FORT BRANCH-- No. 8 Gibson Southern didn't back down against the undefeated No. 1 Evansville Memorial Tigers Friday night. In fact, they delivered the opening blow, and continued to hold their own for much of the first half.
The game eventually turned into a shootout, and the Titans fell to the Tigers 56-28. The win gives Memorial, the defending 3A state champions, their third consecutive sectional title.
Gibson Southern won the toss and elected to receive the opening kick. They marched down the field and scored a touchdown on a drive that lasted over six minutes; Freshman quarterback Brady Allen found junior slot Ben Butler on a slant for 36 yards to cap the drive. The 7-0 score was the first time Memorial trailed all season.
The following Memorial possession resulted in a fumble recovery as the Tigers were driving, and things were going Gibson Southern's way. But, a three-and-out from the Titan offense gave way to Memorial's first score of the evening, a Michael Lindauer touchdown pass to Dawson Hurley from 25 yards out. At the end of the quarter the game was knotted at 7.
"It went great. We slowed down the game a little bit, we wanted to control the ball and keep it away from them. As you can see they're really great on offense," Gibson Southern coach Nick Hart said.
The Titans scored again on the ensuing possession on a Mitchell Spindler 25-yard touchdown run, and with 10:34 to go before halftime, the Titans led 14-7.
This is where Lindauer, Branson Combs, and the Memorial offense began to take over. Less than a minute later Combs scored on a 32-yard burst. Five minutes after that, Finn McCool turned what appeared to be a loss in the backfield to a 76-yard touchdown run. He was able to reverse field and break a couple tackles to make it 21-14 Memorial.
With less than 30 seconds to go in the half, Lindauer scrambled around before heaving a 39-yard pass to Combs in the end zone, which the senior receiver caught over a Gibson Southern defender to make it 28-14 Tigers at the break.
"We started off pretty great, we missed a couple opportunities right before half I think to kind of keep it close. You know a little bit closer to where it wasn't 28-14 with them getting the ball, I thought 21-14 would've been alright," Hart said. "
Memorial did score on the opening drive of the second half, to bust things open a bit and make it 35-14. This time it was another Lindauer pass to Colton Pence from 24 yards out.
Gibson Southern would answer, as their offense found its groove again after the break. They drove down and were able to punch it in on a Spindler 2-yard run, pulling within two scores of the Tigers, 35-21. On the next Memorial possession, the Tigers faced a 4th-and-10 from the Titan 36. Coach John Hurley elected to go for it, and it paid off, as Lindauer connected with Pence for a 36-yard touchdown on a play where the Titan defender covering Pence slipped and fell.
Another Combs rushing touchdown from 38 yards out all but sealed the deal going into the final quarter as Memorial was able to increase their lead to four touchdowns, 49-21. Each team would score once in the final frame, as the Titans were able to get senior receiver Dawson Witte a touchdown with less than 30 seconds to play.
"You know six weeks ago when we got whooped by Heritage Hills, I would've never dreamed that we could've came in here and traded punches. Eventually their dudes just made some plays. We traded punches for about 22 minutes there, and I'm very proud of the way we competed," Hart said.
As they have been all season, the Southern Illinois bound duo of Lindauer and Combs were too much to overcome. The senior signal-caller threw for 339 yards and five scores on 20-29 passing. Combs caught eight passes for 171 yards, and also had 88 yards on the ground while scoring three total touchdowns.
"They're the real deal. And we knew that coming in. We had three guys over him sometimes and they still made a play. That's what great players do," Hart said.
For Gibson Southern, Allen led the way, also completing 20 of his 29 passes. He threw for 277 yards and two touchdowns against one interception. Spindler had 93 yards on 21 attempts. Butler caught 8 passes for 74 yards while the senior Witte hauled in 7 balls for 157 yards.
The Titans finish the season with a 9-3 record, while Memorial continues their perfect run at 12-0. The Tigers advance to play Brownstown Central in next week's regional game.
Despite the loss, a young Gibson Southern team has a lot to proud of after bouncing back to make a deep playoff run despite not winning the conference. Hart credits his seniors, who stuck with it after the Titans second loss, and were able to lead the program back to being able to compete for a sectional title, a position they are used to.
"We got the things rolling in the right direction for our seniors to finish with a great year. For our young guys its huge. I think it kind of shows a lot about how our young guys grew up throughout the year," Hart said.
"Like I said it's big for our seniors now, I think that's most important you want your seniors to have a great year. I'm very thankful for them, they've been great the last four years, and we're gonna miss them."
1 2 3 4 F
EM 7 21 21 7 56
GS 7 7 7 7 28
Total Yds 363 646
Passing 277 339
Passing (Att-Com) 20-30 21-30
Rushing 29-86 27-307
Turnovers 1 1
First Downs 18 26
Third Downs 8/15 5/8
Penalties 0-0 6-60
Passing- B. Allen (GS) 20-29 277 2 TD 1 INT, S. DeLong (GS) 0-1
M. Lindauer (EM) 20-29 339 5 TD, J. Russell (EM) 1-1 -2
Rushing- M. Spindler (GS)- 21-93 2 TD, B. Butler (GS) 2-7, B. Allen (GS) 6- (-14)
F. McCool (EM)- 8-145 TD, B. Combs (EM) 4-88 2 TD, D. Johnson (EM) 8-45, M. Lindauer (EM) 4-27, J. Russell (EM) 1- 2, G. Claspell (EM) 2-0
Receiving- D. Witte (GS) 7-157 TD, B. Butler (GS) 8-74 TD, M. Spindler (GS) 1-16, A. May (GS) 1-16, S. DeLong (GS) 3-14
B. Combs (EM) 8-171 TD, C. Pence (EM) 4-74 2 TD, L. Lively (EM) 4-59 TD, D. Hurley (EM) 2-25 TD F. McCool (EM) 2- 12, L. Hoffman (EM) 1- (-2)