Memorial stays composed, survives scare from Bosse to remain undefeated
- Final: Memorial 27, Bosse 26
EVANSVILLE — One couldn’t have faulted Memorial football coach John Hurley if a moment of panic set in or a bead of sweat dripped onto his brow. His Tigers had come back from a deficit, watched their lead grow and seen it dissipate throughout the evening. All momentum shifted in Bosse’s direction when quarterback Elijah Wagner connected with Arron Finott Jr. on a 61-yard touchdown pass to cut Memorial's lead to one point.
No one could have blamed him for celebrating stopping the Bulldogs’ explosive offense on the two-point conversion. Or for losing his composure when his opponents recovered an onside kick. Or if he dreaded before the game started with quarterback Matthew Fisher and running back Porter Rode out — “They’re getting better every day,” Hurley said with a smile.
But he didn’t.
That’s what makes John Hurley, well, John Hurley. It’s also what has this Memorial team, escaping as 27-26 winner Friday at Enlow Field, undefeated at 6-0 heading into Week 7.
“You couldn’t write a script for the things that happened,” the coach said, fresh off speaking to his unblemished Tigers. “I’m proud of the way the kids competed tonight.”
That sets up a meeting between the Southern Indiana Athletic Conference’s final two undefeated teams next week when the Class 4A No. 4 Tigers travel to play No. 3 Reitz.
Hurley’s composure made its way to his players. Allowing the two-point conversion after the 61-yard touchdown pass would have been easy, if not expected. Falling after the successful onside kick wouldn’t have shocked. But not these Tigers, and not this Friday.
“The defense really stepped up. They’ve been great all year,” wide receiver Luke Ellspermann said. “We know they fight to the last second and they showed that tonight. … They’ve kept us in a lot of games.”
“Coach (Ben) Johnson keeps telling us, ‘Keep fighting, keep fighting,’” added defensive back JJ Lowery, whose second-half interception proved crucial. “We did that. We had cramps, people getting hurt, but we battled through it.”
Wagner and Bosse’s offense are among the best in the area despite its 1-5 record. The quarterback has player-of-the-year level stats and containing him is a task that could make any coach sweat or lose sleep. The Tigers’ defense allowed 19 points over the whole season before the Enlow Field Derby.
The emotional high of a win like that needs shelving quickly, nothing Hurley and his team are unfamiliar with. Facing an offense like the Bulldogs, though, could help the Tigers in the unbeaten battle next Friday.
“Bosse and Reitz are the two best offenses we’re going to face, so getting our defense ready for something like that,” said Ellspermann, whose two touchdowns proved critical for Memorial. “It’s definitely been a game circled for us since the beginning since they beat us last year.”
The Panthers, who also faced a stern test in a 38-17 win over Castle, possess similar characteristics to the 1-5 Bulldogs: An offense that can break out on any play and several players who can score in multiple ways. Memorial knows that. Unlike Bosse, though, Reitz hasn’t lost a regular-season game since 2021. Pair that with the Tigers’ unblemished upbringing and that makes arguably the best on-paper matchup of the year.
“We’re running up against Goliath,” Hurley said. “They’re clicking on all cylinders and we’re not right now. Defensively we might be clicking pretty good, but offensively we’ve got a ways to go.”
But that’s next week. The story of this week remains: Memorial escaped with a win in what was arguably the game of the year. The teams combined for 581 yards of total offense and six turnovers. Finnot’s Moss-like touchdown grab and the dramatic final incompletion were enough to make the most stoic and straightfaced quiver.
But not Hurley, and not these Tigers.
The fortitude and composure to see out a game like that and the manner in which they did it is nothing to scoff at, even if a potentially more challenging test looms in seven days. One thing remains certain: There won’t be any panic or beads of sweat like those final plays.
“It’s gotta go back to what you work on during the week,” Hurley said. “We try to create some high-intensity situations, but you can’t create that in practice. … Thankfully our guys stepped up.”