by Lewis Bagley, Special to IHSAA.org
When a team, a school and its community has waited nearly 50 years for a state championship, what’s the big deal about coming out of the huddle 95 yards from a winning score with just over five minutes remaining?
That’s what faced Valparaiso in the Class 5A state championship game Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium, which led to a heart-pounding finish.
Last IHSAA state champions in 1975, the Vikings drove 80 yards in 16 plays — capped by a gutty effort from senior Rocco Micciche, whose 11-yard touchdown reception from quarterback Justin Clark with only :15 left gave Valpo a 35-31 win over Whiteland.
In a game of unbelievable ebbs and flows, marred by a combined 21 penalties flagged against the two teams, the Vikings were the last team standing thanks to Micciche’s heroics.
“This team’s mantra was ‘against all odds,’” Valpo coach Bill Marshall said, “and they embraced that mentality up until the last play.”
Whiteland’s Maalik Perkins returned the opening kickoff 98 yards (a state finals record in any class) for a touchdown and, later in the quarter, David Mathis booted a 36-yard field goal to give the Warriors (12-2) a 10-0 lead.
“We said we were going to attack,” Whiteland coach Darrin Fisher said. “We played that way all tournament. We wanted to start fast and we thought we had the momentum.”
The teams then combined for 35 points in the second quarter, leaving Whiteland up, 24-21, at halftime, before the game bogged down until the final minutes.
The Vikings (11-3) recorded the only points in the third quarter, a 1-yard plunge by Clark for a 28-24 lead heading into the final quarter.
The drama picked up with just less than nine minutes left as Whiteland quarterback Kevin Denham directed a six-play, 72-yard drive which climaxed on a 13-yard TD pass to Jakarrey Oliver with 5:32 left.
The ensuing kickoff resulted in a touchback before Valpo incurred a holding penalty, then a 4-yard loss on first down, leaving the Vikings with a second-and-25 at their own 5 with four minutes left.
A down later, the Vikings faced a third-and-18 at their 12 and Clark found Ian Wilson near the Whiteland sideline for a 22-yard gain and a first down at the 34.
Three third-down conversions later (the Vikings converted nine third-downs in the game), Valparaiso had first down at the Whiteland 16. After a 5-yard completion, Clark found Micciche open in the left flat.
“I saw two guys coming at me and I had to cut back up and nearly slipped down,” Micciche said. “I kept going and I knew I had crossed the goal line. It was the first play all game I actually did something.”
“We ran the same play twice before that,” Clark said. “I tried to look right for a hitch, but they had it covered. On that play, I looked to the left and it was just a huge play by Rocco.”
Only :15 remained and Whiteland’s two desperation passes fell incomplete.
Travis Davis led the Valpo offense, rushing for 193 yards on 36 carries, while Clark accounting for all five Viking touchdowns – three rushing, two passing.
The teams combined for 772 yards in offense – 442 by the Vikings.
All told, the lead changed hands on each of the final seven scores (all touchdowns) in the game.
“We knew coming in, this would be like two lions fighting in a cage,” Fisher said. “Give Valparaiso credit, they made one more play than we did.”
“This was 47 years in the making,” Marshall said. “We won ugly this year, we won big and when it came right down to it, these kids did everything they had to do to be successful.”
Class 5A Records
Most Penalties (Tied): 11 by Whiteland vs. Valparaiso, 2022.
Most Kickoff Return Yards: 199 by Whiteland vs. Valparaiso, 2022.
Longest Kickoff Return (Overall): 98 yards by Maalik Perkins, Whiteland vs. Valparaiso, 2022.
Valparaiso High School’s Connor McCall earns the Phil N. Eskew Mental Attitude Award
During the awards ceremony, Connor McCall of Valparaiso High School was announced by the IHSAA Executive Committee as the recipient of the Phil N. Eskew Mental Attitude Award in Class 5A Football.
The award is annually presented to a senior who is nominated by his principal and coach, and has demonstrated excellence in mental attitude, scholarship, leadership, and athletic ability during his four years of high school.
Academically, McCall maintains a 4.4 GPA, is Vice President of the National Honor Society and is a member of the school’s Student Athletic Advisory Committee.
Along with football, McCall also participates in basketball and unified track and field for the Vikings. Connor is a football team captain, is an Indianapolis Colts Man of the Year nominee and has been named an Indiana Rising Star.
He is the son of Jim and Leslie McCall of Valparaiso, IN and is undecided with his college plans.
The award is named in honor of Commissioner Phil N. Eskew, who served as the IHSAA’s third commissioner from 1962-76. Under his leadership, the IHSAA football state tournament was initiated in 1973.
The Indianapolis Colts, a corporate partner of the IHSAA, presented a $1,000 scholarship to Valparaiso High School’s general scholarship fund in the name of Connor McCall.