DUNLAP — Sam Schrader had just taken a moment’s rest from the hugs and high fives to talk to reporters when he was blind-sided by the biggest embrace of the night.
Mishawaka coach Bart Curtis slammed the game ball into his quarterback’s chest and hugged him gleefully.
“Here’s the man!” Curtis yelled, shaking Schrader by the shoulders. “Here is the man. The best football player in Indiana right here.”
On a cold Friday night in a 4A semistate battle with Concord, Schrader may very well have been.
The Cavemen (11-3) squeaked past the Minutemen (11-3) 24-21 on a last-second 18-yard field goal by Mishawaka kicker Daniel Blackford.
Schrader dominated on the ground most of the night, rushing for 148 yards and two touchdowns on 36 carries. He shifted and squirmed and churned to push forward on every carry. What looked like 2- and 3-yard gains became 4-, 5- and 6-yard gains. Try as they might, the Minutemen could not bring Schrader down.
Franko House almost did. The 6-foot-5, 240-pound Ball State basketball recruit broke through the Mishawaka offensive line on second-and-2 to wrap Schrader up for what would have been a big loss.
Schrader somehow slipped through House’s arms and ended up gaining 3 yards for a first down.
“He’s really tough,” House said of Schrader. “He runs really low, really hard to defend. He’s gets so low and he just pops through behind the linemen. It was really frustrating.”
Schrader was also involved on the biggest defensive play of the night.
With just over 10 minutes to go in the fourth quarter and the score tied at 14, Concord had moved the ball up to Mishawaka’s 33-yard line. Trevor Wilmore was putting together an impressive drive when Schrader collided with the Concord quarterback and knocked the ball free.
“Coach Curtis instills in us that you never know which play will be the big one,” Schrader said of his forced fumble. “So you have to go hard every play. Luckily, a couple of breaks went our way.”
Mishawaka recovered, and Schrader turned around to lead a six-minute, 15-play drive that ended with a 4-yard push for the go-ahead touchdown.
Wilmore led a heroic drive in retaliation, hitting Dakota Simon for a 42-yard tying touchdown pass with just over a minute left to play, but Mishawaka responded with a 56-yard kickoff return to set up for the game-winning field goal.
Schrader’s only pass of the night was also a touchdown.
Late in the third quarter, while Concord still led 14-7, Schrader found a wide-open Matthew Carver in the end zone for a 34-yard touchdown pass off a play action fake.
Best player in Indiana? That’s up for debate. Best player in the 2012 semistate? His performance would be hard to top.
Carver is a believer.
“Sam Schrader is a warrior,” the receiver said. “It’s the only way to describe him. He’s the best player on the field in any game we play.”
The only significant play of the game Schrader didn’t have a hand in was the last-second field goal by Blackford. Schrader watched from the sidelines as Blackford’s 18-yard kick wobbled through the uprights, sending Mishawaka to the state championship game for the first time since 1974.
“I can’t even start to describe the feelings right now,” Schrader said as the post-game celebration continued around him. “I’ve gotten more hugs today than I’ve ever gotten in my life. It’s a great feeling, you know, coming out with your brothers, being able to celebrate with them, people you’ve grown up with your entire life.”
Mishawaka will face Indianapolis Cathedral (9-5) in the 4A state championship Nov. 24 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. For a team that lost three of its first five games this season, next Saturday marks the end of a special journey.
“We bounced back, overcame adversity,” Schrader said. “That was our goal at the beginning of the season and we never gave up. I think we were young early and our coaches told us there’s going to be some bumps in the road and that’s going to happen and look at us now.”
Mishawaka 24, concord 21
Scoring by Quarters
Mishawaka 7 0 7 10 — 24
Concord 0 14 0 7 — 21
School — Scoring Play
M — Sam Schrader 14 run; Daniel Blackford kick, 5:07.
C — Chris Martin 17 run; Ryan Tepe kick, 8:24.
C — Adam Glanders 31 pass from Trevor Wilmore; Tepe kick, 0:17.
M — Matthew Carver 34 pass from Schrader; Blackford kick, 3:30.
M — Schrader 4 run; Blackford kick, 3:30.
C — Dakota Simon 42 pass from Wilmore; Tepe kick, 1:11.
M — Blackford 18 field goal, 0:00.
Officials: Tom Talarico (Fort Wayne), Jeff Meeks (Leo), Justin Shippy (Fremont), Ronnie Branch (Fort Wayne), Keith Hoyt (Kendallville).
Team Statistics Mis Con
Net yards rushing 264 176
Net yards passing 44 104
Total Yards 308 280
First Downs 19 14
Fumbles-Lost 1-1 2-1
Penalties 5-45 4-30
Mishawaka: Rushing — Sam Schrader 36-148, Angelo Multari 8-63, Matt Carver 8-35, Tyler McDaniel 6-18. Passing — Schrader 2-4-44 (1 int.). Receiving — Matt Carver 1-34, Cody Childress 1-10. Interception — Preston Maxfield. Fumble recovery — Keegan Hood.
Concord: Rushing — Trevor Wilmore 22-94, DuWhan Alford 8-73. Passing — Wilmore 6-10-104 (1 int.), Dakota Simon 0-1-0. Receiving — Dakota Simon 2-57, Adam Glanders 2-37, Brandon Marlow 1-9, Franko House 1-1. Interception — Timmy Yoder.