North Central has battled through adversity all season. Friday night was no different.

Dealing with the emotions of losing fellow student Mallorie Cochran in an automobile accident and her funeral on Thursday, the Thunderbirds outscored Perry Central 12-0 in the second half and posted an 18-14 victory in the opening round of play in Class A Sectional 48 at home on Friday night.

“Our fullback Jeremiah Swalls and Mallorie had dated for a long time,” said North Central football coach Joe Kutch. “It has been a very emotional week.

“I did not know how we were going to come out. I knew we would either be flat or come out sky high. We came out flat and were down 14-6 at the half. I told the guys it was now or never because we were staring at the end of the season. I did not want to go home at 3 (p.m.) every day. I wanted to keep practicing and not get home until 8 every night. We made some adjustments at the half and they came out and got the job done in the second half.”

Swalls, who had been running over opponents as North Central had won 3 of 4 entering the postseason, was limited to 22 yards on 11 carries.

“Perry Central obviously had watched film on us,” said Kutch. “They keyed on Jeremiah and forced us to make some adjustments.”

Tyler Vaughn became the featured back. He rushed 11 times for 109 yards and scored one touchdown.

Vaughn also caught five passes from quarterback Jacob Adams for 52 yards and one touchdown.

“They were keying on us inside and we were able to get Tyler the ball outside the tackles,” said Kutch. “He made some very big plays for us in the running and passing game.”

North Central finished with 253 yards of total offense including 108 passing by Adams (9 of 13).

Adams had seven rushes for 14 yards, including a touchdown.

Wyatt Ison and Deshawn Clark each had one reception for nine yards while Rowdy Pierson had one catch for one yard and one rushing attempt for zero yards.

Kutch was very pleased with the defense.

“We came out and played great defense in the second half,” said Kutch. “We shut down a team that had won seven games entering the sectional and a team that has pretty much owned us in the sectional, including last year.

“They had a Hail Mary to win with 1.9 seconds left and the ball went through the receiver’s hands. We have gone through so much with COVID and Mallorie’s death. I was never more proud and happy for a group of kids than I was on Friday night. There were a lot of tears.”

North Central will host Tecumseh in the sectional semifinals on Friday. Game time has not yet been announced.

THUNDERBIRDS 18, COMMODORES 14

Perry Central 7 7 0 0 — 14

North Central 0 6 6 6 — 18

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