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Bountiful Vinyard: Valpo 'back-up' sets team rushing record in sectional final win

La PORTE -- Tommy Who?

As Valparaiso celebrated its hard-earned 35-21 Class 5A Sectional 9 championship victory over inspired La Porte on Friday at Kiwanis Field, a Vikings assistant coach gave his homage to junior running back Hayden Vinyard with those two playful words.

"That is a very good compliment," Vinyard said of being compared to Tommy Burbee. "We have a pretty similar running style."

With Burbee sidelined by an abdominal area injury sustained a week earlier against Michigan City, Vinyard assumed his teammate's backfield workhouse role and tirelessly performed in record-setting fashion, rushing 43 times for 337 yards and three touchdowns.

"Earlier in the week, they said maybe not 'til Wednesday practice, then maybe Thursday, then they said (Burbee) wasn't playing, so I knew I had to step up," he said. "Whenever they need me, I'll be there to go in. It was huge. I'll basically do anything for this team, playing defense, like back-to-back drives. I don't care. It doesn't matter to me honestly."

Showing burst, power and elusiveness, Vinyard broke Burbee's single-game record of 305 yards set this season against Chesterton.

Any worries about your job there, 2-7?

"A little bit," Burbee said, smiling. "I'm not gonna lie. Hopefully, I'm playing next week. I'm gonna go yell at him. I'm glad he had a good night."

Valpo coach Bill Marshall said Burbee should be OK to play in the regional against Mishawaka, but Vinyard, whose carries were down from 114 last season to 40 this season coming into the game, earned himself at least a few more totes.

"He was phenomenal," Marshall said. "We'll be excited to have that tandem back together. Kudos to Hayden. What an outstanding young man. Tommy helped him out. He talked with him all week. We knew early on the stalls were going to happen, but later on we were going to be able to punch some. Teams know we're going to run the ball, sometimes to a fault. It was just a matter of conditioning for us, just stick with it and have faith in the game plan."

La Porte (4-7) took Valpo to the fourth quarter tied at 21, but just 14 seconds into the final period, Burbee capped off a six-play, 67-yard drive on which he had 56 yards with an 11-yard score. The Slicers crossed midfield on the ensuing drive when they dipped back into their bag of tricks with a Jayden Parkes halfback pass to tight end Grant Ott-Large that went for a 42-yard touchdown on the hosts' opening snap of the game. This time, with Vinyard in the secondary, the coverage was there and he came down with a one-handed, over-the-shoulder interception that he raced back to the La Porte 39.

"It might've been a little bit of luck there," Vinyard said of the catch. "I knew they had something up their sleeves. I just stayed deep. He came up to block and I knew he wasn't blocking."

After one Logan Lockhart run, Vinyard ran the ball eight plays in a row, eventually scoring from the 5 for a decisive blow with 6:41 left.

"I would not want to run behind any other line. I give all my credit to them," Vinyard said. "They're insane, every single play."

The Herculean offensive effort stood on its own merit, but the extensive action Vinyard saw on defense, often matching up with the 6-fot-4, 230-pound Ott-Large, left Marshall effusive with praise.

"For Hayden to do it on both sides of the football is just unbelievable," Marshall said. "It shows the kind of work ethic he has and the type of kid he is. There were times we had to be selective, times when we said we're not going to use him on offense. Every time he came off the field, on offense or defense, I did a wellness check, just to see how he was doing. I had a trainer in my ear as well."

Valpo (8-0) just about needed every bit of Vinyard to turn back the Slicers. La Porte scored on its opening two possessions, the first coming immediately after a Chase Lewis interception. Lockhart's sneak capped a Vinyard-heavy, 76-yard drive to even the game at 7, but LP went 80 in response, Jeramiah Ruiz scooting in from the 4 following a 35-yard Collin Bergqiust cutback run. In response, Vinyard broke off a 44-yarder and his plunge knotted the score at 14, which stood at the half.

"We all basically keep our heads up the whole game never a moment where we looked down," Vinyard said. "Whatever the scoreboard said, it doesn't reflect what our attitudes are."

Valpo jumped on top in the third when Lockhart scrambled on a third-and-9 from the Slicers 38 and threw back across his body to find 6-foot-5, 255-pound Cooper Jones, who made the catch and dragged defenders with him to the goal line.

"They're hard to stop," La Porte coach Jeremy Lowery said. "They've got a lot of experience. They're battle tested. We could've done what we did and a lot of teams would've went away. They're not going to go away."

The third tie of the night came at 21 when Bergquist, lined up in the Wildcat on fourth-and-1 at the 13, faked to Jamaal Salary and lofted a pass to Ott-Large (seven catches, 102 yards) in the end zone, where he hauled it down in traffic.

La Porte's Grant Ott-Large leaps for a catch between Colin

Kwiatkowski, left, and Joel Fussell in Friday's game at Kiwanis

Field. (Photo by Jay Anglin)

"It's a compliment to coach Lowery and his staff," Marshall said. "I told every single one of their staff members that was a phenomenal game plan. Their kids almost did it flawlessly. It was responsibility football out here."

La Porte had a fake punt pass fall incomplete midway through the fourth, but got the ball back on a Vinyard fumble, his only blemish of the night. The Slicers reached the Valpo 8, only to be stopped on downs to extinguish their last glimmer of hope with a couple minutes left.

"When we get our kids battling like that, by God, we're not going to go home with any bullets in the gun. We're gonna shoot 'em all," Lowery said. "I think we gave them everything they wanted. It's tough. Those ends, they bring little brother (Mason Jones) in and move big brother (Cooper) inside. You've got to keep them off balance, but you try so hard to do that, you take yourself out of the flow. We had to pick our moments. We got punch drunk a couple times, but we snapped out of it and were able to put it back together. We went toe to toe with a really fine, well-coached football team and came up a little short. You can never get satisfied with moral victories but yet I love how our kids battled."

RJ Anglin threw for 107 of La Porte's 162 passing yards. Bergquist also rushed for 98 yards and Ruiz put up 80 total yards.

Lockhart threw for 91 yards, 60 of those to Jones on two catches.

"Every other ball (after the interception) was pretty much perfectly placed and we had some unfortunate drops," Marshall said. "(Lockhart)'s doing exactly what we need him to do. We just need the wide receivers and quarterback to mesh."

After blasting its way through the regional last season, Valpo's now had to withstand major tests from Michigan City and La Porte.

"A lot of people will say we're the ones who are picked to win, but everybody's getting better in the Region," Marshall said. "When you have a target on your back like we do the last few seasons, it's everybody's Super Bowl. The kids realize everybody's out to get them and they rise to the challenge, especially now in playoff time. Not enough can be said about this senior class. Looking back, they've battled everything. They went through a coaching change, a coaching change (again), then they lost their first two games as sophomores. They have been beating the odds ever since."

Valpo downed La Porte 35-21 on Friday to win the Class 5A Sectional 9 title at Kiwanis Field.

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