CHURUBUSCO – So here came No. 21 himself, bounding into the middle of the pile, bellowing into the autumn night, eyeblack gone as smeary and indistinct as what had just happened – Churubusco 38, Lakeland 16 – was not.
And somewhere in all the fuss, as Jason Nicodemus roared and then his teammates roared and all those gold helmets went up to the night sky, Churubusco coach Lee Etzler did a curious thing.
He stepped away and let his guys claim the stage.
The man knew a moment when he saw it. It wasn’t like he hadn’t seen it before.
Four straight times this scene has played itself out, if rarely as decisively as it did here Friday night. Lakeland came in unbeaten, came in having never scored fewer than 32 points in a game all year, and it left not just beaten but battered as Busco beat it for the fifth straight time and won its fourth straight NECC title.
We started this my brother’s senior year, and now it’s my senior year, and we’re still winning, Nicodemus said. I feel pretty good about that.
Better, surely, than all the Lakeland bodies he left strewn in his wake. Nicodemus got things started for Churubusco with a pounding 52-yard touchdown, flat shredding what seemed a sure tackle along the way, and he kept on running for 213 yards and five touchdowns on 28 bludgeoning carries.
It proved the perfect complement to a defense that, except for one 83-yard bomb and a fourth-quarter drive that finally ran aground at the Churubusco 13, virtually silenced the potent Lakeland offense.
Until that fourth-quarter drive, Lakeland had managed just 31 yards all night, minus the 83-yard touchdown from William Kelly to T.J. Thompson in the second quarter.
They’ve been pretty good all year, Etzler said.
Our defensive staff does a great job and our kids like playing defense. We preach the physical side of the defensive side of the ball and we don’t have to sell that too much to our kids.
They did have to sell hanging onto the football early on. A bobbled opening kickoff left the Eagles backed up against their own goal line to start, and another fumble in the end zone handed Lakeland a quick 2-0 lead on a safety.
An exchange of turnovers – a Lakeland fumble, an intercepted Churubusco pass – followed.
And then, with 7:42 to play in the first quarter, Nicodemus broke the big one over the left side, and the game was never really close again.
All we needed was just a little bit of a spark, Nicodemus said. We needed something to get us going, and luckily the line opened up a hole and I was able to move the ball and that got us going.
I tell you what, this offensive line, they are very good. I love running behind these guys. I can’t claim much of the credit for the performance tonight, that was the offensive line moving them around.
That was everybody moving them around.