By CJ PETERS
For JP On Preps
LOWELL — Amidst a chaotic final minute of the first half, New Prairie found itself down by seven points as Lowell managed to get a play off for a go-ahead touchdown as time expired.
“It’s normal for a kid to hang his head, especially with the way that half finished and the struggles we were having on offense,” New Prairie coach Casey McKim said.
Not the Cougars.
Whether it was highlight-reel plays from sophomore quarterback Marshall Kmiecik or the defense tightening the screws, New Prairie strung 21 unanswered points in the second, upending Lowell 28-14 in a Class 4A Regional at The Inferno.
It's the program's first title since 2014 and its third overall.
“Our kids responded,” McKim said. “Our kids believed. They came in with a plan in the second half and executed at a really high level. What it came down to, and really what the message was, was to keep fighting and our kids fought.
“When you have that success we were having, then that just feeds your hunger to keep fighting even more. It didn’t matter what situation we were gonna be in, we were gonna keep fighting.”
A week after running for a career-high 140 yards, Kmiecik toted the rock 29 times for 185 yards and completed both of his passes for 68 yards and a TD. His 16-yard rush opened the scoring in the first and his 68-yarder in the fourth put New Prairie (11-2) up two scores.
Sophomore Brock Sinka took on a big role, adding 57 yards on 19 carries and a TD – a 10-yarder to tie the game on the opening drive of the second half.
McKim called Kmiecik an ‘ultimate competitor’ as he went on to point out the list of strong Cougars performances.
“Big-time players make big-time plays in big-time games, and we have guys who did that, and that’s what it comes down to,” McKim said. “Whether it’s Marshall, or Ben (Fronk) or Hunter (Whitenack) with a great block that allowed Marshall to reverse field, or the defense flying around, we have a lot of guys who can make plays. You don’t win big games without having really good players and we have a bunch of really good players.”
The long TD run saw Kmiecik cover a whole lot of real estate before finding the end zone with a juke and key blocks from receiver Hayden Clark and the 6-foot-8 Whitenack.
“I was looking for J-Nasty (Hayden Clark) on the other side and he was open late, but I couldn’t make the throw,” Kmiecik said. “I rolled back opposite and Hunter set the edge. A guy was coming at me and I made him miss and then Hayden came across the whole field and made a block at the end that allowed me to get in there.”
Following a turnover on downs that saw the Red Devils stuffed on fourth and less than a yard, the Cougars put another scoring drive together behind Kmiecik’s only two passes of the night. On third and 12, Fronk toe-tapped along the sideline for 15 and a few plays later on another third down, he evaded a Lowell defender along the sideline and raced in for a 53-yard TD.
“I kind of just ran straight down the field and Marshall threw it up and the guy slipped and then I knew I lost him,” Fronk said. “I’ve seen growth every week from Marshall and he’s been a great leader with how young he is. He’s been a great football player, too, and I’m proud to have him as my quarterback.”
Joey Heuer had 22 carries for 176 yards for Lowell (9-4), with more than 150 of them coming in the first half. Red Devils QB Riley Bank was held without a completion on eight attempts.
“It was mostly our mentality,” Fronk said of the second half defensive performance. “I’m so proud of our team fighting through that adversity and pouring their hearts out into this game. We were just fighting.
“We made our adjustments that we needed to strategically, but most of it was mental. We knew we had to stop the edge because they were getting it on us every time, so we moved some people around to set it and we were able to stop them like that.”
Jacob Mrozinski led the team in tackles with nine, including one for a loss. Jacob Meyers and Ortman each had six tackles, with the latter adding a sack. Hunter Groves had a fumble recovery in the fourth that led to Kmiecik’s clinching TD run.
“He’s an unbelievable runner,” McKim said of Heuer. “Our defensive coaches made great adjustments. We were making sure we were filling our gaps the right way and that we’re scraping where we needed to be and that when we get there, we run our feet through and make the tackle.
“If we’re doing those things and you finish plays, that’s a big thing.”
Lowell coach Keith Kilmer felt the difference came down to the bodies up front.
“You talk about championship games…,” Kilmer said. “They were just better up front than us. We couldn’t find a way to make a play on their line of scrimmage, on either side of the ball.
“It comes down to one or two plays in championship ball games. They made them, we didn't. They’re moving on, we’re not.”
It’ll be the first semistate appearance for New Prairie and Northridge since 2014, when the Cougars upended the Raiders 24-10 to punch their ticket to Indianapolis.
McKim said the team would enjoy the victory Friday night, and maybe even the film Saturday, but then ‘it’s back to work.’
“We just gotta focus on that next game, that’s it,” Fronk said. “We can’t worry about anything else. We have one game on Friday, that’s all we gotta worry about.”
New Prairie defeated Lowell 28-14 to win Friday's Class 4A regional at The Inferno. The Cougars overcame a 14-7 deficit with three second-half touchdowns. Photo Provided