ELKHART — Concord witnessed the real Mark Brownlee this time – too often from behind.
The Elkhart Central running back powered for a school-record 307 rushing yards and scored five touchdowns as the No. 8-ranked Blue Blazers survived the repeatedly rallying No. 6
Minutemen 38-31 in a mesmerizing, teeter-totter Class 5A sectional football semifinal Friday night at chilly Rice Field.
“Last year, Mark was really dinged up, and we played on a poor playing surface,” Central coach Josh Shattuck said of the Blazers’ 17-14 sectional title-game loss at Concord, one that included
Brownlee being held to 47 yards on 19 carries. “We challenged him this week to show that they didn’t see the real Mark Brownlee, to show they saw a half version of Mark Brownlee in rough conditions,” Shattuck said. “They won that game and deserved to, but they didn’t see the Mark Brownlee we know, so we just really challenged him to run north and south, and he did that, and he was just an animal.”
Brownlee carried 39 times, including TD scampers of 8, 20, 65, 14 and 2 yards, the senior’s last one breaking a 31-31 deadlock – the fifth tie of the evening – with 5:23 remaining.
Central (9-2), which tied the school standard for victories held by its 9-1 clubs of 1983 and ’84, gets to remain home for next Friday’s sectional championship against No. 11 Mishawaka (7-3). The Cavemen edged the Blazers 22-17 at Rice Field five weeks ago.
“What an awesome, exciting win,” Shattuck said of solving Concord, “but Mishawaka’s is just unbelievable. We’ve already seen that firsthand. They were the one team all year that really manhandled us. We’ll celebrate tonight’s win, but we’ve got a lot of work to do for Mishawaka.”
The unrelenting Minutemen (8-2) erased seven-point deficits against Central four times, then took their first lead all night at 31-28 when senior Ariel DeLaPaz drilled a 36-yard field goal with 1:46 to go in the third quarter.
Central didn’t relent, either, responding on its next possession with a 13-play, 62-yard drive that was capped by Bryan Ramirez’s game-tying 35-yard field goal midway through the fourth quarter.
The Blazers’ defense stiffened after that, forcing a three-and-out at Concord’s own 14 that was followed by a seeming big-play disaster in a game that was otherwise free of those.
DeLaPaz, in punt formation, fumbled the fourth-down snap, then put a knee on the ground while recovering, giving Central possession at the Minutemen 2 with 5:26 to go.
Brownlee punched the ball in on the next play for what proved the winning score.
“We would have liked to get that punt off, sure, but best-case scenario there, they get the ball at the 50, maybe (our) 40,” Concord coach Craig Koehler said, “so in hindsight, what happened was probably not a terrible thing, because I’m not so sure we could’ve kept 23 (Brownlee) out of the end zone. Maybe they eat three or four minutes from the 50. Now we’re down seven withone or two minutes left instead of five left, so the game certainly wasn’t all about that.”
“We were feeling very good about the way we were running the football,” he said. “At five minutes from midfield, I think we would’ve been tough to stop.”
After all, the Blazers were tough to stop all night. They totaled 459 yards, 23 first downs and never committed a turnover.
Brownlee’s 307 yards, the final 14 coming on a carry that netted the sealing first down, pushed him past Joe Phillips’ 305 on 44 attempts during a 2013 sectional win over Goshen.
Central’s defense, meanwhile, did bend, and sometimes broke, but it also got that pivotal three-and-out that set up the final tally, then stopped the Minutemen yet again after a pair of Concord first downs to help clinch the game.
That virtual clinching came on Kennath Dennis’ interception of a fourth-and-16 bomb from the Minutemen 49 at 1:56 to go, the game’s lone turnover.
Dennis was also in on at least three tackles for loss, while fellow junior Rodney McGraw had a sack and one of Central’s three pass deflections.
“It feels good, because they took the win last year and because we had to stay focused all night to do this,” McGraw said. “We had to make sure we were going hard the whole game. It just takes one little thing to lose sometimes.”
Indeed there did seem little margin for error thanks to the Minutemen.
Concord senior quarterback Ethan Cain completed 21-of-40 passes for 317 yards and two touchdowns, while sophomore receiving sensation Amarion Moore had eight catches for 127 yards.
Senior Carter Neveraski scored three TDs for the Minutemen, two on the ground and one via a 75-yard catch-and-go over the middle.
“Those guys just wouldn’t go away,” Shattuck said. “I honestly can’t say enough good things about their kids and Coach K and his staff. We kept punching and punching, and almost everyone else we’ve played, when we’ve been able to get ahead like that, they’ve gotten kind of overwhelmed, but they just kept coming back. To be able to do that the whole game was unbelievable.”
For Concord, the whole season was special as well.
“That’s about as good a group of players as I can remember having,” Koehler said. “I’ve been here 19 years (as an assistant and head coach), and that’s the highest-character group of kids we’ve ever had, and we’ve had some great groups. We never had to deal with discipline issues, never dealt with off-the-field stuff, never dealt with issues in practice. Every day’s been a blast.”
ELKHART CENTRAL 38, CONCORD 31
Scoring By Quarters
Ce — Mark Brownlee 8 run; Bryan Ramirez kick; 8:49.
Co — Carter Neveraski 14 run; Ariel DeLaPaz kick; 3:28.
Ce — Brownlee 20 run; Ramirez kick; 11:55.
Co — Neveraski 75 pass from Ethan Cain; DeLaPaz kick; 11:20.
Ce — Brownlee 65 run; Ramirez kick; 6:44.
Co — Neveraski 1 run; DeLaPaz kick; 0:46.
Ce — Brownlee 14 run; Ramirez kick; 10:49.
Co — Logan Wittmer 7 pass from Cain; DeLaPaz kick; 7:22.
Co — DeLaPaz 36 field goal; 1:46.
Ce — Ramirez 35 field goal; 6:56.
Ce — Brownlee 2 run; Ramirez kick; 5:23.
Concord: Rushing — Carter Neveraski 15-48, Ethan Cain 7-44, Jamyris Rice 1-7. Passing — Cain 21-40-317 (1 int.), Neveraski 1-1-3. Receiving — Amarion Moore 8-127, Neveraski 2-82, Jack D’Arcy 4-59, Logan Wittmer 4-38.
Central: Rushing — Mark Brownlee 39-307. Passing — Isaiah Chandler 7-14-112 (0 int.), Vinny Ambrose 1-1-42. Receiving — Roderick Ballard 4-69, Jacob Holt 1-32, Brownlee 2-30, Dominic Davis 1-23. Interception — Kennath Dennis.