ELKHART — Elkhart Central football coach Josh Shattuck stood in front of his team and relived the great accomplishments from the past season.
After Shattuck spoke, Blue Blazer fans gave a huge applause to their team.
Those will be some of the final memories left Friday from a heartbreaking 42-36 Class 5A sectional championship game loss to Mishawaka at Rice Field.
The defeat had a greater impact because it was the final game for the Elkhart Central football program. Next fall, Central and Elkhart Memorial will combine and become Elkhart High School.
Elkhart Central finishes at 9-3, with that win total tying a school-record.
Too many mistakes and the inability to stop Mishawaka's triple-option attack offense cost the Blue Blazers.
Derrick Dawson's recovery of an onside kick for Mishawaka with :26.9 left in the game sealed the victory for the Cavemen, who won their fourth sectional title in the last five years.
It's the 17th straight win by the Cavemen over the Blue Blazers, who won this year's regular season meeting 22-17.
"For some reason, and I'll give Mishawaka all the credit in the world, we make mistakes against those guys that we don't make against other people," Shattuck said. "We've made some unforced errors. If you make those against a team like that it's hard to overcome them. We still almost overcame our mistakes tonight. Kudos to them.
"I'm really proud of our guys in the big picture. Tonight we didn't get it done, but it was a great year for us."
The biggest miscue came after Mark Brownlee scored to pull Central within 35-33 with 3:01 left in the game.
After a timeout by the Blue Blazers, a two-point conversion try was attempted by the hosts.
The play never got a chance to develop as the snap was bobbled and lost by Central quarterback Isaiah Chandler and recovered by Mishawaka's Davonn Parker.
"We were actually running an option play to the perimeter," Shattuck said. "For whatever reason, I think this year we've had five or six bobbled snaps in handoffs and they were all in the two Mishawaka games."
"We went with a heavy defensive line set," said Mishawaka coach Keith Kinder. "Who knows if the mesh screwed it up or not."
After Milan Burris recovered an onside kick for Mishawaka, the Cavemen struck quickly, as quarterback Justin Fisher scored on a 51-yard touchdown run and after a converted extra-point, Mishawaka led 42-33 with 2:13 left in the game.
Fisher was hard to handle throughout the evening for Central defenders, as he finished with six touchdowns and rushed for 153 yards on 23 carries.
"On that last touchdown I wish he would have taken a slide at about the 30 so we didn't have to play defense again," Kinder said. "But he had a heck of a game. He called 80-percent of the game at the line of scrimmage. For a 15-year old kid that says a lot about him."
Fisher directed an offense that totaled 323 yards on the ground. Mishawaka threw only two passes, with one being completed for 10 yards.
Along with Fisher, the Cavemen got significant rushing yardage from Donovan Snyder and Andrew Mason. Snyder rushed for 94 yards on six carries and Mason totaled 76 yards on the ground on 20 totes.
The lone mistake on offense by Mishawaka was a lost fumble in the third quarter on a bad pitch, which was recovered by Central's Carlos Mendez.
That fumble recovery came with 5:25 left in the third quarter and was much needed by the Blue Blazers, who trailed 35-27.
Brownlee's one-yard touchdown run came after that turnover.
Mishawaka started the game with a 10-play, 67-yard drive capped by a 12-yard touchdown run from Fisher.
That lead grew to 14-0 after Mishawaka recovered a ball touched by Central's Vinny Ambrose on a punt. The Cavemen got the ball at the Blue Blazers' 12 and scored three plays later on two-yard run from Fisher with :35 left in the first quarter.
"Vinny was getting out of the way and the ball took a funky turn and hit him in the back of the calf," Shattuck said.
After taking a 14-0 lead, Mishawaka gambled and attempted an onside kick, which was recovered by Central at its own 49 yard line. The Blue Blazers scored nine plays later on an 11-yard run from Dominic Davis to cut the lead in half with 9:50 left in the second quarter.
"We saw something on film and I thought at that point it was a great opportunity to try put the nail in them," Kinder said about the onside kick. "It just didn't work out for us."
The Cavemen responded with another scoring drive after Davis' touchdown. Mishawaka took a 21-7 lead after going on a 12-play, 57-yard drive. The final play was a six-yard touchdown run by Fisher with 5:18 left in the second quarter.
"It's a tough matchup for us," Shattuck said about facing Mishawaka's offense. "We're not where we need to be in the strength department overall. It takes years and years and years. We're close. We're just not quite there. (Mishawaka) is just hard to beat."
Central was also hard to contend with this year and a big reason why was Brownlee, who put up staggering numbers this season.
Brownlee rushed for 186 yards on 39 carries and scored three times against Mishawaka. His six-yard touchdown run pulled Central within 21-13 with 1:40 left in the second quarter. The extra-point was blocked.
For the season, the Ball State commit rushed for 2,071 yards and scored 32 touchdowns.
For his career, which was spent at Elkhart Memorial and Elkhart Central, Brownlee finished with 5,368 yards rushing on 784 carries and scored 59 touchdowns.
"He's just an unbelievable player," Shattuck said about Brownlee. "He's a generational player. Every time he touches it you think he can score."
Kinder heaped praise on Brownlee.
"He's the best back I've coached against," Kinder said. "He refused to get tackled tonight and we're pretty good on defense. He ran possessed tonight."
Central quarterback Isaiah Chandler completed 11-of-20 passes for 140 yards and a touchdown. His 13-yard scoring toss to Ambrose cut Mishawaka's lead to 35-27 with 6:40 left in the game.
Bryan Ramirez's 25-yard field goal for the Blue Blazers were the final points of the game with :29 remaining.
With the two schools combining next year, Shattuck was asked about his coaching future.
"It's going to be an open position like anything else," Shattuck said. "I'm going to apply for it. My family is here in Elkhart and I work here in Elkhart. I'm going to go attack (the football coaching job). I want to be the head football coach at Elkhart High. I want to keep working with these kids. This is an unbelievable community with unbelievable support. It's a football town."
MISHAWAKA 42, ELKHART CENTRAL 36
Scoring By Quarters
M — Justin Fisher 12 run; Connor George kick; 6:10
M — Fisher 2 run; George kick; :35
E — Dominic Davis 11 run; Bryan Ramirez kick; 9:50
M — Fisher 6 run; George kick; 5:18
E — Mark Brownlee 6 run; kick blocked; 1:40
M — Fisher 1 run; George kick; 6:43
E — Brownlee 1 run; Ramirez kick; 11:15
M — Fisher 1 run; George kick; 9:05
E — Vinny Ambrose 13 pass from Isaiah Chandler; Ramirez kick; 6:40
E — Brownlee 1 run; run failed; 3:01
M — Fisher 51 run; George kick; 2:13
E — Ramirez 25 field goal; :29
Mishawaka: Rushing – Justin Fisher 23-153, Donovan Snyder 4-94, Andrew Mason 20-76. Passing – Fisher 1-2-10. Receiving – Snyder 1-10. Fumble recoveries – Davonn Parker 2. Sacks – Derrick Dawson, Beau Brown.
Central: Rushing – Mark Brownlee 39-186, Dominic Davis 3-19. Passing – Isaiah Chandler 11-20-140. Receiving – Vinny Ambrose 3-55, Roderick Ballard 3-35, Brownlee 3-15, Davis 2-35. Fumble recoveries – Carlos Mendez.