anderson for its North Central Conference opener.