The Churubusco coaching staff possessed a sound game plan and the Eagles players played with tremendous effort and strength. However, what 'Busco didn't have was Jaylon Smith, and the Notre Dame football recruit made the difference in the Knights' 21-0 victory in the IHSAA Class 2A Sectional 27 championship game Friday at Luersfield.
The win gave Bishop Luers (8-4) its fourth consecutive sectional title, and the Knights will now travel to Tipton (11-1) at 7 p.m. Friday.
“It was a wonderful experience to get to compete against those Churubusco guys,” Smith said. “They brought their home crowd and it was a great game.”
The 21-point margin doesn’t truly show how close this game was. Nearly five minutes into the final quarter it was just a 7-0 Luers advantage.
“We did have opportunities,” Eagles coach Lee Etzler said. “And we could've had a different result in the game.”
Churubusco (10-2) did a fairly good job of containing not just Smith but the other Luers speedsters as well for most of the night. But there were glimpses – a long Smith run here and a Michael Rogers catch there – where the fans had an inkling that eventually the Knights might be able to stretch this one out comfortably.
Late in the first quarter, Smith broke through the Churubusco defense and scampered for a 47-yard score, which was called back because of a Knight penalty. But you had a sense that he could perform that same play whenever he chose. And he did.
Just minutes into the second quarter, Smith streaked past the Eagles defenders and essentially went untouched for a 59-yard run to give his team all the points that it would need.
“There is a lot of talent that (Luers) is handing the ball off to,” Etzler said.
But the 'Busco defense continued to stymie the Luers offense, as did the Knights themselves with penalties and errant passes. And pretty soon the fourth quarter arrived and the outcome was still in doubt.
So Mr. Smith went to work.
After a Luers fumble, which gave the Eagles the ball at the Knights 23-yard line, momentum seemingly had shifted toward 'Busco. However, Smith broke off a block and stuck Eagles runner Cory Miller for a large loss of yardage, and 'Busco was forced to pass on a fourth-and-22.
When Eagles quarterback Jay Petrie dropped back to pass, Smith got to the quarterback nearly as quickly as Petrie could take his drop, and Smith leveled him.
“There comes a point where you have to step up for your team,” Smith said. “As a leader, you've got a lot of guys that look up to you.”
Smith's contribution wasn't just on defense. On the ensuing offensive series, he gained big yards after big yards and ultimately scored from 5 yards out with just over seven minutes remaining to put his team up 14-0.
Etzler felt that his team, though its effort was valiant, simply was worn down.
“(Luers) put in offensive tackles in place of tight ends, so they are playing with seven pretty big offensive linemen,” Etzler explained. “Our kids are playing a full game. A lot of them are playing on both sides of the ball, so maybe we wore down a little bit.”
The frustration Etzler was experiencing stemmed from seeing kids he loved coaching have a dream die, but also because the Eagles coaches, players and fans felt that they possibly had let one slip away. Twice.
The Eagles drove inside the Knights 25-yard line twice and turned it over on a fumble once and an interception a second time.
“Luers is very talented,” Etzler said. “It's been very difficult for teams to move the ball on them all year. We moved the ball at times, but we did not capitalize on our offensive possessions.”
The victory was the 21st consecutive postseason win for the Luers program.