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Defense, Special Teams Propel New Prairie to State

(Kokomo, IN) - Coming into Friday night’s Class 4A semistate matchup between #7 New Prairie (12-1) and #6 Kokomo (12-1), the storylines seemed clear enough. It was all about dominant offensive lines, dynamic quarterbacks, and lots of points. By the end of the game, however, that storyline had switched to stubborn defenses and the goofy bounce of an oblong football.


The Cougars travelled to Kokomo Friday night, where the only thing colder than the offenses was the weather.


The Wild Kats scored on the opening drive. New Prairie failed to answer with their first opportunity. A touchdown run by junior quarterback Marshall Kmiecik was erased by a penalty.


The teams traded possessions for rest of the first half. New Prairie seemed fortunate to head into the locker room down only six.


The defensive battle continued in the second half. Kokomo stopped New Prairie on a fourth-and- short. New Prairie returned the favor on the next drive. And so it went, back and forth, until Kokomo hit a 35-yard field goal at end of the third quarter, following a Kmiecik interception.


New Prairie’s defense kept them in the game.  Then special teams kicked in. The Cougars got on the board with a 28-yard field goal midway through the fourth quarter.


Assuming that Kokomo would try to run out the clock, New Prairie head coach Casey McKim made a gutsy call to onside kick. Senior Brice VanBruaene recovered the ball, and a subsequent pass play from Kmiecik to senior Dallas Ryans set up the game-tying touchdown.


The extra point attempt was blocked, but a Kokomo penalty gave the Cougars one more try. Junior kicker Owen Chalik made good, giving New Prairie their only lead of the game with 2:45 left to play.


McKim said he felt the onside kick, which Chalik executed perfectly, was the only way to seize control of the game. “You want to create as many opportunities as you can to get the ball back,” he said. “Our special teams coordinator did a great job of letting us know, ‘hey, we’re down two scores, we gotta kick this field goal, and let’s go for onside right away.’ So it worked out well.”


The nail biting continued as Kokomo mounted one last drive. The Wild Kats converted on a fourth-and-long, but New Prairie’s defense turned them away four plays later to secure the Semistate Championship.


Police escorts led the team busses home. Before returning to school with their semistate trophy, the caravan drove though New Carlisle and Rolling Prairie, where fans lined the streets honking horns and cheering. McKim reflected on the success the Cougars have enjoyed so far. “It is absolutely unbelievable,” he said during the victorious bus ride. “Just the people and the passion. Our young men’s effort and the work they put in, the coaches and the amount of time they put in. It just takes so many things to reach this level… It’s just unbelievable when it all comes together to be able to do something special.”


For the second time in school history, New Prairie’s football team will be playing for a state championship. New Prairie will face East Central for the 4A State Championship next Friday afternoon at Lucas Oil Field in Indianapolis.

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