A top-notch rivalry game in high school football deserves the big stage. And what bigger stage is there in Indiana than Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the Indianapolis Colts and Super Bowl XLVI?
Rivalries, both intra-conference and geographical, will be the dominant theme on Saturday when the Colts host the four-game Hall of Fame Classic at Lucas Oil Stadium.
New Palestine will meet Delta in the noon opener. Huntington North and Kokomo will square off at 2:30 p.m. Then comes a matchup between Speedway and Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter at 5. The finale will be Indianapolis Bishop Chatard against Indianapolis Cathedral at 7:30.
"It's going to be a cool atmosphere … playing on the same field where the Colts play," said Austin Anglea, who is the No. 1 quarterback for Speedway.
And about playing Ritter, Anglea added: "It's our (Indianapolis) west-side rivalry game, our west-side Super Bowl."
Some of the participating teams may find their way back to Lucas Oil Stadium in November for the state finals. But that's weeks away. For now, the anticipation of playing a regular-season game there is expected to keep practice sessions crisp and enthusiastic this week.
"It's a great opportunity for everybody on the team," said Speedway fullback and linebacker Evan Rosner. "Running through that tunnel (at Lucas Oil Stadium) is a big thing. It'll get everybody fired up."
Speedway Coach Denny Pelley said the game is "big time for the kids. They'll be a little jittery."
Colts owner Jim Irsay's club has won one Super Bowl, played in another and advanced to the playoffs 11 times in the past 12 years, the most of any NFL team. That winning tradition has led to a sky-high level of popularity for football in the state, and the Colts want to help high school teams share in that interest. The Indianapolis club is hosting numerous events as well as sponsoring the state tournament in Lucas Oil Stadium.
"It's critically important that we reach out in an immense way to everybody in the state and touch people," Irsay said, adding that the Colts' success has provided a "platform that you go from and do other things."
Tom Zupancic, the Colts' senior vice president of sales and marketing, said the team looks forward to its annual events in the retractable-roof stadium.
"We're excited to provide a first-class facility like Lucas Oil Stadium to host several big rivalry games that exist here in Indiana," Zupancic said, noting that the Indiana Football Hall of Fame will receive a special presentation before the Chatard-Cathedral game.
"It's always exciting to see the faces of players, cheerleaders and staff as they run through the tunnel at the home of the Colts."
On Saturday, Sept. 17, the Colts will sponsor the Conference Indiana Challenge at Lucas Oil Stadium. That day's games will involve important league matchups between Southport and Bloomington South, Pike and Bloomington North, Lawrence Central and Columbus North, and Franklin Central and Perry Meridian.
Here's a capsule look at each of the games scheduled for Saturday (Sept. 10) at Lucas Oil:
New Palestine (3-0) vs. Delta (1-2)
New Palestine is ranked No. 9 in the Class 4A coaches' poll. Coach Tim Able usually puts together run-oriented teams, but this season he is capitalizing on the skills of quarterback Connor Simmons. New Pal and Simmons won the Colts' 7-on-7 tournament during the off-season and went on to finish fifth in the nationals. The senior quarterback, who has passed for 789 yards in his team's 3-0 start, often aims his passes at Josh Penley and Brandon Collins, who combined for more than 250 yards in receiving yardage in a victory last week over Pendleton Heights. The Dragons have won 14 consecutive games in the tough Hoosier Heritage Conference.
Delta is 3-0 on the field this year but had to forfeit its first two victories after a clerical error led to the team using an ineligible player. The Grant Zgunda-coached Eagles, ranked No. 10 by the coaches, have outscored their opponents 102-40. Quarterback Ozzie Mann, a Ball State recruit, opened the season with 3,800 career yards and 35 touchdowns and his aerial production shows no signs of dropping off. Running back Austin Fuatavai provides a strong rushing threat. The Eagles are 13-3 against New Pal over the last 15 years.
"I think this game will be a shootout," said Paul Condry, who is president and publisher of the Indiana Football Digest magazine and also a contributor to Myindianafootball.com. "Both offenses are dynamic, and two of the best coaches in Indiana are matched up."
Huntington North (1-2) vs. Kokomo (1-2)
Coach Rief Gilg's Huntington North team is coming off a 35-14 victory over Logansport. The Vikings rely on quarterback Reid Fawcett and running backs Cody Frazier and Kendell Whitman. North suffered a number of graduation losses on defense, returning only three starters, and the Vikings will need to overcome that inexperience on Saturday. That's because Coach Brett Colby's Kokomo team will have running back Armon Bridgeforth on the field again. Bridgeforth ran for 1,496 yards last year, but a broken hand sidelined him early this season. He rolled up 159 yards and two touchdowns in last week's 62-13 victory over Muncie Central. The Wildkats have won 40 straight games in North Central Conference play.
"Huntington North's young defense is going to have to step up going against a Kokomo team with Bridgeforth returning to the lineup," Condry said.
Speedway (3-0) vs. Ritter (3-0)
Speedway, ranked fifth in the Class 2A coaches poll, is averaging 50.3 points per game. The Sparkplugs' average margin of victory is 38.7, and they're coming off a 64-20 win at Beech Grove. They have speed to burn. Ritter averages 44.7 points and has won by an average margin of 31. Coach Ty Hunt's Raiders defeated Lapel 41-0 last week. Quarterback Jake Purichia, one of the top sophomores in the state, has completed 35-of-54 passes for 603 yards.
"This may be one of the best regular-season games we'll see in our state this year," Condry said. "They are two well coached teams."
Bishop Chatard (3-0) vs. Cathedral (1-2)
Coach Vince Lorenzano's Bishop Chatard team will meet Cathedral on the heels of winning last week over another big rival, Indianapolis Roncalli. Chatard, which won the Class 3A state championship last year, is ranked No. 1 in the coaches poll. With standout back Ryan Kleinschmidt running behind a talented line and quarterback Max VanVliet's strong passing, the Trojans are winning by an average of 34.7 points a game. VanVliet hit 9-of-14 passes for 151 yards and three touchdowns in Chatard's 35-3 victory over Roncalli.
Cathedral, with one of the toughest schedules in the state, opened with an overtime loss to Ben Davis and a three-point defeat against Class 5A, No. 1-ranked Warren Central. But even with the two losses, the Fighting Irish are ranked No. 2 in the Class 4A coaches poll. Quarterback Corey Babb continues to improve for the Irish, who lost starter Connor Barthel to graduation after last year's state title-winning effort. Coach Rick Streiff's team defeated Centerville (Ohio) 34-17 in a Monday game in the Kirk Herbstreit National Kickoff Classic.
Cathedral will be playing on a short week of practice. Chatard, like most high school teams in Indiana, is accustomed to playing its games on Friday night. Both squads, which aren't affiliated with conferences, will have to make adjustments heading into Lucas Oil Stadium.
"As a coach, I would like to play the game on a Friday night," Lorenzano said in an email. "Since we do not have a field of our own, it is always nice to play in a first-class facility."
Last season, Cathedral defeated Chatard 40-14. This year, state observers expect a close game.
"Cathedral, with that difficult schedule, proved against Warren that they could keep teams contained," Condry said. "Now comes another big challenge in holding Kleinschmidt at bay. Chatard is confident right now, with solid veteran leadership that is well coached. This could be one of the best games in the state, no question."
Further information can be found on MyIndianaFootball.com