SOUTH BEND — Roderick Ballard’s lunging play served as Elkhart Central’s launching point.
The first of the junior receiver’s two touchdown catches doubled his team’s lead to 14-0 just nine seconds before halftime, setting the stage for a second-half pull-away as the Blue Blazers notched a 35-0 Class 5A sectional first-round football victory over winless South Bend Adams on Friday night at chilly Clay Field.
“Roderick made I thought the biggest play to get us up by two scores,” Central coach Josh Shattuck said. “We could not have played much worse offensively in the first half with the (two) turnovers and some technique things, but he bailed us out.
“Once we got up two scores, we felt like we’d be fine after we got on ’em at halftime and made a couple adjustments.”
The Blazers’ win – coming without injured star running back Mark Brownlee – set up a semifinal showdown of ranked teams next Friday when No. 8 Central (8-2) hosts No. 6 Concord (8-1) at Rice Field.
Brownlee, averaging 197 rushing yards and over three TDs per game, sat out while continuing to recover from the hamstring injury he suffered in the waning seconds of the Blazers’ 31-28 win over then-4A No. 1 New Prairie a week earlier.
“We hope he can play (next week),” Shattuck said, “but with a leg injury, you don’t know. He didn’t feel like he could go tonight. We tried him at practice this week, and he did make some progress this week, but he wasn’t able to do what he normally does.”
Without Brownlee, fellow senior Dominic Davis became the featured back. He responded with 119 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries to go with five catches for 60 yards.
That production combined with Central’s school record-tying fourth shutout of the season, an odd special-teams TD and Ballard’s playmaking were plenty for an ultimately comfortable win.
Ballard’s first score was a 26-yarder from quarterback Isaiah Chandler on a fade play into the end zone along the left side just 9.2 seconds remaining before halftime. The second, into that same spot from 13 yards out, put the Blazers up 28-0 late in the third quarter.
Each entailed an athletic maneuver by Ballard to secure the ball.
“The second one I had come back to get it a little, but I thank my quarterback,” the 6-foot Ballard said. “Isaiah threw great balls on both plays. There was an adjustment, but he put it exactly where I could adjust.”
Just three weeks earlier against the Eagles (0-10), the Blazers raced to a 33-0 lead by halftime, going on to win 40-0, but this time, jumping out proved far more difficult.
Central’s first points, thanks in part to a pair of first-quarter turnovers, didn’t come until Davis capped a 10-play, 79-yard drive with a 2-yard TD at 3:05 left in the second period.
A three-and-out by the Blazer defense helped give the visitors their next possession at midfield with 1:54 to go, leading to Ballard’s first TD.
With 5:03 to go in the third quarter, an alert Kennath Dennis scored on what went down as just a 12-yard punt return – pending film review that could change it to a blocked punt return – when the punt was basically grounded short up the middle.
Dominic Russo scored from a yard out with 4:57 left in the game, before Bryan Ramirez’s extra point, making him 5-of-5 on the night, triggered a running clock.
While Central’s offense racked up 24 first downs to go with 337 yards, the defense limited the Eagles – playing without quarterback and Virginia recruit Ira Armstead – to just four first downs and 81 yards.
Armstead missed the game due to illness, according to Adams coach Antwon Jones.
“I thought our guys fought hard, but we got tired in the second half against a good team,” Jones said. “They did a good job of controlling field (position) and we had some unfortunate plays, but it wasn’t like we gave them one-and-done scores. They had to fight for it.”
Linebacker Demond Hollaway was spectacular for the Eagles in the first half with five tackles for loss, while fellow junior Sidney Jefferies recorded both a pick and a fumble recovery.
With its fourth shutout, Central matched the standard held by its 1974 and 1990 clubs.
The Blazers’ eighth win gave the program its most since the 2004 squad finished 8-2, and left them one short of the school record achieved by the 9-1 teams of 1983 and 1984.
ELKHART CENTRAL 35, SB ADAMS 0
Scoring By Quarters
C — Dominic Davis 2 run; Bryan Ramirez kick; 3:05.
C — Roderick Ballard 26 pass from Isaiah Chandler; Ramirez kick; 0:09.
C — Kennath Dennis 12 punt return; Ramirez kick; 5:03.
C — Ballard 13 pass from Chandler; Ramirez kick; 0:53.
C — Dominic Russo 1 run; Ramirez kick; 4:57.
Central: Rushing — Dominic Davis 24-119, Dominic Russo 10-63, Isaiah Chandler 2-16. Passing — Chandler 9-18-134 (2 int). Receiving — Roderick Ballard 3-64, Davis 5-60, Jacob Holt 1-10.
Central: Rushing — Demond Holloway 17-56, Davion Patterson 7-16. Passing — Gavin Pulling 3-10-35 (0 int). Receiving — Patterson 1-26, Holloway 1-6. Interceptions — Sidney Jefferies, James Jordan. Fumble recovery — Jefferies.