INDIANAPOLIS -- In Indiana high school football, when autumn leaves begin to fall, the anticipation levels start to rise. It's playoffs time.
"Awesome," Brian Crabtree, head coach of the undefeated North Putnam Cougars, said about the state tournament. "I know in our community, the place is buzzing. We have more people show up every Friday night as you get closer to playoff time. Huge crowds. It's a wonderful thing for the kids."
IHSAA officials and a handful of top coaches met on Sunday at an Indianapolis television station to preview the 2011 tourney. Earlier that day, in a random drawing, brackets were set in all five classes.
Sectional play begins on Oct. 21. Win six games from there and a team will be hoisting the state championship trophy in Lucas Oil Stadium.
Indianapolis Cathedral has won three of the past five state titles in Class 4A. Coach Rick Streiff, whose Irish have played around the Midwest this season and tackled some of the nation's top teams, said winning in the state tournament remains the No. 1 goal.
"When the draw comes, this is what we came to Cathedral to play for," Streiff said.
For the Colts, this marks the third year as presenting sponsor of the state tourney. IHSAA Commissioner Bobby Cox said the Colts franchise has helped provide his organization with "what arguably is the best venue in the country" for the state finals.
"It's just a real good commitment to the grassroots effort that the Colts try to make with regard to getting out and having exposure in the state," Cox said. "And it plays along well with what we're trying to do to support our membership."
Three of the five coaches at the pairings show are with teams that won state titles last year: Kevin O'Shea at Lafayette Central Catholic, Streiff at Cathedral and Rick Wimmer at Fishers. None has been more successful recently than O'Shea, whose Central Catholic team is going for its third consecutive championship in Class A. The Knights have won 38 straight regular-season and postseason games.
Central Catholic, 8-0 and ranked No. 1 in Class A this season, will take on Hoosier Conference rival West Lafayette, which is 8-0 and top-ranked in Class 3A, in this Friday's final regular-season game. Then Central Catholic opens sectional play against unbeaten Pioneer, which is ranked No. 2 in Class A.
"The excitement is probably tripled," O'Shea said about playing such stalwart opposition in successive weeks.
The Knights have one of the finest players in the state in Purdue recruit Danny Anthrop. He starts offensively at wingback, which allows O'Shea to move him around, and Anthrop has scored 34 touchdowns in just 22 quarters this season. Anthrop is often on the sidelines after halftime since the Knights have outscored opponents 364-55. He also is the starting free safety and returns kicks and punts.
The Knights' theme this year: play like a "band of brothers." O'Shea's brother Tim, the team's defensive coordinator, decided on the motto.
"They play so well together," Kevin O'Shea said. "It's something our kids have taken to heart."
Streiff's Cathedral team has played a schedule not suited for the timid. The Irish have traveled for games at Louisville, Columbus (Ohio) and Fort Wayne and will finish the regular season this week at Cincinnati Moeller. They have played on Fridays, Saturdays and even a Monday (Labor Day).
"We're battle-tested," said Streiff, hopeful the season's difficulty level has steeled his team.
The Irish are 5-3 but have won five of the last six games. A player to watch is quarterback Corey Babb, who returned from a concussion and "ramped his game up," according to Streiff. The Irish, who are ranked No. 1 in Class 4A by the coaches, also have a solid backup quarterback in Connor Rice.
In Class 5A, Wimmer's team at Fishers is 6-2 and will open against McCutcheon in Sectional 4. Last year, the Tigers won their final 13 games to complete a magical run to the state title.
Fishers, unranked in the coaches' poll, lost two of its first four games this season but has now won four straight. It's a good possibility the Tigers will have to beat neighboring rival Hamilton Southeastern (7-1 and ranked seventh) to get out of the 2011 sectional. HSE defeated Fishers 28-7 in late August.
"We don't talk about defending a state title or anything like that," Wimmer said. "We talk a lot about getting better and playing our best football when we get to the tournament."
In Class 2A, Crabtree's North Putnam team views its quest as unfinished business. The Cougars lost to Fort Wayne Luers, 26-14, in last year's state championship game. The Cougars, 8-0 this year and 64-7 over the last six years, are looking for the school's first state football title.
"We've made sort of a theme: taking the next step," said Crabtree, whose third-ranked team will open sectional play against fifth-ranked Speedway (7-1). "What can we do every day to win the state championship?"
In Class 3A, Coach Jed Richman and his Western Boone team seek to end a sectional title drought that started in 2002. Western Boone won a state title in 1988 when it was a Class 2A team.
"I feel like we're moving in the right direction to restore some of the glory," said Richman, whose team is fourth-ranked and 7-1.
"(The Western Boone area) is a very proud, wholesome community that really prides itself on hard work," Richman added. "That's what we hang our hat on. And that's what is paying dividends right now."
The biggest dividends for the Stars -- or any of 315 participating schools in this year's playoffs -- will come in about 6 ½ weeks if they can collect the championship hardware at Lucas Oil Stadium.
For complete pairings as well as more on the IHSAA State Football Tournament visit http://www.MyIndianaFootball.com, the Official High School Football Website of the Indianapolis Colts.