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The kick is good!: Oleksiuk's field goal in double OT lifts Michigan City over Valpo in 5A regional

MICHIGAN CITY -- On the Michigan City football, he's simply known as just the kicker.

"That's my name around here," Andrew Oleksiuk said. "They don't know my name."

Now they do.

With one sweep of his right leg, the Wolves junior sent his team to the Class 5A semistate, punching through an 18-yard field goal for a 31-28 victory over Valparaiso in the second overtime of Friday's regional at Ames Field.

"I'm feeling great. It's great to win regionals," Oleksiuk said. "Of course it's every kicker's dream to hit the game-winner. I've been waiting for this moment for a while. I was ready to kick it before overtime even came. Deep in my mind, I knew it might come down to me, so I was getting ready. Every week, we're kicking with pressure (in practice), game clock and everything. I was feeling good, feeling confident. I just saw two big yellow posts and I went for them. If it wasn't blocked, it was going in."

With the score tied at 28, Racion Anderson was stuffed at the 1 on third down. Typically, Wolves coach Phil Mason goes for it on fourth down, but this time, he signaled for the kicking team, not wavering even after a Valpo timeout.

"In 2014, we kicked a field goal at Luers," Mason said of a post-season Andrean win on a muddy field in Fort Wayne. "Boz (assistant Mike Bauswell) has worked hard with that kid. (Oleksiuk)'s done a great job. It was the right thing to do."

Valpo opened the door on the first possession of the second OT when it fumbled the ball on first down, a botched exchange on a counter play that Jahari Branch pounced on.

"Every time we would go in motion, they would send guys with us, so we were hoping to catch them, and it was just an inopportune fumble," Vikings coach Bill Marshall said.

It was the easiest recovery of Branch's career, all a result of doing what he was supposed to do.

"I was in that position to because my assignment was to stay there, to stay home, and I was there to pick it up," he said. "We were locked in. We watched so much film from when we played them the last time. Every day. We are so much better. We just weren't letting it happen again."

As the Wolves took the field after the recovery, the home side repeatedly chanted 'Run the ball!,' a friendly suggestion to Mason after Tyler Bush's third interception, ended City's chance to win the game in the last minute of regulation.

"They were probably right," Mason said. "All the credit to the kids and coaches because I really tried to screw it up. It's not that I don't have confidence in our run game. Just for some reason I was worried about being in a grinding match with them, that they might be able to wear us out. I wanted to figure out a way to make a play, but I couldn't. I was forcing our kids into trying to do it and that was the wrong thing to do. I'm angry with myself. I've got to say to myself, got to trust this run game. I overthought it and thank God our kids and coaches did a great job."

In full command up 21-7 in the fourth quarter, City lost a chance at a knockout, committing three penalties on a drive after reaching the Vikings 33. It then was flagged three times for pass interference to fuel a Valpo scoring drive, capped by a Hayden Vinyard plunge. Following a City three-and-out, Lockhart marched Valpo to the tie, catching a 5-yard throwback pass from Thomas Vo. Lockhart scrambled for 25 yards and completed three passes on the march, taking on a larger role in the offense as City slammed the door on Vinyard, a 2,000-rusher who was limited to 41 yards on 16 carries.

"(Defensive coordinator) Roy (Richards) had a great plan," Mason said. "He worked hard at it. The whole staff did. Our offensive guys gave the defense a great look all week. There was a lot of really good preparation."

Lockhart threw 15-of-27 for 168 yards and ran for two scores in addition to the catch.

"Credit to Phil and his crew, (defensive coordinator) Roy (Richards), the masterful job they did defensively to bottle up our run," Marshall said. "We knew we had to get the ball to switch hands. We were running a lot of rub routes. They knew we were going to feed Hayden until they stopped it. We aren't accustomed to dropping back that many times. It's hard when you've got kids 300 and 320 (pounds) sitting in 'A' gap. They stuffed it up with both of them this time. That's where we tried to use a lot of motions."

Like Mishawaka, Valpo focused its defensive efforts on limiting City's big plays on the perimeter, and was largely effective, intercepting Bush three times. The exceptions were a 40-yard strike to a wide-open Trey Simmons in the first quarter to start the scoring and a 25-yarder in the third quarter to Omarion Hatch, who made an ankle breaking move on a Vikings defender to walk in untouched.

"We tried to hold up with six in the box and get five back in coverage and keep the big plays in front of you," Marshall said. "We knew they were going to get first downs, but we couldn't let them throw for 300 yards again. We had to give and take a little bit."

The give part was Anderson, who ran with ferocity, often getting to the second level untouched on his way to a 155-yard night on 28 totes.

"The line was making big holes," Anderson said, his voice almost inaudible. "It was just open every time and the coaches said, keep pounding, keep pounding, so that's what I had to. In overtime, they said, come on, Race, we need you. Words can't even explain. I'm just so happy. We've been talking about this since we were in seventh grade."

Anderson scored from the 11 to break a 7-7 third-quarter tie and from the 9 in the first OT.

"Racion was a man," Mason said.

The win was Mason's first over the Vikings in six meetings, including a 49-28 regular-season loss.

"The difference was we had to come to this game with a dawg mentality," Cornell Branch IV said. "we've never beaten Valpo, this is the regional, we can't lose in front of our home crowd. This is for the city, for coach Mason, coach (Ken) Bye, everybody, to let people know who we are. There's no individual things. It's a family. That's the one word. We brought it. When we've faced adversity, we've preached, we've got to overcome it, don't bump heads with one another, have faith, and that's what we did. It's how bad you want it and we wanted this 'W' bad. It was a must. It's crazy. It's just a great feeling."

Branch, who has played on two high ankle sprains much of the season, notched a pair of dacks.

"Cornel Branch is back," he said. "Jahari, he's a hawk for the ball. He's a great player. Kennon (Tucker), Dip (Robinson), Davion (Anderson) coming from offense, Mikye (Williams) stuffing the middle, Jeremiah (Newson), everybody."

Michigan City will host Zionsville in the semistate.

"I can't even express how proud I am of our kids," Mason said. "Everything they've worked so hard to change, to become great kids in the halls, in class. What a great senior class. It's about these kids. They rallied, came together. It's an amazing group of young guys who have stepped up to fit in where we need them."

Andrew Oleksiuk kicked an 18-yard field goal out of the hold of T'Lijah Robinson to lift Michigan City to a 31-28 double-overtime win over Valparaiso in Friday's 5A Regional at Ames Field. Photo by Jay Anglin

Michigan City players and coaches celebrate Friday's regional win over Valparaiso at Ames Field. Photo by Jay Anglin

Michigan City's Racion Anderson rushed for 155 yards and two touchdowns against Valparaiso in Friday's Class 5A Regional. Photo by Jay Anglin

Valparaiso's Dylan Kwiatkowski is consoled by teammate Jonah Kyle after Friday's 31-28 double overtime loss to Michigan City in the Class 5A regional. Photo by Jay Anglin

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