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Football: Merrillville cashes in a Crown Point turnover to win sectional title

Merrillville players celebrate with sectional championship trophy after defeating Crown Point Friday Merrillville. | Scott R. Brandush~Sun-Times Media

Merrillville players celebrate with the sectional championship trophy after defeating Crown Point on Friday, in Merrillville. | Scott R. Brandush~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: December 4, 2012 6:14AM



MERRILLVILLE — Merrillville made sure there would be no repeat of last season.

No regular-season win against Crown Point, followed by an upset loss in a sectional final. But it was a serious struggle.

The Pirates held off the Bulldogs 24-14 on Friday night in the Class 5A Sectional 1 championship.

Merrillville (10-2) built a 17-0 halftime lead, then saw Crown Point (8-4) close to 17-14, before Jake Raspopovich put away the game with a 47-yard TD run with 1:33 left.

The Pirates, who topped the Bulldogs 40-12 in Week 3 on Aug. 31, will host Fort Wayne Carroll in next week’s regional.

“It definitely feels good to win a sectional championship,” said Merrillville coach Zac Wells, whose team had beaten Crown Point 21-20 in the 2011 regular season, then lost 42-21 in the sectional final. “I don’t think the taste will ever get out of my mouth from that one. But it definitely feels good to win a sectional championship.”

Raspopovich completed 9-of-17 passes for 200 yards and two first-half touchdowns, both to Aaron Dye, who had four catches for 115 yards — all in the first half.

Crown Point nearly rallied behind an outstanding second-half performance from its defense, and the combination of Zach Plesac and Jake Jatis. Plesac had 10 catches for 152 yards and two touchdowns; Jatis completed 16-of-35 passes for 200 yards and the two scores with two interceptions.

“You had two great football teams,” Crown Point coach Kevin Enright said. “You had kids from both teams battling from start to finish. “I thought our defensive effort totally improved (in the second half). I couldn’t be more proud of those guys. They played with emotion. They played with the confidence and swagger they needed to.”

In addition to the two Raspopovich-to-Dye touchdowns, Merrillville also came up with two fourth-down stops in the first half. Already leading 7-0 on a 30-yard TD pass from Raspopovich to Dye — set up by a 13-yard punt by the Bulldogs that gave the Pirates the ball at the Crown Point 42 — Merrillville held on a goal-line stand.

Crown Point had the ball first-and-goal from the 4, and second-and-goal from the 1, and wound up missing a 23-yard field goal with 10:21 left in the first half. Trailing 17-7, the Bulldogs also missed a 34-yard field goal with 1:48 left in the third.

Merrillville also recovered a fumble at the CP 32 after stuffing the Bulldogs on fourth-and-short from their own 33 with 2:53 left in the half.

The Pirates didn’t scored off that turnover, but they did on the next one. They recovered a fumble at their 49 with 40.7 seconds left in the half, and quickly turned it into a Raspopovich-to-Dye 32-yard strike with 20.0 seconds left, taking a 17-0 cushion into halftime.

But the Bulldogs didn’t fold.

They got on the scoreboard with 8:57 left in the third, taking advantage of a second straight Pirates fumble — on two straight plays — after not capitalizing on the first. On the first play after that second recovery, Jatis — who set a school record for attempts and

completions in a season — hit Plesac for a 10-yard touchdown to make it 17-7.

Crown Point drew to 17-14 with 4:51 left in the game on a 14-yard touchdown pass from Jatis to Plesac, the first play after a 44-yard wide receiver reverse pass from Plesac to Braxton Rice.

But on its next possession, Merrillville converted two third downs, before Raspopovich broke the clinching TD run.

“They made a heck of a run in the second half,” Wells said. “We were lucky to hold on. But we made enough plays, and I’m so proud of our guys.”



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