By John Regruth
For The Tribune
Go for two or kick the extra point?
That question faced Brownstown Central’s football team throughout its thrilling but ultimately heart-breaking 41-40 loss to Lawrenceburg in Friday night’s Class 3A semistate championship game.
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After surviving Lawrenceburg’s withering first-half offensive attack and overcoming a persistent deficit on the scoreboard, that question took on an all-or-nothing urgency when Brownstown scored a touchdown with 1:23 left in the game to pull to within a point of the Tigers.
Brownstown head coach Reed May chose to go for two points and the win — a winner-take-all gamble that didn’t pay off for the Braves when Gavin Bane, whose superlative night included five touchdowns and an earlier successful two-point conversion, was stopped short of the goal line.
After an unsuccessful onside kick by the Braves, Lawrenceburg ran out the clock and secured its first trip to the state championship since 1985.
“It’s what we do,” May said of his decision to go for that last two-point conversion. “We’ve done it all year. Unfortunately, it didn’t work. That play will haunt me. We were two points away from going to state.”
The Braves (12-2) scored the same number of touchdowns — six — as Lawrenceburg during Friday’s contest, but succeeded on just two of six two-point conversion attempts.
Lawrenceburg, meanwhile, kicked five extra points and failed on one two-point conversion attempt. The Tigers’ 5-4 advantage on extra points proved to be the difference.
Friday’s defeat dropped Brownstown to 0-3 in semistate games and denied the Braves their first-ever trip to the state championship. In Saturday’s state title game, Lawrenceburg (13-1) will take on Fort Wayne Concordia, a 56-42 winner against Garrett in the other Class 3A semistate.
Brownstown entered Friday’s game with a hot defense, having allowing a combined 31 points in its first four tournament games.
After the Braves stopped Lawrenceburg on its first drive, however, the Tigers scored touchdowns on five consecutive possessions and finished the first half with 34 points.
Facing a seemingly insurmountable tide of Lawrenceburg momentum and a 14-point halftime deficit, Brownstown’s defense found traction in the second half.
“We changed some things at halftime, but basically we just had to regroup and play better,” May said. “Lawrenceburg has a great team. To come back and almost win, I’m proud of our kids.”
Lawrenceburg’s star running back, Austin Bowling, was limited to 60 yards and no TDs after halftime. The 6-foot, 220-pound senior ran all over the Braves in the first half, racking up 146 yards and three touchdowns.
Brownstown, meanwhile, put its second-half offense on the shoulders of Bane, a senior, and junior Gus Hogan.
Bane ran for 100 yards and three touchdowns in the second half. Hogan, after a quiet first half, ran for 66 crucial yards and five timely, drive-extending first downs during the final two quarters.
“They were keying on Bane, so we started running Hogan,” May said. “(Hogan) did a great job for us. He showed us some things tonight.”
A 42-yard Bane touchdown run with 5:12 left in the game, followed by a Hogan two-point conversion, tied the game at 34.
Lawrenceburg answered quickly.
Tiger quarterback Reid Strobl, scrambling to avoid a swarm of Brownstown defenders, fired a wild downfield pass that Hunter Privett caught one-handed at the Braves’ 40-yard line and then carried to the end zone for a 71-yard touchdown pass. That restored Lawrenceburg’s lead, 41-34.
Once again facing a deficit, Brownstown took over at its 36-yard line with 4:30 left on the clock and worked the ball to the Lawrenceburg 4-yard line.
Bane scored his fifth touchdown of the game with 1:23 left on the clock, cutting Lawrenceburg’s lead to 41-40. The Braves’ fateful two-point conversion failed, however, ending their season one game short of the goal.
The Braves finished the game with 458 rushing yards, a season-high, and outgained Lawrenceburg in total offense, 470 yards to 430.
“We moved the ball well on them,” May said. “We scored 40 points. Usually that’s good enough to win.”
Bane ran for 266 yards and added another 32 points to his Brownstown career record total (which ended at 462 points), a performance that drew May’s admiration.
“He’s going to be deeply missed,” May said. “He’s so smart. We’ve had some great running backs here, but with all of those records, he has to be considered the best.”
May also tipped his hat to his highly accomplished seniors.
“We have a great group of seniors,” May said. “They’ve had a great career here. I told the kids, ‘Take a look around. This is a great atmosphere, a great facility. You’re going to remember this the rest of your life.’”