by Beau Wicker
In 2008, Lewis Cass’ football team survived a thrilling nail-biter against Bremen, 29-27, in a first-round sectional game.
The Kings went on all the way to the state finals at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Cass is hoping for a similar result this season after again surviving against Bremen, 34-28 in double overtime, last week in a first-round game. The Class 2A No. 7 Kings (9-1) will face another challenge tonight at Fairfield (7-3) in a sectional semifinal game. Fairfield is located in Goshen.
“They’re very similar to Bremen, I think,” Cass coach Scott Mannering said of the Falcons. “They’re an I-back, pro-I team. They have a good tailback. They have eight starters back from last year’s offense. They’re very solid. Their quarterback is a tall, athletic player. Their fullback is 230 pounds. He’s a load and ran for over 200 yards last week. They throw well and run the option. They’re a very similar team to the team we played last week.”
Mannering thought his team might have dodged a bullet late in the game against Bremen when the Lions had a chance to go for 2 on the one and a half yard line.
“It could have gone either way at the end. Bremen maybe had a chance to go for 2 when we were off-sides on an extra point. They chose to go ahead and kick it,” he said. “It was a good contest. Both teams had key injuries during the game. We were able to play through them.”
One of the injuries was to starting cornerback/wide receiver Justen Downhour (knee), who played just the first series of the game last week. Mannering said Downhour is questionable for tonight.
“Like anyone else this late in the year we’re sore and bruised up,” Mannering said. “That’s just part of the game.”
Kings quarterback Sheldon Slusser has passed for 710 yards and nine touchdowns and rushed for an additional 486 yards and 12 TDs. Drew Shepherd is the leading rusher with 665 yards and eight TDs. Downhour is the leading receiver with 12 catches for 343 yards and six TDs. Payton Young is the leading tackler with 58, Grant Maxwell has a team-high 7.5 tackles for a loss and Darron Jackson leads with three sacks. Shepherd and Downhour each have five interceptions.
Garrett Scott has passed for 1,107 yards and 11 TDs for the Falcons. Their leading rushers are Cameron Kitson (934 yards, 12 TDs) and Kyle Ostrander (612 yards, 10 TDs). Kitson has 28 catches for 426 yards and three TDs.
Lafayette Catholic (9-1) at Caston (8-2)
The Class A No. 13 Comets put together their best regular season since 2003 this year. They’re now shooting to reach their third sectional final in the last four years.
To do so, they’ll have to beat the team that has dominated Class A the last three years, No. 1-ranked Lafayette Central Catholic.
The Knights had a 47-game winning streak snapped in Week 3 in a 14-12 loss at Culver Academy, the only blemish on their record in the last four seasons. They also had a number of close games this season, something that hadn’t occurred over the last three.
“You can actually see some things on film that have worked against them,” Caston coach Chris Ulerick said. “The biggest thing is our kids have to believe in themselves. A few years ago they came over here and we played right with them for awhile. It takes a lot of work and a lot of effort. You have to continue to play hard and continue to believe and keep fighting. That’s something I want to see. We didn’t see that in last year’s contest. We have to play 48 full minutes.”
Jeremy Gonzalez has rushed for 1,285 yards and 15 TDs to lead the Comets. Quentin Douglass has passed for 708 yards and 7 TDs and rushed for 403 yards and 6 TDs. Corey Moss leads with 75 tackles. Chanse Ault and Alex Corn have seven sacks apiece.
Pioneer (9-1) at Carroll (6-4)
No. 4 Pioneer was able to cruise to a sectional win over Frontier last week after a hard-fought win over No. 8 West Central the week before.
Panther coach Mike Johnson is looking for a similar type effort he saw against the Trojans.
“We need that type of effort from this point on out to stay alive in the tournament,” Johnson said. “We know we’ve got it in us, we just have to make sure we’re ready to do it. I think we will. I think the kids are ready to play.”
