By DOUG ZALESKI
Yorktown knew Guerin Catholic was going to try to put pressure on the Tigers’ offense with several blitz packages.
The Tigers also knew the Golden Eagles had a dynamic rushing attack that would need to be held in check.
Even armed with that knowledge, Yorktown was unable to find the rhythm it needed on offense and the pace it needed to employ on defense. The result was a 26-7 loss to Guerin Catholic at home Friday in the opening round of IHSAA Class 3A sectional football play.
“I thought we were a little dead coming out,” Yorktown receiver/running back/free safety Austin Hill said as he struggled to find the words to explain the loss in his final high school game.
Guerin (6-4) marched 70 yards, finishing the drive with a 2-yard touchdown run by Gus Baumgartner, on the first possession of the game to get a 6-0 lead.
After Yorktown (6-4) went ahead 7-6 with 1:06 left in the first half on Reid Neal’s 5-yard TD pass to MiLon McCowan, Guerin regained the lead with 34 seconds left in the half on a 50-yard bomb for a touchdown by quarterback Christian Gelov to Bernie McGuinness.
“A lot of people would say that’s our defensive backs’ fault, but we let the quarterback stand around for 10 seconds until he threw it,” Yorktown coach Mike Wilhelm said. “It’s just a good play by them. We said going in that they have some kids, (McGuinness) especially, who love to make plays. We had to make more plays, and it just didn’t happen.”
That’s because Guerin hounded Neal and the Yorktown offense with a variety of blitz packages that snuffed out the Tigers’ passing game. Neal was hurried on several throws, particularly deep balls, and was forced to scramble numerous times as the protection in front of him broke down. He completed 15-of-29 passes for 128 yards with one interception and a TD toss.
The Golden Eagles switched up their defensive front with a look that Yorktown hadn’t seen much of on video. They started the game in a 4-man front instead of 3 down linemen, and they positioned their Mike linebacker behind the nose guard.
Blitz pressure was used often.
“That’s something we hadn’t seen,” Wilhelm said of the 4-man look. “We never got in a rhythm offensively. We knew going in they were going to blitz and had multiple blitzes. So it was a couple little things they did that got us out of rhythm.”
Guerin used its productive running game on offense to prevent Yorktown’s defense from playing with the upper hand. The Golden Eagles pounded away on runs up the middle and had the speed to get to the edge on wide runs behind quality play by the left side of their offensive line.
Baumgartner had his third-highest rushing total of the season for Guerin, piling up 192 yards on 26 carries. The Golden Eagles had 275 yards on the ground as a team.
That efficiency on both sides of the ball led Guerin to a 14-0 scoring advantage in the second half on touchdown runs inside the 10-yard line in the third and fourth quarters.
Though the defeat was a bitter one for the Tigers, their season as a whole was a success. They won six of 10 games in 2019 after posting just 14 total wins while finishing with losing records each of the past four seasons.
“We tried to change the culture,” Wilhelm said. “We had lost the culture there for a few years, and we had some bad, negative things happen amongst our group. This senior class has us back on the upswing in terms of changing the culture back and trying to win championships every year.”
Hill, who will play football at Ball State on a scholarship next year, is glad to have been part of the senior class that had a positive impact on the program. The rebuild started with a renewed emphasis in the weight room and carried over to the field this fall.
“Us seniors tried to tell these underclassmen everyone was going to have to work as hard as all of us did and rise to the occasion,” Hill said. “From the get-go this summer, we worked together and built team chemistry.
“I think the chemistry and team bonding showed in our four-game winning streak. It’s great when you leave somewhere and get to leave your legacy like our senior class did.”