East Chicago pulls off upset in overtime for first regional title
By Dave Melton Post-Tribune correspondent November 15, 2013 11:34PM
East Chicago Central's Daniel Flores (left) with teamates reacts after kicking an extra point in overtime to defeat New Prarie during the Class 4A football regional held at East Chicago Central High School in East Chicago on Friday November 15, 2013. | Charles Mitchell/for Sun-Times Media
Updated: December 17, 2013 6:13AM
EAST CHICAGO — No matter how many times they had to get back up off of the turf, the East Chicago Central Cardinals did.
And when the final bell sounded in this 12-round heavyweight bout, it was East Chicago standing tall with a 38-37 overtime win over previously unbeaten New Prairie — the first regional championship in program history.
The adversity cranked up for East Chicago (11-2) in the fourth quarter, when Wade Young’s third TD run of the night gave the Cougars a 28-18 lead.
Needing a big play, Juan Sepulveda forced and recovered a fumble on New Prairie’s next possession.
“We didn’t want this to be our last game. We didn’t want to go home. We wanted another week of practice,” said Sepulveda.
After the turnover, Martayveus Carter’s TD run made it a 28-24 score, followed by another missed extra point.
It was that same score when East Chicago took over at its own 26-yard line with 1:54 left.
With a fierce pass rush around him, Carlos Fernandez somehow found Burnett behind the Cougars’ secondary for a 64-yard TD pass to take the lead.
“Our coaches have always told me to keep my head up,” said Fernandez, who threw for 266 yards in the game. “I saw TreQuan’s eyes and knew I had to get him the ball.”
The adversity wasn’t over, either, as New Prairie marched into East Chicago territory in the final minute of regulation. But the Cardinals’ defense stiffened, forcing a game-tying field goal.
In overtime, the Cougars scored first but missed the extra point — their first such miss of the night. It took East Chicago all four downs, but Carter matched the New Prairie touchdown with a 2-yard scoring run. Then, to potentially win the game, Daniel Flores lined up for the extra point after having missed three previous attempts.
But, as his team did all night, Flores bounced back from his previous mishaps and drilled the game-winner to send East Chicago to the semi-state round.
“I don’t even know what to say,” said Flores, before walking away with tear-filled eyes and a wide smile on his face.
Head Coach Stacy Adams, the architect of this program’s turnaround, knew exactly what to say: “This is the type of team we have: a team with a lot of heart. We were down against South Bend, we were down against Morton, we were down against West Side … we just don’t quit.”