CHAMPIONSHIP WEEK AT HAND FOR PREPS

Championship week is here. The 39th Annual IHSAA Football State Tournament, presented by the Indianapolis Colts, shifts to the big stage of Lucas Oil Stadium for title games in five classes on Thanksgiving weekend. From the smallest schools to the biggest, interesting storylines abound as players await their opportunity to play at the home of the Colts and Super Bowl XLVI.

TEN TEAMS MATCH UP IN FIVE CLASSES THIS WEEKEND AT LUCAS OIL STADIUM

INDIANAPOLIS -- Ten are still standing in the IHSAA playoffs. And those 10 teams represent a total of 47 state football championships.

Clearly, plenty of tradition and rich history will be on display Friday and Saturday when this year's state championship games in five classes unfold at Lucas Oil Stadium. This is a tournament brimming with interesting angles and headline possibilities.

Two teams, Lafayette Central Catholic in Class A and Penn in Class 5A, will be looking to wrap up undefeated seasons. Also, Central Catholic and 2A's Fort Wayne Bishop Luers are seeking their  third consecutive state championships.

Indianapolis Bishop Chatard, in 3A, has an opportunity to add to its record total of 10 state titles. In 4A, Indianapolis Cathedral is hoping to show that its schedule, which ranked among the toughest in the Midwest, has steeled the team as it plays for its fourth state title in six years.

The list of potential stories goes on and on. Here's a look at the matchups:

CLASS A (3:30 p.m. Friday)

With a victory, Central Catholic (14-0) becomes the first school with three consecutive undefeated seasons since the state tournament began in 1973. The Indianapolis Scecina Crusaders (11-3) hope to end the Knights' streak.

Central Catholic's Danny Anthop, who runs a 4.38-second 40-yard dash and is headed for Purdue, is the fastest player on an exceedingly swift team. Scecina Coach Ott Hurrle, when asked this week if he's ever seen such team speed at the Class A level, responded: "Oh, no. Not even close."

The Crusaders seek to neutralize some of that with an overall size advantage. They have yielded only 38 points in five playoff games and last week shut out Linton-Stockton, which was leading the state with a scoring average of 55 a game. 

Central Catholic's speed extends to the defense, too, especially up front. Coach's Kevin O'Shea's  team comes into the final after recording a pair of shutouts and outscoring five postseason opponents 243-20.

"Our defense is our catalyst," said O'Shea, whose brother Tim is the defensive coordinator.

CLASS 2A (7 p.m.  Friday)

Bishop Luers (12-1) is seeking its 10th state championship, which would tie Bishop Chatard for the lead, at least until Saturday when Chatard gets an opportunity to gain its 11th. Luers takes on Evansville Mater Dei (13-1), which goes for its second state championship and first since 2000.

Eight of Luers' titles have come with Coach Matt Lindsay on the sideline. A ninth for Lindsay this week would tie him for the most in Indiana with Sheridan's Bud Wright.

Lindsay said, above all, he is hopeful his seniors can reap the fruits of finishing their careers with an 18-0 playoffs record and a third straight title.

"It's a pretty nice feat, to say the least," Lindsay said. "To me personally, anytime you win it's great, but it doesn't mean that much. (He paused and smiled.) Well, I'm lying. Sure, it would (mean a lot)."

Mater Dei Coach Mike Goebel, who is 147-45 in his 15th season, is especially accustomed to state championships in another sport. He has led the Wildcats to a state-record 12 in wrestling.

CLASS 3A (noon Saturday)

Early in the playoffs, Chatard Coach Vince Lorenzano was worried about the inconsistent nature of his team's running attack. A couple of subtle changes took care of that, and the Trojans accumulated 291 rushing yards in a 38-7 semi-state victory over Corydon Central. Ryan Kleinschmidt, who rushed for 247 yards in last year's state championship victory over South Bend St. Joseph's, went for 167 against Corydon.

But as the Trojans (12-2) prepare for Saturday's finals rematch against St. Joseph's (12-2), one of their most formidable weapons is quarterback Max VanVliet. Coming off knee injuries in 2009 and 2010, VanVliet has passed for 2,166 yards with 27 touchdowns and only seven interceptions.

"Quarterbacks have to be gunslingers; they can't be afraid," Lorenzano said, noting that VanVliet has the right stuff. "We're on the same page. He's really comfortable right now. He's going to be a dangerous cat. He's a guy who can run and throw. … He's going to do whatever he can."

St. Joseph's is seeking the school's second football title and first since 1995. Ben Downey, in his second state finals in as many seasons as head coach, has seen his team surrender only 34 points in five playoff games, including a pair of shutouts.

"I'd say the major difference between the way we're playing now compared to earlier in the year is the amount of attention to detail and focus our players have right now," Downey said. "To their credit, they've listened and learned. They paid attention to mistakes and they corrected them."

CLASS 4A (3:30 p.m. Saturday)

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When Cathedral Coach Rick Streiff was asked this week if his team could have played a more difficult schedule, he had a ready answer. "If we had added maybe a couple of Big Ten schools," he said, smiling.

The Irish (11-3) will enter their championship game against South Bend Washington (11-3) with an element of confidence. It won't hurt either that their defense is playing well, having allowed only 48 points in the playoffs, and quarterback Corey Babb is surging. Babb missed a pair of regular-season games with an injury but has  passed for 1,709 yards and 21 touchdowns with only eight interceptions.

"It all kind of hinged on how Corey was going to come around," Steiff said. "Since (missing the two games), he's just been everything we hoped he'd be from a mental preparation standpoint. He's always had the physical tools, and the mental part has come around nicely."

Washington, coached by Antwon Jones, has weapons of its own. Gehrig Dieter is one of the finest wide receivers in the state with 76 catches for 2,003 yards and 22 touchdowns. Running back David Perkins has 1,300 yards rushing and 275 receiving. Quarterback Daigien Morgan has passed for 2,834 yards and 30 touchdowns with 12 interceptions.

CLASS 5A (7:05 p.m. Saturday)

The Carmel Greyhounds (13-1) are making exciting comebacks a habit. They trailed Warren Central 20-0 in the sectional and won 34-30. They were down by 10 to Ben Davis in the regular-season finale and then down by three to the Giants in the regional and rallied to win both games. They trailed Center Grove 17-0 at halftime of the semi-state and won 21-17.

Coach Kevin Wright said his team benefited greatly against Center Grove from a rousing halftime speech by running back Jalen Duncan and some fired-up words from standout defensive lineman Langston Newton, who's normally softspoken. Whatever the reason, Carmel held Center Grove to one first down and 36 yards after halftime while accumulating 267 yards.

"I think we've been getting (every opponent's) best for several weeks now," Wright said.

It's likely to continue on Saturday night. Penn (14-0) hopes to take home its sixth state championship trophy and garner its third undefeated season. Carmel, with six state titles, is appearing in the 5A final for the fifth time in six seasons.

It will be a battle of storied football programs.

"When you walk through the locker rooms (at) Penn and Carmel every day and you see the state championship trophies and pictures, you're motivated to get your picture on the wall," Wright said about the incentive for both teams.

Carmel, No. 2 in the state coaches' poll, will be the first ranked team that Penn, No. 4, has met in the playoffs. As the Kingsmen have all season, they will attempt to rely on team balance and bonding rather than big statistics.

"It's not a star system; it never has been at Penn," Coach Cory Yeoman said. "We believe in playing for each other. Play great team offense, great team defense and do it for your brothers."

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