The Northeast Hoosier Conference race is in New Haven's hands now, and the Bulldogs seem to know what to do with the football.
On a night of NHC upsets, New Haven stuck to what it does best – generate big plays on offense – to beat Norwell 28-7 on Friday at New Haven.
With Homestead losing at Bellmont, New Haven (5-0, 3-0 NHC) is the only unbeaten conference team.
In other words, the 'Dogs are in the driver's seat.
“Our coaches are just preaching to us that we have to refocus after every game,” senior receiver Jordan Hogue said. “We can't dwell on a win. Next week, we have to come with the mindset that we're down and we need to beat somebody. That's big for us in the conference race.”
Hogue, who moved past 1,600 yards career receiving to set a New Haven record, was among the big playmakers against Norwell. Hogue caught nine passes for 141 yards and touchdowns of 52 and 63 yards.
“Obviously, every time he touches the ball he has a chance to make a big play,” junior quarterback Vance Shearer said. “As long as I get the ball out there, he's going to go get it 90 percent of the time.”
Shearer was smooth throwing in the rain, completing 19 of 24 passes for 300 yards and three touchdowns. His non-Hogue TD pass was a 36-yard touchdown to Adam Hoffer. Hoffer also had two sacks and 2.5 tackles for loss on defense. Senior running back D'Andre Smith rushed for 117 yards and a score.
Brandon Stone led the New Haven defense with 12 tackles, a sack and a 2.5 tackles for loss.
Coming off a big win over Carroll a week earlier, New Haven's players entered the game knowing they had to try to avoid a mental letdown facing a winless Norwell team. New Haven coaches made sure to bring up last year's sectional, when a one-win Norwell team upset the Bulldogs.
New Haven got on the board first with Shearer's first touchdown strike to Hogue. The Bulldogs pushed the lead to 14-0 in the second quarter on Shearer's TD pass to Hoffer. Norwell closed the margin to 14-7 before the half, with junior quarterback Piercen Harnish (99 yards rushing, 72 passing) hitting junior receiver Reggie Hayes for a 23-yard score.
“We just had to refocus when halftime came; we knew they were going to put up a fight,” Hogue said. “We had to refocus and come out and do what we had to do.”
Norwell came up with a stop to start the third quarter, forcing a fumble. But the New Haven defense tightened its play, too. The Bulldogs drove for a third-quarter score, capped by Smith's six-yard touchdown run.
Smith handled the running load in place of usual starter Airiest Vasquez, who did not play in the game.
“(Smith) did a good job carrying the load, running the ball, especially in wet conditions, when it's important to hang onto the ball,” Shearer said. “He didn't have any fumbles which was really important tonight.”
New Haven will play at home against Columbia City (3-2, 2-1 NHC) next Friday. Norwell (0-5, 0-3 NHC) will host East Noble (4-1, 2-1 NHC).