by Beau Wicker
It was a turnaround of epic proportions, a startling turn of events.
Winamac’s football team completely turned the tables against rival West Central in last Friday night’s 49-13 drubbing. The Warriors avenged a 49-7 loss just six weeks earlier against Class A’s eighth-ranked team.
“We shocked the area, I don’t know about the state,” Winamac coach Tim Roth said. “If we pull off an upset this weekend, we’ll shock the state.”
Yes, the Warriors (9-3) host three-time defending state champion and No. 1-ranked Lafayette Central Catholic (11-1) tonight. The Knights are coming off three straight blowout wins against the Midwest Conference’s Pioneer, Caston and North White.
“We’ve had a good week of practice. I like the way the kids have approached the game,” Roth said. “They know it’ll be a monumental task for us to even come out with a 1-point win. I don’t think they’re intimidated. They’re looking forward to it. They know they have to play better than they did last week to beat a team like this.”
With a win, Central Catholic would bump up to Class 2A next season under the IHSAA’s new classification rule.
“Everyone will be cheering for us, but everyone will be cheering against us, too,” Roth said. “They want CC to win so they get bumped up. CC has a lot of critics, so a lot of people will want us to beat them.”
The Warriors have won four games in a row, which includes sectional wins over Hammond Noll and West Central.
“Our team has definitely come together here in the last half of the season,” Roth said. “We’ve gotten some great play out of our seniors, and we’ve had some young guys that have all of a sudden blossomed, too.”
Roth said a reason for the turnaround has been the team coming together since 6-year-old Cooper Fulmer, the younger brother of senior lineman Gavin Fulmer, was diagnosed with leukemia.
“With the Fulmer family, when Cooper was diagnosed with leukemia, a lot of Gavin’s teammates and classmates rallied around him to support him and his family. You hate to use the C word as a rallying point, but a lot of kids have showed Gavin that they’ll be there for him if he needs them,” he said. “The guys like each other more. They trust each other more.”
The Warriors’ sectional title was their third ever and first since the Tyler Roth-led team in 2000. The Warriors won their lone regional title in 2000 as well.
Entering the season Roth thought this year’s squad might be a year away, but said ‘why not this season?’
With the resounding win over West Central, the Warriors sent a statement they may be ready to take the conference reins for the first time since 2000 next season after over decade of dominance by Pioneer.
“We’re knocking on the door,” Roth said. “Our JV team went undefeated. Our eighth grade went undefeated. Regardless of how far we keep going this year, I know we have quality kids coming back to fill the roster next year. I’ll worry about that when we cross that street. But the future looks pretty good right now.”
The Panthers were a senior-heavy team this year. Roth said of them: “They’ll be good again. They have a nice young quarterback [Sam Kiser] back running the show for them. That’ll be one position next year where we’ll be a little inexperienced. The nice thing is we’ll have the rest of our backfield other than the quarterback back. I’m looking forward to it. I don’t want this season to end, but by the same token I’m excited about what we have back the next few years, too.”
Roth said one of the young players who has stepped up of late is 6-foot-2, 260-pound sophomore lineman Dalton Button.
“He has become a man on the offensive line. We ran behind him a lot of Friday night,” Roth said. “We’ve been using him on defense, too, and against West Central he took their midline play away. They couldn’t handle him.”
Tyler Katschke has rushed for 1,569 yards and 20 touchdowns to lead the Warriors. Zach Shidler has rushed for 797 yards and 14 TDs and passed for 1,050 yards and 13 TDs. Levi Schultz has 18 catches for 375 yards and 4 TDs, and Parker Fox has 14 catches for 333 yards and 3 TDs. Brandon Dickson leads the defense with 122 tackles, and Richie Doty has 14 tackles for a loss.