FAIRLAND — Western Boone head coach Justin Pelley stood off to the side on Friday night, watching his team celebrate after they beat Triton Central 35-13 to win the school’s second-straight semi-state title.
If you would have told him at the beginning of the season that he would be in that spot, he probably wouldn’t have believed you.
But his Stars have battled the adversity throughout the season, are playing their best football at the right time of the season, and are heading back to Lucas Oil Stadium aiming to win back-to-back state titles.
“The best thing that happened to us was losing Week 2, up at Western by a point,” Pelley said. “We kind of went up-and-down a little bit, but we had a team meeting, the kids talked some and we let go of all that pressure. The kids have been playing like it. They are playing like there is nothing to lose, and there isn’t. They just need to play their game, keep their edge and I know this means a lot to them.”
All three phases for the Stars were key to the win.
They rushed for 269 yards, including 149 and three touchdowns by Robby Taylor, scoring 35 points against a defense that allowed barely more than 10 a game.
On defense, they allowed 13 points (with 6 coming in the final play on a meaningless touchdown) nearly three scores less than Triton Central’s season average.
Pelley said the Stars knew that Triton Central wanted to control the line of scrimmage, and his team rose to the occasion.
“They gave us everything we expected,” Pelley said. “They are a hard-hitting, physical team, just like we are. We are going to have some sore kids tomorrow, but I bet they do too. That was a hard-hitting game tonight.”
Western Boone led 14-0, getting touchdown runs of 10 from Connor Hole and five from Taylor on its opening two possessions.
Triton Central got on the board with 1:33 left in the first half, and looked like they would have some momentum heading into the locker room.
The Stars had other ideas.
Western Boone marched 70 yards in 90 less than 90 seconds, scoring on a 2-yard run by Taylor with 11 seconds left in the half.
The big play was a fourth-and-10 conversion from the Triton Central 35, where Cortez Stoudemire made a great diving catch to set up the score.
“It was big play,” Stoudemire said. “We had been working on the play all week, and I thought it was out of reach, but I just barely got it.”
Pelley said that he felt like the drive was a big momentum swing heading into the half.
“We work on that all the time,” Pelley said. “People call it a two-minute drill, I call it a 48-second drill. We try to drive 70 yards in 48 seconds, using the out-of-bounds and one timeout. Cortez made a heck of a catch, and their defenders were in the right spot. But our kids made the plays tonight and theirs didn’t.”
Western Boone put the game away in the second half with their running attack.
Taylor carried the ball 24 times in the final 24 minutes, gaining 117 yards.
He scored midway through the third quarter to make it 28-7, then rushed for 38 yards on five carries before Spencer Wright found Connor Hole for a game-clinching 28-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.
“Our line did a great job and blocked really well tonight,” Taylor said. “It feels great to run behind our linemen. You have to be ready to come in, step up, put your nose down and do your job.”
The Western Boone defense was stout all game long as well.
After allowing 138 yards in the first half (62 coming on the Tigers’ lone scoring drive), the Stars tightened things up in the second half.
On the Tigers’ first four drives of the second half, they managed just 13 yards and didn’t get a first down.
“(Defensive Coordinator) Travis Brunes is just unbelievable,” Pelley said. “The time and preparation he does, the adjustments that he makes, are unbelievable. They out-flanked us a few times early, showed us some things we hadn’t seen, but we made the adjustments and stopped it.”
The Stars now head back to Lucas Oil Stadium, where they will rematch with Eastbrook, who topped Andrean on Friday night.
Pelley said that the Stars are going to enjoy practicing Thanksgiving week for the second-straight year.
“It’s going to be great,” Pelley said. “Last year was great because we never did it before. This year, we know what to expect. Our guys will be dialed in, they are going to be excited and will want to go get another one.”