GREENFIELD — For the second straight postseason and the fourth time in the past five seasons, the Arabians squared off against Hoosier Heritage Conference rival Greenfield-Central to open sectional play.
The Cougars, who came into the night ranked No. 4 in Class 4A, defeated Pendleton Heights at home 27-17.
The loss was the Arabians second to the Cougars this season after losing the regular season matchup at home 43-38, and the second straight year they’ve fallen in the sectional matchup, losing last year 34-28.
“We were dealing with some injuries, but that’s never an excuse,” Pendleton Heights head coach Jed Richman said. “I’m proud of how all the kids stayed together and kept fighting, but Greenfield was just a little too much for us.”
The Cougars offense are no strangers to running the ball, but this year have incorporated more of the passing game from week to week.
On Friday, they went back to their roots. Of the Cougars 68 offensive plays, 62 were runs.
“That’s their game. Their center and right guard are two of the best around, and we were able to get them off the field a few times, but it takes its toll,” Richman said. “They deserve all the credit tonight.”
Braylen Benavente, Dallas Freeman, Cooper Hinton and Jacob Hinton each ran for more than 50 yards, and all four of Greenfield-Central’s touchdowns came on the ground.
“We felt like we had an advantage with our line. We’ve got four senior linemen and three multi-year starters,” Greenfield-Central head coach Travis Nolting said. “We thought if we could establish our run game and eat the clock we could keep their high-powered offense off the field. They’ve got some athletic, quick guys, so we felt like we needed to control the clock.”
The Cougars ability to control the clock was shown on a momentum-flipping drive to close out the first half.
After an Isaac Wilson 11-yard touchdown pass to Caden Sims, and a Dominic Apo field goal gave the Arabians a 10-7 lead, Greenfield-Central ran off nearly the final eight minutes of the second quarter on a 19-play scoring drive. On the drive, the Cougars were successful on three fourth-down runs en route to going 63 yards for the go-ahead score.
Jacob Hinton punched in the 1-yard touchdown with just 17 seconds left on the first-half clock to give the Cougars a 13-10 halftime lead.
The score was Jacob Hinton’s second of the night after he broke off a 50-yard touchdown on the Cougars first drive for the early 7-0 lead.
In the second half, it was his brother, Cooper, who made the big plays.
A 22-yard Cooper Hinton kick return to open the half set up the Cougars with good starting field position, and two plays later Hinton took the handoff from quarterback Dallas Freeman 40 yards to push the G-C lead to 19-10.
“The tough one was after halftime. It took the energy that we gained at halftime out of us,” Richman said. “You’ve got to make plays, and it just comes down to reading keys, blocking and tackling, and they did that a little better than us.”
After the Cougars forced a safety on the Arabians later in the quarter, Cooper Hinton struck again. He broke through the left side of the line for a 38-yard touchdown run to put the Cougars ahead 27-10 entering the fourth quarter.
The Arabians added a late 35-yard touchdown pass to Sims, but for the most part, had difficulty sustaining drives against the Greenfield-Central defense.
Pendleton Heights was limited to just 93 yards of total offense in the second half and along with the safety, turned the ball over on downs, punted once and threw two interceptions.
On the night, the Arabians offense was held to 207 yards and just two scores.
“It was just not giving up the big play, which is something we have struggled with at times this year. We really pressured the kids to play as hard as they could the whole time,” Nolting said. “We had to pressure their playmakers and do whatever we could to limit long passes and runs. Hats off to our defense for really stepping up.”
Wilson, normally the Arabians starting quarterback, played all over the field on Friday. He threw for 145 yards and two touchdowns, ran for 35 yards and caught three passes for 20 yards.
“Isaac played like a champ tonight,” Richman said. “He played some running back with our two starting backs out. We’ve mixed him around all year, but he had to take on an even bigger role, and really played his guts out.
Sims led the Pendleton Heights receivers with 51 yards and two scores, and Nate DeRolf caught five passes for 51 yards.
With a strong senior class, the Arabians finished the season 7-3, with the three losses coming to Class 4A No. 3 New Palestine and No. 4 Greenfield-Central. They finished third in the HHC behind just the Dragons and Cougars.
“It’s an improvement. Our program is healthy and our youth feeder is growing. It comes down to now we’re going to have to replace a bunch of guys that are tough to replace,” Richman said. “The leadership and energy that these seniors have poured into this program is one of those things that’s tough to evaluate on the spot. They’re going to be missed, but it’s our responsibility to pick up where they left off and keep building.”