SOUTH BEND — As savor-worthy as the present continued to be, it quickly had to clear space for the future within the minds of Elkhart Central football players and coaches Friday night.
“We’ve got an absolute nightmare of an opponent next week in Mishawaka,” Blazer coach Josh Shattuck warned following his team’s 35-0 whipping of South Bend St. Joseph at Father Bly Field. “You don’t like to compare, but (Mishawaka’s) going to be the best team we’ve played so far.”
In fact, 5A No. 7-ranked Mishawaka is going to be the first team with a winning record that Central’s played so far.
The Cavemen did lose Friday to drop to 3-2 — but that was by a scant 28-27 count to unbeaten 4A No. 3 New Prairie, yet another future Blazer opponent.
Mark Brownlee scored four touchdowns and rushed for 171 yards on 23 carries in just three quarters of action as 5A No. 6 Central improved to 5-0 with its victory over the Indians.
“I do like the way we’re playing right now, but hey, look at the teams we’re about to play,” Shattuck said. “With Mishawaka, that option they run is a different deal. You can have a really good defense and it doesn’t mean you can stop it. We’ve got a lot of work to be ready. We’re going to be happy about this win tonight, but we’re getting right back to work tomorrow morning.”
That forward-looking approach likewise showed up as Blazer defensive back Kennath Dennis talked about his apparent second interception of the night against St. Joe, a pick that was ultimately wiped out by long-conferring officials in favor of a pass interference call.
“I don’t feel like it was interference, if you’re asking,” Dennis said, “but it didn’t really bother me that much. It’s like, if I lose one, it means I’ll get one more down the road. I’m just going to get as many as I can. They throw it up, I’m going to take it.”
As it was, Dennis’ interception that did count gave Central the ball at the Indians’ 10 early in the second quarter. Two plays later, Brownlee cashed in from 3 yards out for a 21-0 Blazer lead that would grow to 28-0 before halftime.
“It’s such a blessing to play on this team,” Dennis said. “The energy, the leadership we’re getting, it’s truly special. We never go into a game overlooking any team. I feel like we’re going to keep on working hard, keep doing what we do. We’re going to play good football.”
Against the Indians, the Blazers continued to play milestone football, in heaping helpings.
• They beat St. Joe on the road for the first time in 41 years, spanning nine meetings.
• They added to their already-best start since Central’s 2004 club opened 6-0.
• They posted a second consecutive shutout for the first time since that 2004 team closed its regular season with back-to-back blankings.
• They notched a fourth straight game of holding opponents to single digits in points for the first time since 1996.
“It’s not just the shutouts,” Shattuck said. “I’d take it a step further; it’s been suffocation. Without seeing the stats, I can’t imagine (St. Joe) had more than five or six first downs, and a lot of zero-yard and negative plays.”
Indeed, the Indians finished with merely five first downs and 61 yards of total offense. A running clock went into effect after the Blazers scored at 6:50 remaining in the third quarter for a 35-0 spread.
Excluding punt formation, St. Joe managed just 30 offensive snaps. Six went for negative yardage and 11 others for no yards.
Defensive linemen Rodney McGraw and Jake Smith each got in on multiple tackles for loss. Defensive back Vinny Ambrose added a fumble recovery and a TFL.
“Oh, man, it’s everybody,” Shattuck said of where the credit goes for the second straight shutout. “It’s the D-line, it’s the (secondary), and I think we’ve gotten a lot from our linebacker play. It was a serious area of concern going into the year, but Dominic Russo played well tonight and Kindall Rief has been a pleasant surprise. (Drew) Stimac wasn’t in there tonight, but he’s been very good.”
Stimac suffered a non-football injury earlier in the week and sat out as part of concussion protocol.
“I thought we did a really good job on both Driscolls,” Shattuck said of Indian standouts John and Patrick, who entered the evening with a combined average of 11 receptions and 138 yards per game to go with John’s 113 yards for the season on the ground.
The brothers finished with just five combined catches for 39 yards. John’s five rushing attempts yielded just another 10 yards.
Offensively, Central totaled 342 yards, 323 of that coming over the first three quarters.
While the ground game proved typically formidable, quarterback Isaiah Chandler looked crisp, too, going 10-of-15 passing for 132 yards with a TD toss to Dominic Davis.
Roderick Ballard made five catches for 69 yards, while Chandler’s one interception deflected off a Blazer receiver.
“As I’ve said a million times, we’re going to hand it off to (Brownlee), and we’re going to do it a lot until someone stops it,” Shattuck said, “but we know we can throw and we’re not afraid to do that. We want to be independently good at throwing the ball, not just throwing it when other stuff gets stopped. We just want to be good in all phases of offense, be good in the kick game, which has been great, and be good on defense, which is playing at a different level right now.”
ELKHART CENTRAL 35, SB ST. JOSEPH 0
Scoring By Quarters
EC — Mark Brownlee 5 run; Elijah Harris kick; 7:51.
EC — Brownlee 16 run; Harris kick; 11:55.
EC — Brownlee 3 run; Harris kick; 9:43.
EC — Dominic Davis 17 pass from Isaiah Chandler; Harris kick; 0:52.
EC — Brownlee 9 run; Harris kick; 6:50.
Central: Rushing — Mark Brownlee 23-171, Dominic Davis 7-31, Cameron Wiltfong 3-13. Passing — Isaiah Chandler 10-15-132 (1 int.). Receiving — Roderick Ballard 5-69, Brownlee 2-24, Davis 1-17, Jacob Holt 2-12, Devon Billings 1-10. Interception —Kennath Dennis. Fumble recovery — Vinny Ambrose.
St. Joseph: Rushing — Asante Anglin 8-21, John Driscoll 5-10. Passing — Matt Eck 7-17-30 (1 int.). Receiving — Patrick Driscoll 3-24, J. Driscoll 2-15. Interception — Jon Underly.