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The 39th Annual IHSAA Football State Tournament presented by the Indianapolis Colts moves into sectional finals play on Friday. will take a weekly look at players and teams to watch as the tourney advances to the state championship games at Lucas Oil Stadium on Thanksgiving weekend. This week, we feature the Carmel Greyhounds ahead of their Class 5A blockbuster game against Warren Central.

INDIANAPOLIS -- Finally, the disciplined and locked-in Carmel Greyhounds can allow themselves to talk about their rematch with Warren Central.

And joining in the conversation this week will be numerous Indiana fans who eagerly await  Friday night's game at Carmel, sensing it might be one for the ages in state high school football.

"(Warren) has a great team," Carmel linebacker Justin Todd said. "Speed. Physicality. They're a really tough football team."

Ditto for the Greyhounds, whose 35-14 victory over Lawrence Central last Friday advanced them to this week's Class 5A Sectional 5 final against Warren. Carmel and Warren met Sept. 30 at Lucas Oil Stadium in a game won 22-20 by the Warriors on a last-second field goal.

In the Carmel camp, there's been nary a mention of Warren since that night.

"This team," Coach Kevin Wright said about his Greyhounds, "has been a very focused group all the way through."

That game-to-game absorption and attention to detail have made the Greyhounds special during a relentless march that they hope will deliver the seventh state title in school history. Warren, also an uncommon team and a perennial Indiana power, is seeking its eighth championship and its sixth since 2003.

If ever a game deserved some hype, this is it. The numbers are staggering.

Despite the two-point loss to Warren, Carmel (10-1) is the top team in the state, according to the Sagarin computer ratings. The Greyhounds lead Class 5A in defense, allowing only 9.73 points a game, and in scoring margin at 35.55. They are second in scoring at 45.27.

Warren (11-0) is No. 2 in the Sagarin ratings. The Warriors are third in Class 5A scoring at 44.73 and scoring margin at 29.45. They are seventh in defense, allowing 15.27 points a game.

"(Friday night) will be a great atmosphere," said Wright, in his second year at Carmel.

"Both teams know each other pretty well. It's nice to be able to play them at home. It'll be a good game. We look forward to it. That's why you put in all of those hours in the offseason."

For Carmel's defense, seniors set the tone.  Shawn Heffern, Langston Newton and Ian Sampson are a stout threesome in the front line. Todd, a three-year starter, leads the linebacking corps. The secondary is swift and hard-nosed with 6-4, 215-pound safety Jimmy Herman as a point man.

"We don't look at it as a defensive-offensive thing," Wright said. "It's just our game plan. We start with defense and go from there. Defense gives us good field position and offense has to capitalize. Bottom line is, they play very well together."

Wright's fertile imagination is a catalyst for the offense. Carmel uses a hefty playbook and a lot of motion and misdirection to keep defenses guessing.

It doesn't hurt, either, that the Greyhounds have 210-pound running back Jalen Duncan to pound inside or, when needed, outrun some of the fastest defensive backs. Duncan averages more than seven yards per rushing attempt.

At Lawrence Central, Duncan ran for 183 yards on 26 carries, including a 69-yard touchdown, behind an undersized but unified offensive line. Quarterback Brandon Denning hit 8-of-11 passes for 117 yards, mostly to the perimeter to prevent Lawrence Central's defense from stacking against Duncan.

"We try to be diverse," Wright said. "We're an option-based team, but we run a lot of different ways. We rely on Jalen a lot, but when you look at the boxscore at the end of the game, you see there were a lot of guys who get touches."

Since the loss to Warren, the Greyhounds have won four consecutive games by a cumulative  177-44. Those Carmel victories include a 20-10 outcome over Ben Davis, rated No. 3 in the state by Sagarin. Last Friday's triumph came over a Lawrence Central team rated No. 5.

"You look at every score of every game we've played and, like I said, I don't really think we've played a poor game," Wright said.

"I don't think we've played our best game yet, which is good," he continued. "I think we've played in spurts. So if we're able to come together (against Warren) and play our best game … we're going to need that. We've just been consistent all year long in all three phases."

That consistency applies to Carmel's focus, too. Wright preaches a steady, stay-the-course approach to his players, regardless of the opponent.

"The reality is, the team that wins this game has to turn around and play three more" to capture a state title, the Carmel coach said.

Todd and his teammates have bought into the plan, even during weeks like this when fan interest ratchets up the commotion.

"We take it seriously, as we do any game," the linebacker said. "We prepare the exact same as any other time. But the stakes are a little higher."


* *

On the night Kevin Wright's Carmel team defeated Lawrence Central, the Sheridan Blackhawks topped Lapel 48-16. For Sheridan Coach Bud Wright, Kevin's father, it was the 369th victory of his  career. That broke the state record held by former Jasper Coach Jerry Brewer.

"It's an unbelievable accomplishment," Kevin said. "He's had a great career in that one place.

"It's like Brett Law (a former running back at Sheridan and Indiana University) made the  comment, 'It's not like there's something different in the water in Sheridan. There's really not.' He (Bud Wright) has kind of been the main ingredient."

Bud Wright and Sheridan continue their pursuit of a 10th state championship on Friday against South Adams.

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