By GREG KEIM
THE GOSHEN NEWS
FORT WAYNE —
It wasn’t a win one for the Gipper speech, but Concord senior DuWhan Alford gave his Minutemen teammates an emotional talk at halftime of their Class 4A high school football regional championship game against the Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger Saints Friday night at Zollner Stadium.
Concord trailed 21-14 at intermission before outplaying the Saints in the second half on the way to a 35-21 victory.
“I begged the guys to let me keep my jersey for another week,” Alford said. “I went around to all of the younger players and told them I would never get to put this jersey on again if we didn’t turn things around in the second half.”
Concord (11-2) will host the Mishawaka Cavemen next Friday in the northern semistate.
“It’s pretty amazing we have two hometown teams going for a chance to play in the state championship,” Alford said.
The Saints had 13 first downs in the opening half, but none in the second.
“We really didn’t make any defensive changes at halftime,” Concord coach Tim Dawson said. “We challenged them at halftime to go out and set the tone.”
“This is why you play 48 minutes and why you have to keep making plays.
Dwenger won the coin toss before the game and deferred to the second half. The Saints got the ball and Concord’s “Strike Force” defense forced a three-and-out.
Following a Dwenger punt, the Minutemen took over at the C-17. Alford rambled for 16 yards on the first play and eight plays later junior quarterback Trevor Wilmore scored on a 1-yard run. The PAT kick failed so the Minutemen still trailed 21-20.
The score stayed that way until Wilmore scored on a 28-yard run at 11:25 of the fourth to give the Minutemen the lead for good.
“Once we got the momentum in the second half we kept it,” Dawson said.
Alford added an insurance TD with a 4-yard run with 3:31 left to play.
“We knew we had to throw the ball some to keep Dwenger honest, but Wilmore and Alford made some huge plays,” Dawson said. “Running the ball was the big key. We challenged the linemen because we didn’t think they were getting after it enough up front. We got into what we call our ‘bunch’ formation and Dwenger had some trouble stopping it.”
Wilmore had a huge game for the Minutemen, rushing for 167 yards on 21 carries and scoring three TDs.
Alford added 133 yards on 22 carries and two scores. Alford had problems with cramps in the second half and junior Jackson Marlow filled in with 27 yards on six rushes.
“I’m so proud of the way Jackson came in when Alford was cramping,” Dawson said.
“I keep my knee braces really tight,” Alford said.
Wilmore completed 8-of-15 passes for 110 yards. Senior Franko House caught three passes for 57 yards, junior Adam Glanders four for 40 and senior Dakota Simon one for 13.
House had a huge catch of 37 yards that moved the ball down to the D-30 on Concord’s opening drive in the third period.
“That was a big play,” Dawson said.
The “Strike Force” defense forced two turnovers as junior Michael McQueen recovered a fumble in the second quarter and sophomore Kevin Moreno intercepted a pass on Dwenger’s final drive.
“What a job by the defense to keep Dwenger out of the end zone at the end,” Dawson said.
The second-half comeback reminded Dawson of another Concord win over Dwenger in 2006.
“We were down 13-0 before scoring late in the first half and going on to a 48-21 win,” Dawson said.
“This might be the best second half we’ve played since then.”
Dawson is a graduate of Mishawaka and his team scrimmaged the Cavemen to begin the season.
“The coaches get together before the scrimmage and talk about how to defend things,” Dawson said.
“I don’t think Bart Curtis (Mishawaka coach) is going to want to do that this time.”