SOUTH BEND — A part of Craig Koehler didn’t necessarily want to win this way. A bigger part of the Concord High School football coach just wanted to win, period.
After all, it helps so much with trying to win the next one.
The Minutemen grabbed a 17-7 lead midway through the fourth quarter — their decisive touchdown march assisted by a flood of South Bend St. Joseph penalties — then their defense stymied the Indians’ desperation comeback in the closing minute for a 17-14 season-opening victory Friday night at breezy Father Bly Field.
“You kind of hate being a part of that kind of game where the officials are kind of dictating how the ball’s moving maybe a little too much,” Koehler said despite the whistles mostly helping his side late, “but, hey, the positive is we won, we’ve got a lot to work on, we have a really good opponent next week and it’s a lot easier to keep on the kids after a win.
“They’re more receptive to hard coaching,” Koehler explained of a victory’s benefits. “Some kids coming off a loss, they don’t take hard coaching as well. We’re going to
keep coaching them hard (either way), but after a win, they’re going to be more receptive.”
Concord and St. Joe crammed enough suspense for an entire season into this opener.
In a game that was otherwise tight all night, Carter Neveraski’s 1-yard touchdown plunge with 5:53 to go produced the aforementioned 17-7 margin.
The unyielding Indians, though, answered with an 80-yard TD drive to pull to within 17-14 with 2:33 remaining on John Driscoll’s 2-yard run.
Jake Eakins recovered St. Joe’s ensuing onside kick, yet the Minutemen could not pick up a first down in their quest to melt the clock.
The Indians began their final possession at their own 23 with just 2:07 left.
They earned three first downs, but Concord corner Amarion Moore broke up a fourth-and-11 pass from the CHS 41 to seal the victory at 36 seconds to go.
Minutemen quarterback Ethan Cain completed 24-of-35 passes for 280 yards and a touchdown against no interceptions on a night his team was unable to net plus yardage rushing.
“He’s a really good high school quarterback,” Koehler said. “He’s going to win us some games because he makes plays that aren’t scheme plays. His touchdown pass was just a play he kept alive. He got hit (during the throw), too. He’s tough, a very tough kid.”
Cain rolled right on that TD and found Braedon Taylor in the end zone for a 28-yard tally and a 7-0 Concord lead early in the second quarter.
The play was immediately preceded by Jack D’Arcy’s catch-and-go slant for 68 yards. D’Arcy finished with 97 yards on five catches.
Neveraski collected 10 receptions, mostly out of the backfield, turning them into 85 yards, while Moore chipped in 56 yards on six catches.
Concord, which never trailed, broke a 7-7 deadlock on Ariel De La Paz’s 33-yard field goal 10 seconds into the fourth quarter. De La Paz, who earlier saw a 47-yard effort bounce off the crossbar, made both his extra points to leave him at 37-of-37 over the last two seasons.
The Minutemen’s 63-yard TD trek that proved the game-winner was more an escort than a drive. St. Joe was called for five penalties equaling 54 yards in walk-offs.
Those included three personal fouls, one on third-and-15, and two pass interference calls.
“We’ve just got to play better when it’s crunch time,” Indians coach Bryon Whitten said. “We’ve got to continuously work on our composure. We’ve got to continuously put our kids in stressful situations in practice so it becomes more of a routine out here on Friday nights.”
St. Joe alternated quarterbacks, with senior Evan Price and junior Matt Eck both seeing substantial action.
The Indians tied the game at 7-7 late in the second quarter on Asante Anglin’s 20-yardcounter run up the middle, capping a 10-play, 79-yard march.
Romello Moon intercepted a first-half pass for Concord, the only turnover by either team.
Drew Smeltzer and Anthony Ernest each recorded sacks for the Minutemen, while Grayson Mast had both a tackle for loss and an open-field tackle from behind.
“I thought our defense played pretty well,” Koehler said. “(Driscoll) is a pretty good player and I thought we contained him certainly better than last year (during a 28-14 Minutemen loss). … We knew if he went off, we’d have a hard time beating them, and we did a pretty good job.”
A blend of powerful and elusive, Driscoll still caught 13 passes for 82 yards and rushed nine times for 40, but his longest gain amid all those touches was 19 yards.
Concord opens Northern Lakes Conference play next Friday by hosting Elkhart Memorial.
The Indians continue the Elkhart County portion of their schedule by visiting Northridge.
CONCORD 17, SB ST. JOSEPH 14
Scoring By Quarters
C — Braedon Taylor 28 pass from Ethan Cain; Ariel De La Paz kick; 9:39.
SJ — Asante Anglin 20 run; Alejandro Rios kick; 3:26.
C — De La Paz 33 field goal; 11:50.
C — Carter Neveraski 1 run; De La Paz kick; 5:53.
SJ — John Driscoll 2 run; Rios kick; 2:33.
Concord: Rushing — Carter Neveraski 3-2. Passing — Ethan Cain 24-35-280 (0 int.). Receiving — Jack D’Arcy 5-97, Neveraski 10-85, Amarion Moore 6-56, Braedon Taylor 1-28. Interceptions — Romello Moon.
St. Joseph: Rushing — Asante Anglin 6-42, John Driscoll 9-40, Jon Underly 5-16.Passing — Evan Price 12-19-115 (1 int.), Matt Eck 11-16-56 (0 int.), J. Driscoll 1-1-11. Receiving — J. Driscoll 13-82, Patrick Driscoll 3-43, Luke Leonard 3-30, Anglin 2-16.