WESTVILLE – The competition went beyond what Casey-Westfield provided as 3,000 spectators watched. Westville's Tigers were seemingly trying to outdo one another Saturday to register the Play of the Game.
By the time Westville had advanced into the Class 2A title game for the second consecutive season – thanks to a 27-19 semifinal conquest of the Warriors – there was a laundry list of second-half superlatives.
– After being held in check the first 24 minutes, Caleb Pratt erupted for 211 yards rushing in the second half. His total (244 yards) almost matched Casey-Westfield's offensive output for the entire game (250 yards);
– Seconds after Westville created a 13-13 second-half tie, Derek Elliott recovered an onside kick for the second consecutive week. Three plays later, the Tigers went ahead to stay;
– Protecting a 21-13 lead, Kyle Strebing intercepted a pass one play after a blocked punt gave Casey-Westfield possession on the Westville 34. Four plays later, Pratt raced 58 yards for his second TD;
– After the Warriors closed within 27-19, they recovered an onside kick with 4:43 left in the game and started a downfield march. It ended with 2:09 to play on a spectacular interception by Jordan Barney. The leaping catch left his teammates marveling and the Warriors reeling.
"That's something you see on 'SportsCenter,' not in 2A high school football," Pratt said.
"Barney came out of nowhere and jumped over his (intended receiver Aaron Rhoads) head," Aaron Johnson said. "It was an amazing play."
Elliott added, "I've never seen a catch like that by anyone."
Barney said simply, "Adrenaline does crazy things."
Dusty Zaayer said Elliott's earlier recovery provided a spark.
"It felt like all the momentum was going our way and it would be hard for them to come back," he said. "In the second half, it seemed like we couldn't do anything wrong."
Westville coach Guy Goodlove changed tactics after a first half when the Tigers held a 7-6 lead.
"In the second half, it was going to be a little bit of Aaron, a little bit of Jordan and a lot of Caleb," Goodlove said. "We gave the ball to our best back and he made plays. We rode the all-time state rushing leader, and he put us on his shoulders."
In the opening half, Westville had 16 running plays and 12 passing attempts. Pratt never got the ball on a third-down play.
After intermission, Westville ran the ball on 22 of its 23 plays. Pratt was successful converting 3 of 4 third-down plays.
"We got in the wishbone and shoved it down their throats," Johnson said.
Defensively, the Tigers contained the Warriors' potent rushing attack, allowing 59 yards on 30 attempts. Zaayer and Brandon Pratt each had two tackles for loss.
Zaayer had a game-high 10 tackles, two more than Barney, and Goodlove observed, "those two linebackers were making great plays. I saw some of the best hits I've seen all year."
Goodlove said the return to state – the 13-0 Tigers will play 13-0 Dakota at 1 p.m. Friday – is "just as sweet" as the school's first appearance in 2006.
"Last year, we thought we might have a chance, but after losing seven starters on each side of the ball, this year we've surprised ourselves. It seems the bigger the game, the bigger we play."