BROWNSBURG — Brownsburg’s defensive line did everything it had to do. The Bulldogs won their one-on-one matchups and got into the Westfield backfield. They kept the Shamrocks unsteady with a variety of twists and stunts. And when Westfield tried to run the ball, it had nowhere to go.
Four of the Shamrocks’ first six attempts lost yardage. They finished with minus-3 yards on the ground.
“If the only thing they can do is throw the football, then we can coach that up a lot,” Brownsburg coach John Hart said. “You want to make a team one-dimensional.”
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It all came together late in the first half. Brownsburg had just tied the score with its first touchdown, a 5-yard plunge from running back Caleb Marcus. With nothing good happening on the ground, Westfield tried to go through the air on the first play of its subsequent drive.
Defensive back Nickolas Cloyd saw a Shamrock receiver start outside and cut back toward the middle, and through studying film earlier in the week, Cloyd knew it was coming his direction.
Cloyd jumped the route and picked off Cole Ballard’s attempt, setting up the Class 6A top-ranked Bulldogs (6-0) in Westfield territory. They took the lead six plays later and won 31-14.
“You apply the pressure to the offense,” Cloyd said. “(Taking away the run) takes a lot of the pressure off the defense, and it’s more of you play offense even though you’re on defense. You put the pressure on them.”
Westfield (3-3) scored on its first possession when Ballard hit tight end Max Nosler for a 23-yard touchdown and went silent for the rest of the night. Its only other points came in the final minutes off a Kendall Garnett kickoff return. Forced to shoulder much of the load for the Shamrocks, Ballard finished 17-for-29 for 191 yards.
Brownsburg had three sacks, and its defensive line’s biggest plays came in the biggest moments. When it was a one-score game in the second quarter, the Westfield offense stayed on the field on 4th-and-short, only to see running back Ryan Creager stonewalled near the line of scrimmage. When the Shamrocks got the ball back in good field position after an interception late in the first half, Bryce Patterson sacked Ballard on the first play and caused Westfield to let the clock run out.
And eventually, given enough chances, Brownsburg’s ball-control-based, sometimes ruthlessly-efficient offense found its footing. An up-and-down first half gave way to three drives of at least nine plays in the second half, two of which ended in points.
Running backs Caleb Marcus and Ariyan Ballance combined for 185 yards. Quarterback Jayden Whitaker wasn’t quite as sharp as he’s been in other games, completing 14-of-21 attempts for 118 yards, but he helped seal the win with a 19-yard fade to Corey Smith for a touchdown in the third quarter.
“Sustaining the way we play throughout all quarters,” Whitaker said regarding where the Bulldogs can improve. “I know first quarter we started off slow. Third quarter we kind of kicked it on. Been kind of in and out of quarters. We’re kind of in and out of drives of having momentum and not having it, so keeping consistency is key.”
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Whitaker’s strike to Smith was one of the few downfield shots the Bulldogs took. Backed up on third down because of a holding penalty, the quarterback recognized man coverage and knew Smith was one-on-one without a safety over the top.
“I had a feeling it was coming to me,” Smith said.
Whitaker lofted the ball high down the left sideline, allowing Smith to out-leap a cornerback to put Brownsburg ahead by two touchdowns.
It was the second straight game Brownsburg picked up a decisive win despite some clear holes in its game. Last week, it was allowing Fishers to score 28 points and keep the score close for much of the game. Against Westfield, it was the offense’s slow start. The inconsistency didn’t matter either time because of the Bulldogs’ sheer talent and efficiency.
Hart knows he can’t count on that as his still-undefeated team gets deeper into the fall, with bigger conference games looming as it chases a state championship.
“We beat a really good team by a pretty good spread, but we made a lot of mistakes and we got away with it,” he said. “We won’t always get away with those mistakes. Everybody’s gonna make mistakes. Sometimes they’re forced, but we still gotta take care of details and we gotta coach it in practice.”