By Phillip B. Wilson | Photos by Mark Evrard
INDIANAPOLIS — After so many game-changing plays, one of the more dramatic games in the IHSAA’s half century of state finals came down to the final minute.
A little wide receiver who didn’t have a catch was asked to be a hero. It would all be a blur for 5-foot-7, 150-pound Rocco Micciche, who caught a short pass in the flat and, quite frankly, isn’t sure what he did other than the leap at the end toward the corner of the end zone.
Micciche’s stutter-step and sudden stop induced a defender to over-run him, which gave the diminutive receiver a path to glory with a sprint to the corner and a dive with the football to the goal line for an 11-yard TD reception.
Valparaiso had pulled off yet another heart-stopping comeback, just like at semistate and regional rounds, but this memorable score came with 19 seconds to go and provided the Vikings with a 35-31 triumph over Whiteland in Saturday night’s Class 5A finale at Lucas Oil Stadium.
“I don’t even know what I was thinking,” Micciche said of his only catch. “I was going to try to cut it back inside. I don’t know. I put my hand down. Then I just had to reach for it. I’m still in shock.”
Quarterback Justin Clark threw the pass and couldn’t tell initially if it was a score.
“I’ll be honest, it was probably the wildest moment of my life,” Clark said. “I didn’t think he got in. Then I’m like, ‘Oh my God, we just won this game.’”
Valparaiso (11-3) celebrated a state championship for the second time in school history — the other was in 1975, or seven years before current fifth-year Vikings coach Bill Marshall was born.
Whiteland (12-2), in its first finals appearance, was trying to win a first state title in any sport.
Clark did his part by rushing for three touchdowns and passing for two scores.
“That was the most fun game I’ve ever played in my life, no doubt,” the junior quarterback said.
That’s because each team took turns seizing the upper hand. The Warriors needed 13 seconds to make history as sophomore Maalik Perkins took the opening kickoff 98 yards to the end zone. It was the longest such TD return in state finals history.
Whiteland led 10-0 after the first quarter. Then the second quarter got wild.