The sea of blue filling the bottom level of the west side of Lucas Oil Stadium extended to the point where it curled around the two end zones.
The Whiteland football program, in its 59th year, had its first state finalist, and the community wasn’t about to miss it.
Yet despite the best efforts of players, coaches and the thousands of loud and proud diehards making the drive downtown, Whiteland came up short against Valparaiso, 35-31, in Saturday night’s Class 5A championship game.
A community was one in observing one of the most exciting finals games in recent memory, a back-and-forth frenzy that included seven lead changes — the last coming with only 19 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.
“It’s definitely very special to be here,” said Warriors senior quarterback Kevin Denham, who passed for 108 yards and two touchdowns. “We put a lot of work in, and I don’t want to let this game take away from what we’ve done.
“We came up short, but I’m proud of what we’ve done all season.”
Whiteland (12-2) took its final lead of the night with 5:32 left after Denham found classmate Jakarrey Oliver in the left flat for a pass play that covered 13 yards.
The Vikings responded by going 80 yards in 16 plays, all the while devouring precious seconds off the scoreboard clock, before junior quarterback Justin Clark threw the 11-yard game-winner to senior Rocco Micciche, sending Valpo fans into hysterics.
Sophomore back Slate Valentine led the Whiteland ground game with 10 carries for 95 yards and a touchdown; senior Peyton Emberton rushed 10 times for 71 yards, while junior Gunnar Hicks contributed three pass receptions for 95 yards and a score.
Maalik Perkins, another soph, sent the stadium abuzz with his finals-record 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to open the game.
A night to remember for so, so many reasons.
“We could definitely feel it walking into the stadium,” Denham said of the massive contingent of fans supporting the Warriors. “This is the first time this town has ever experienced this, so we know how important it is to them, and especially how important it is to us.”