By Beau Wicker
---- — Winamac’s dominating football team has its eyes on repeating as a sectional champion.
The Class A No. 3 Warriors will have get past No. 7 Whiting tonight in a semifinal game to do so.
The Warriors (10-0) face the Oilers (9-1) at 8 p.m. EST tonight in a clash of ranked teams. The game was moved back to 8 o’clock since Whiting is located in the central time zone and taking into account rush-hour traffic in the Region.
The winner will face the winner between West Central (7-3) at Culver (4-6) in next week’s final.
Winamac is 2-0 all-time against Whiting in football, with the two wins coming in cluster play in 1983 and 1984.
“They have been a good program,” Warriors coach Tim Roth noted.
The Oilers have won three sectional titles, the last coming in 1997. They won a regional in 1996. Roth recalled of outstanding sectional battles the Oilers had with Brad Urban’s West Central teams in the middle part of the last decade.
Whiting’s lone blemish this season was a 30-20 loss to Class 2A River Forest in Week 8. The Oilers bounced back with a 34-14 win in Week 9 over Lake Station, the lone common opponent with the Warriors. The Warriors blasted Lake Station 73-14 last week in sectional play in a game Roth was miffed why the Fighting Eagles chose to not punt the ball no matter the position on the field or the yards needed to gain.
Whiting quarterback A.J. Veloz has completed 59.1 percent of his passes for 1,726 yards and 10 touchdowns to go with six interceptions. Petruf Martin has 36 catches for 525 yards and 4 TDs, and Keegan Rooke has 32 catches for 506 yards and 4 TDs.
Ethan Young is the leading rusher with 1,497 yards and 21 TDs and is averaging 6.8 yards per carry.
“They’ve got the complete package,” Roth said. “Their quarterback has thrown for 5,000 yards in his career. Their tailback has rushed for over 1,000 yards this season. We hope we’ve got things to stop them or slow them down.
“Two weeks ago they played Lake Station and Lake Station had a chance to tie the game up on them and Whiting went on to beat them 34-14. We looked at that film and there are things we think we can exploit against them. They’re definitely a finesse team. They like to throw it around and run the option and sweeps outside. The don’t make their money in between the tackles. They’re not afraid to do that, but their game is more throwing it around so we’ll have to defend the whole field.”
Winamac’s first-team defense allowed just its second score of the season in last week’s win over Lake Station. At the same time, the Warriors are averaging 52.7 points per game, which is fifth in the state. Their average margin of plus-44.5 ppg is third behind only New Prairie and Eastern Hancock.
The Warriors are led by senior fullback Tyler Katschke, who has rushed for 1,547 yards and 25 TDs and is averaging 11.1 yards per carry. Levi Schultz adds 349 yards and 4 TDs, and Keegan Kasten adds 220 yards and 5 TDs.
J.T. Garnett has filled in at quarterback for the injured Parker Fox the last four games and has passed for 450 yards and 10 TDs with just one interception on the season. Sean Lynch is the leading receiver with 12 catches for 301 yards and 7 TDs, and Schultz adds 10 catches for 234 yards and 4 TDs.
Mitch Reed leads the defense with 82 tackles, 63 assists and 12 tackles for a loss. Katschke has 15 tackles for a loss and Dalton Button adds 14. Schultz, Fox and Brandon DeGroot each have two interceptions on the year.
Fox, who also started on defense before his broken collarbone injury, could be cleared to play as soon as next week if the Warriors can advance, Roth said.
Winamac has outgained opponents 3,169-687 in yardage on the ground and 993-667 through the air this season. The Warriors have outscored opponents 527-82 on the season including 181-0 in the first quarter.
Roth is hoping for a big home crowd on what is expected to be a chilly night.
“Whiting follows their team well. Against West Central and in the ’90s when they played in the regional their fans followed them,” he said. “I hope our fans come out and fill the stands.”