Throughout the regular season, Blitz looked over the Summit Athletic Conference landscape and saw…mediocrity.
Sure, Carroll was good, but being in 6A, it wasn’t going anywhere.
Snider looked solid, but with no real star power there was a question whether the Panthers could navigate the 5A North.
And Bishop Luers? Well, it wasn’t as good as it was last year when it lost to Eastside. Why should we think the Knights would find a way this year?
Make no mistake, the conference slots in at No. 3 in Indiana in terms of top-to-bottom power – right below the Metropolitan and the Hoosier Crossroads – but this year didn’t ooze potential. Once again (for the last time), we were guessing when it came to how the SAC squads would match up with good teams from elsewhere in the state, considering all nine regular-season games were conference matchups.
But as we saw on Friday, turns out the SAC may be a lot better than Blitz gave the league credit for.
For the first time since 2007, the SAC has three teams preparing for semistate matchups next week – with Bishop Luers, Carroll and Snider all taking care of business in various states of impressiveness. The last time the league had a trio of regional champions was 2007 when Luers, Bishop Dwenger and Concordia did it.
Each of the three took care of business in their own way.
Bishop Luers cruised, jumping out to a quick 14-point lead in the first quarter and not looking back against Bluffton, dropping the Tigers 35-6 to win the program’s 21st regional championship.
Bluffton could not match the Knights’ speed. Anthony Cruz had been able to run roughshod over opponents during the Tigers’ four-game winning streak entering Friday – going over 150 yards in each of the four wins with eight total scores during that span. Bishop Luers held him to 24 yards on 11 carries.
It was a noticeably different evening for Snider and Carroll.
The Panthers got pushed around early at Mishawaka, so much so that the Cavemen had a 21-point lead with just over three minutes left in the first half. A Kamari Juarez punt return for a score gave Snider life heading into the half despite it having just one offensive possession through the first two quarters.
The second half saw a complete flip. Snider was able to score 28 unanswered, take the lead and make the plays to down Mishawaka 41-27 and hoist aloft the program’s first regional crown in six years.
The Chargers gave us the most excitement (anxiety?) of the night.
Carroll trailed by 13 in the third quarter but took the lead on a pair of Jimmy Sullivan touchdown throws – one to Braden Steely and one to Jayden Hill. Lafayette Jeff answered and was able to drive the ball down to the 1-yard line. The Bronchos gave the ball to Glenn Patterson, who rushed for over 200 yards in the game, but he was stuffed to preserve the slim Carroll lead.
But Lafayette Jeff would get another shot when Sullivan fumbled inside his own 30. The Bronchos again moved close to the goal line, but on third down from the 18-yard line Jorge Valdes picked off quarterback Ethan Smith with a minute left to shut down another scoring opportunity, preserving the dub for the Chargers, their first-ever regional championship and the first 6A regional title for a northeast Indiana squad since the inception of the class almost a decade ago.
Three dubs by SAC squads in three completely different games.
As we entered the playoffs, Blitz looked at Adams Central and Norwell as the area teams most likely to get to state. AC has delivered while Norwell faltered. But the SAC? It has risen to the challenge. Snider is as advertised. Bishop Luers has shown its every bit the team it was last year. And Carroll? Shutting up Blitz’s doubts about it in 6A with emphasis over the past few weeks.
Turns out, a league Blitz thought was down in 2022 is representing itself quite well this postseason.
Let’s hope it continues for at least one more week.
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