The Cougars lost at Caston 21-14 in Week 5 to drop to 1-4, but have since won five straight. The wins were against Clinton Prairie (twice), Clinton Central, North White and Frontier.
“They’re big, they’re huge. They’ve got athletes all over the field, 6-5 in plenty of places,” Johnson said. “They’ve gotten better probably since they played Caston and had those injuries to their quarterback and wide receiver. They’re a dangerous team, very dangerous. They always seem to be good on offense. We’re going to have our hands full.
“We’re going to have to try to find a way to get them off the field and defensively they’re very good, very big. We’re going to have to find a way to move the ball against them. We’re definitely out-sized.”
While the Cougars have a size advantage, coach Steve Keown noted the Panthers have the edge in experience.
“We’re still an awfully young football team. We have four sophomores on our offensive line,” he said. “We have three seniors, they have 13.
“That’s been the story for us. From day one we said we won’t use that youth as an excuse, and they haven’t. Every team we’ve played has had a lot more seniors than we do.”
The Cougars had to regroup after sophomore quarterback Jared Miller suffered a season-ending broken collarbone injury in the loss to Caston. Keown said he now platoons at the position, with Ryan Spesard taking the majority of the snaps.
“The nice thing is, when Jared went out, he had thrown for 625 yards. Ryan went in and has thrown for 600,” Keown said. “We’re still able to get the ball in the air and we’re fairly balanced. He’s done a nice job stepping in.
“In the last five games during our win streak we haven’t turned the ball over. We’ve been pretty high on the plus side of the turnover ratio. We have to take care of the football and don’t give them easy chances.”
Keown knows his squad will have its hands full against the Panthers, who have won nine straight after a season-opening loss at Cass.
“It’s going to be a tough one. We don’t have a lot of room for error,” he said. “They run the ball really well. They don’t run a lot of different plays but what they do run they run to perfection. Their defense is only allowing 9 points per game. They’re big up front and they fly to the football. We have to come out and try to match their physicality and try to get some things done.”
Joey Miller has rushed for 1,665 yards and 20 TDs to lead the Panthers. Matt Dorris has 732 yards rushing and 5 TDs. Stephen Whitlock leads with 88 tackles. Josh Lytle has 14 tackles for a loss and Dillon Stanton adds 12.
Spesard has rushed for 1,273 and 18 TDs to lead the Cougars, and Jaden Reneau adds 754 yards rushing and 10 TDs. Brandon Dillon is the leading receiver with 35 catches for 747 yards and 9 TDs. Spesard leads with 74 tackles, and Dillon has seven interceptions.
Hammond Noll (5-5) at Winamac (7-3)
In this matchup of Warriors, both teams enter on two-game winning streaks. Noll has won four of five and Winamac has won three of four.
The lone common opponent is South Newton, which Noll defeated 35-6 last week. Winamac defeated South Newton 42-20 in Week 4.
Winamac coach Tim Roth is expecting a good battle.
“They’re big. They’ve got some good skill guys,” he said. “They’re .500, but they’ve played much better in the second half of the season than the first half.
“They run a lot of formations. They run power-I, inverted wishbone, some pistol. There’s a lot to prepare for. I don’t know what they hang their hat on. They run a lot of formations and make you practice against them, basically to eat up your practice time.”
Tyler Katschke has rushed for 1,196 yards and 16 TDs to lead Winamac. Quarterback Zach Shidler has passed for 933 yards and 12 TDs and rushed for 671 yards and 12 TDs. Levi Schultz has 17 catches for 367 yards and 4 TDs. Brandon Dickson leads the defense with 100 tackles. Richie Doty has 14 tackles for a loss. Shidler and Schultz each have four interceptions.
“We hope we can play well for at least two more weeks and let the cards fall where they may,” Roth said. “We have to play well like we did against North Judson. They run a 3-4 defense like Judson, and we had success running the ball against Judson.”