On a beautiful night for football, where the temperature was more conducive to football weather for the first time all season, junior quarterback Gavin Mitchell rallied the Beech Grove Hornets to a come-from-behind 22-19 victory over the Cardinal Ritter Raiders Friday night at Marian University’s St. Vincent Field.
Trailing 19-7 at the end of three quarters, things did not look too promising for the visiting Hornets. For the Beech Grove fans who stayed to watch the remainder of this Indiana Crossroads Conference contest, they were treated to a rousing comeback performance by the hometown team.
Mitchell engineered the first of two Beech Grove touchdowns in the fourth quarter, leading a nine-play, 55-yard drive that culminated in a five-yard touchdown run by junior Ayden Brooks, drawing the Hornets to within five points at 19-14 with 9:05 left in the contest. The key play of the drive was a 19-yard pass from Mitchell to senior wideout Keyonni Johnson on 4th-and-10. Although the Beech Grove signal caller lost a fumble deep in his own territory on the next offensive series, resulting in a 1st-and-goal for the host Raiders, the Hornet defense made a tremendous stand by limiting the hosts to five yards on the ensuing drive, leading up to a blocked 21-yard field goal attempt by Cardinal Ritter kicker Ben Valle.
With 5:49 remaining in the game, Beech Grove’s offensive unit went to work. After a holding penalty put the ball at the Hornet 10-yard line, Mitchell, who led Beech Grove with 143 yards on 29 carries, scrambled for 15 yards. Then another holding infraction by the visitors put the ball on the Beech Grove 19. Once again Mitchell had another huge pickup, this time for 12 yards and a Hornet first down. On the next play, the junior hooked up with senior Donovan Bailey on a 45-yard aerial, setting up another Beech Grove first down at the Raider 24-yard line. Four plays later, on 4th-and-16, Mitchell, who completed 12-of-24 passes for 209 yards, moved to his left, then rolled to his right before finding sophomore Damon Thompkins for a 25-yard completion, making it 1st-and-goal to go at the Cardinal Ritter 5. Brooks, who had 76 yards on 17 carries, carried the pigskin for three yards before Mitchell found paydirt one play later from the Raider 2, giving Beech Grove (3-4, 2-4 in the ICC) a 20-19 lead with 2:12 to play in the game. Going for two on the extra point attempt, Mitchell then scampered into the end zone to extend the Hornet lead to 22-19.
However, the Raiders (3-4, 2-3 in the ICC) put themselves in position to win the game. Sophomore Austin Sultzer, who ran back a blocked 30-yard field goal attempt by Angel Fonseca 78 yards for a score with 17.0 seconds to go in the first half, returned Fonseca’s kickoff 33 yards to the Beech Grove 44-yard line. Senior quarterback Jack Henninger, who scored touchdowns on runs of four and eight yards in the contest, found wide receiver Aiden Robinson for 17 yards, putting the ball at the Hornet 27. Following an incompletion by the Raider signal caller, defensive back Donovan Bailey picked off Henninger’s next throw in the end zone, sealing the Raiders’ fate with 1:19 to play. Mitchell then ran out the remaining time with three kneeldowns.
Thompkins scored on a two-yard touchdown run to put Beech Grove up 7-0 with 4:45 remaining in the first quarter before Cardinal Ritter reeled off 19 unanswered points. Junior defensive back Garrett Esposito also had an interception for the Hornets, thwarting a Raider drive.
The win was the third straight for the Hornets this season and marked the first time ever that they’ve beaten Cardinal Ritter in back-to-back games (the Raiders still lead the all-time series 13-3). It also came at a heavy price as Beech Grove lost two key players to what appeared to be season-ending injuries (Shaun Small, leg and Max Comado, knee).
“I’m proud of the way the kids fought,” stated Beech Grove head coach Mark Weller, whose Hornets picked up 25 first downs to Cardinal Ritter’s six. “We really (need) to clean up mental mistakes (Beech Grove was penalized 10 times for 90 yards). We really dug ourselves in a hole early (down 19-7 in the fourth quarter) but I’m really proud of the kids for the way they fought and came back in the end.” Coach Weller, a 1986 graduate of Cardinal Ritter, played in the very first game between the two schools in 1985 in a sectional semifinal, won by the Raiders 14-7 at Beech Grove.
Although the student body is on fall break, there is none for the football team as it heads into the homestretch of the regular season. Beech Grove will host the final two games of the 2019 campaign, facing Triton Central next Friday night at 7 p.m. in the Indiana Crossroads Conference finale for the Hornets at TCU Veterans Stadium before closing out with East Central from the Eastern Indiana Athletic Conference.