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Burbee breaks out late: Fourth-quarter TD secures Valpo's hard-earned win over City

VALPARAISO -- "Tommy Burbee, up the middle."

Valparaiso public address announcer Mark Knauff could have saved himself some vocal cord strain by having a recording of the phrase for Friday's Class 5A Sectional 9 semifinal with Michigan City.

While the Vikings was largely simple and methodical most of the game, there was a point to slamming it into the line of scrimmage for a yard or two.

"We kept pounding it, and I know that's to the dissatisfaction of some of our fans," Valpo coach Bill Marshall said. "But you come back with the counter action and eventually that's going to open up the outside."

Sure enough, it did. Burbee, who hadn't gained more than 10 yards on any of his first 20 totes, broke loose for an untouched 69-yard touchdown run, jab stepping right and going back left on a Wildcat run. It turned out to be the decisive score in a 21-14 win over the Wolves.

"Me and the line, if we just keep pushing, keep pounding, getting a consistent two, three yards, they bound to give up at least one play like that," Burbee said. "With their defense, they have the 'Wolf' in the middle, so if you kind of take it one way a little bit, he comes across and there's a little gap. They had me pinched in the backfield, but once I got across the line, it opened up. (Hayden) Vinyard and (Alex) Rodriguez sealed the deal."

The score didn't quite seal the deal for the Vikings (6-0), though it turned out to be a pivotal score as the Wolves (4-3) pulled within seven on a Buster Flemings plunge with 1:28 left after 50-yard Gio Laurent connection with Kaydarious Jones.

"We needed to keep 11 guys in front of us and with the exception of that play, we did," Marshall said. "With our length, our size, up front, Mason (Cooper)'s (reach is) eight feet, Cooper (Jones)'s is eight feet, Dylan (Dingman)'s scraping seven-and-a-half, you make them think they're throwing out of a well. They tried to get (Laurent) out of the pocket, so we had to work to keep him in there. When he had to double pump, we were able to get in there and get some sacks."

Brett Otterbacher easily recovered City's onside kick and Valpo ran out the clock to close out the victory.

"Before the game, the emphasis was to come out pounding right away because last year, when we'd get points, they'd fall apart," Burbee said. "They put up a good fight."

Valpo was nursing a 10-7 lead in the fourth quarter when Cooper Jones' blocked punt set up Liam Shepherd's second field goal, a 22-yarder, with 8:25 left. With regular punter T'Lijah Robinson out with cramps, City had to sub in Flemings for the kick, and the shuffling of personnel left the Wolves without their double team on Jones, who took advantage of the one-on-one to smother the boot.

"They looked a little discombobulated, spread out," Jones said. "I saw the opportunity present itself to make a big play. I always try to rush, to get in their face, to make them think about it, so it was nice to get one."

Shepherd's 28-yarder at 5:24 of the first quarter opened the scoring after a 31-yard Logan Lockhart keeper. City went ahead 7-3 on a perfect 17-yard Laurent strike to Omarion Hatch in the corner of the end zone at 6:02 of the half. Though it had some decent success moving the ball, the Wolves wouldn't get close to the end zone again until the late score.

"Credit (Valpo defensive coordinator) Sam (Bernardi). He got vanilla," Wolves coach Phil Mason said. "He was hoping to sit in that 4-4, their base defense, and they didn't let all our movement get to them. We thought if we could get them into a 4-3, we could move the ball a little bit. We ran the ball well. (Jones and Dingman) are just really good players."

Lockhart completed just four of 11 passes for 60, but one of them, a 21-yard dump-off to Burbee on a third-and-17 at the MC 39, kept the first TD drive alive. Valpo, which started in plus territory at the City 32 following a Nolan Johnston interception, took the lead for good on Burbee's fourth-and-2 blast from the 10 at 1:22 of the half.

"We saw some things in the middle we thought we could capitalize on, but they were stout," Marshall said. "They had some big bodies and they were getting a low center of gravity. We were able to do just enough to keep moving and the defense and special teams did a great job getting us into short field position."

Laurent threw for 166 yards on 13 of 26 passing with two interceptions, those by Dylan Kwiatkowski, seeing his most meaningful varsity action, and Johnson.

"We knew they were going to go three-step and try to make a quick throw, so we had to come off hard and get our hands up so maybe he'd make a bad throw," Jones said. "Our secondary was great. It's tough covering those short throws all the time. Mason (McMullen) came in (at linebacker) with (Nathan) Craft out, Dylan came in and did awesome, they were flying around, making plays."

Burbee finished with 122 yards.

"The guys who were voted on by their peers as the MVP, the most valuable offensive performer, we asked them to turn it up a notch," Marshall said. "We have 18 seniors, and we make the point every day how it's important for them and just as important for the JV player to not go do something on point because then something can come back on us. It's one team united with the same goal, the same aspirations in mind."

Valpo will face La Porte (4-6) in a rematch of last year's sectional final.

"We have some things to clean up and that's what we challenged them on," Marshall said. "That's how you get better at this stage of the game. The margin is going to get smaller as we go on, so we've got to stop shooting ourselves in the foot."

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