MISHAWAKA — The Elkhart Memorial seniors took turns hugging head coach Scot Shaw and then each other Friday night, as the finality of the moment hit them all.
The Crimson Chargers had just lost to Mishawaka 38-6 at Steele Stadium, ending not only their season, but the 47-year football tradition at Memorial.
"It's tough, but I love these seniors,'' Shaw said. "I told them, we didn't win as many games as we expected to this season, but I'm extremely proud of them. There are some future doctors and top business people among those kids and that's what's going to be important in the future.''
But in the present, the Chargers are disappointed, as Mishawaka dominated the first half, taking a 31-0 lead to the lockerooms, before a gutsy Memorial effort in the second half held the Cavemen to just six points.
Mishawaka (7-3) will travel to Rice Field next Friday to play Elkhart Central for the sectional title. The Cavemen beat Central 22-17 in September.
The rough night began on the first play of the game, when after a 12-yard run, Memorial junior Derrick Woods Jr. – running the Wildcat offense – fumbled the football and Mishawaka's Gavin Egendoefer recovered at the Chargers 44.
Eight plays later, the Cavemen were in the end zone on a two-yard run by quarterback Justin Fisher to make it 7-0 barely five minutes into the game.
"Obviously, that's not the way you want to start any game, but especially when you're playing a team like Concord,'' Shaw said. "You never want to get behind them because of the way they can dominate the football.''
After a 36-yard field goal by Connor George made it 10-0 in the first quarter, Memorial's Dylan Rost was stopped short on a fake punt after a solid Charger drive, giving the ball back to the Cavemen at their own 41.
Eight running plays later - including a 29 yard run by Donovan Snyder – Mishawaka was back in the end zone on a one yard run by Andrew Mason to make it 17-0.
Things went from bad to worst for the Chargers on their next drive, as Beau Brown blocked a Graham Eli punt and recovered at the one-yard-line. Ethan Fowler scored on the next play to make it 24-0 and then added a 10-yard touchdown run with 29 seconds left in the half to put the Cavemen up 31-0 at the half.
"I thought out defense just played an outstanding game, but especially in the first half,'' Mishawaka coach Keith Kinder said. "We were very afraid of the Memorial offense coming in because they have been so explosive. Plus, I have tremendous respect for coach Shaw ... he is a Hall of Fame coach and has done a great job over there.''
Elkhart Memorial battled in the second half and kept the Cavemen out of the end zone until the first play of the fourth quarter when Fisher scored from a yard out to push the lead to 38-0 and keep the clock running the rest of the way.
The Chargers would get on the board late in the fourth quarter when quarterback Tyler Lehner tossed a 24-yard touchdown pass to Woods, which turned out to be the final touchdown in Memorial football history.
Mishawaka would finish with 252 rushing yards and 291 total, while the Cavemen held Memorial to under 100 yards, thanks in part to three sacks of Lehner.
"I thought we were able to dominate both sides of the line tonight,'' Kinder said. "Obviously getting a turnover on the first play of the game helped, but I was pleased with the way we ran the ball all night and even came up with a big play on special teams. This was a real good team victory.
While it's the end of the line for Memorial with a 3-7 record this season, Shaw hoped the Chargers had done the program proud on Friday.
"It's tough to go out this way,'' Shaw said. "Elkhart Memorial football meant an awful lot to a lot of people – including myself – and I hate to see it end. But I liked the fight our kids put up in the second half and we went down battling.''
With most of his carries out of the Wildcat, Woods led the Chargers with 82 yards on 15 carries.
MISHAWAKA 38, ELKHART MEMORIAL 6
Scoring By Quarters
M — Justin Fisher 2 run; Connor George kick; 6:53.
M — George 36 field goal; 2:28.
M — Andrew Mason 1 run; George kick; 7:58.
M — Ethan Fowler 1 run; George kick 5:39.
M — Fowler 10 run; George kick; 0:29.
M — Fisher 1 run; George kick; 11:45.
EM — Derrick Woods Jr. 24 pass from Tyler Lehner; kick failed; 5:56.
Memorial: Rushing — Derrick Woods Jr. 15-82, Dylan Rost 1-6. Passing — Tyler Lehner 8-12-54, Woods Jr. 0-2. Receiving — Woods Jr. 3-17, Tyren Mason 2-21, Damien Funnell 1-12.
Mishawaka: Rushing — Donovon Snyder 9-92, Justin Fisher 13-88, Andrew Mason 9-51. Passing — Fisher 3-4-39. Receiving — Snyder 2-33, Ethan Fowler 1-6.