Times Staff Reporter
TERRE HAUTE -- After a near-undefeated 2011 season that culminated with an Interstate Football League Championship, the West Central Wildcats didn't have much to prove in their season opener, but you couldn't tell that by watching them Saturday night, as they beat the Indianapolis Tornadoes, 27-16.
The game looked to be a defensive battle early, as both teams traded three-and-outs on their opening series. All that changed in the second quarter.
On the first play of the quarter, West Central had a first-and-goal at Indianapolis' four-yard line. Starting quarterback Cogan Keith hit tight end Derek Thompson for the season's first touchdown. Kicker Logan Valentine tacked on the extra point, and the Wildcats led 7-0.
Keith spent the rest of the game hitting wide receiver Mike Russell for completions, who made one spectacular catch after another.
He eventually was forced to leave the game due to a concussion, but Russell's performance made an impact on West Central's head coach, Mike Rindone.
"Mike Russell was fantastic," Rindone said. "Part of it was being that he's such a natural athlete, that he was able to make those catches like that and give us just a fantastic field position and momentum."
After the Wildcats stole the ball from the Tornadoes on an interception, fullback Butch Auler scored an 8-yard touchdown to increase the lead to 13-0. Valentine missed the extra point after the score.
With just under six minutes remaining in the first half, running back Jamie Bays added another touchdown for West Central. Valentine added the extra point, and it was 20-0 at halftime.
In the second half, the Wildcats couldn't get their offense going again. Indianapolis took advantage as it scored 16 straight points, turning what seemed like an insurmountable lead into one play away from disaster.
West Central then went on a long, clock-killing drive, slowly moving down the field by running the ball nearly every play. Auler finished the drive--and the game--with a four-yard touchdown with two minutes left.
Rindone thought that drive was the turning point of the game.
"Leading up to that [drive], it was 16 unanswered points, and I have to be honest with you, the game was a little bit in question," Rindone said. "Only because of the way we were so flat on offense. And I really didn't understand it because we had completely slapped them in the jaw in the first half . . .
The momentum was really starting to get behind us, and I thought at that time if we just kept with the ground game instead of trying to air it out was the smartest thing to do."
The Terre Haute-based Wildcats host the Jay County Panthers on June 2.