Whiteland football reaches first state title game


Whiteland exerted a conscious effort to run the football downhill against Castle.

The by-product was the Warriors booking their first trip to Lucas Oil Stadium as they claimed the school’s inaugural semistate championship with a 21-7 road win over the Knights on Friday night.

Whiteland (12-1) will play Valparaiso next Saturday in the Class 5A state title game.

The second-ranked Warriors established their running attack by getting a push in the trenches early and consistently. They gained 200 yards rushing in the first half while picking up just 9 yards in the air.

Senior backs Jonathan Crowley and Peyton Emberton combined for 121 of those first-half yards on 19 carries.

The Warriors tallied the initial score on a 16-yard gain by sophomore Slate Valentine as he burst through a gap and sprinted up the gut for his first of two touchdowns.

The Warriors didn’t put the ball in the air on the opening drive.

The Knights (8-5) countered by advancing to the Whiteland 13 following a false start. The Warriors’ defensive line got pressure up front, which coupled with penalties drove the Knights back nearly 20 yards.

Castle got back to the 13 on fourth down but turned it over on downs with 2:20 left in the opening quarter.

The Warriors stuck to their ground-and-pound attack, and their second possession was made whole after back-to-back quarterback sneaks by Kevin Denham. The senior was shoved across the plane by his offensive line in close to make it 14-0 with 54.5 seconds left in the first period.

The Knights managed to respond swiftly.

They again had solid field position near the middle of the field, and senior quarterback Brayden Bishop put Castle on the board with a 29-yard pass to senior wideout Weston Aigner at the front of the end zone with 11:24 left in the half.

The Warriors drove to the red zone with a chance to go ahead by two scores for a second time, late in the second frame. Facing fourth and 9 after a penalty, Denham rolled to his right and the lefty proceeded to fling the ball to the sideline for junior wideout Gunnar Hicks to move the sticks after he picked up a couple yards after the catch with 5:15 left — Denham’s lone completion of the half.

With the ball on the 6, the quarterback rolled to his right for his second toss and just missed a wide-open senior tight end Cameron Cooper in the back of the end zone. That led to a blocked field goal by Castle.

In the closing half, the Warriors went back to their ground game. They did most of their damage with short, aggressive pickups, but got another 16-yard gain before going ahead by 14 on a 6-yard rush by Valentine with 1:13 left in the third.

Whiteland has yet to face much resistance this postseason. Before Friday night, its closest game was 24-0 win at Franklin in the sectional championship game.

The Warriors came into this matchup allowing 13.6 points a game this season, and they haven’t allowed more than 14 points since September.