Playoffs continue this week with regional titles on the line across the state.
Five area programs remain alive in the postseason.
Sam Frick previews each of matchup involving local squads.
Class 5A: #2 Snider (10-1) at #9 Mishawaka, 7 p.m.
Overall series: Snider leads 3-0
Snider is coming off a dominant performance in sectionals as it looks to get one step closer to returning to the state finals at Lucas Oil Stadium.
The Cavemen of Mishawaka stand in the way, a rich, storied program dating back to Bart Curtis’s time there. Mishawaka will run its wishbone offense, which means it will rely on a fullback to lead the power run attack. The Cavemen has some dudes in the backfield with Brady Fisher (9.2 yards per carry) and Novell Miller.
The key factor for Snider will come down to its ability to run the football led by Uriah Buchanan, who has become one of the most explosive running backs in the state. If the Panthers can move the ball on the ground, they will be in position to win this game.
However, this Cavemen team is a very strong group, so it will take a quality performance. Last season, these two met in regionals at Mishawaka where Snider trailed 21-7 at the half before fighting back to win.
Class 4A: #10 Leo (10-2) at #5 Mississinewa (12-0), 7 p.m.
Overall series: First meeting
For the first time since Leo’s run to semistate in 2011, the Lions will be playing in a regional football game. When Jason Doerffler accepted the Leo head coaching position prior to the 2022 season, some people did not know how well this would pan out. But to the surprise of no one that knows the Doerfflers and Leo football, it has been an overwhelming success.
Doerffler said he is proud of how well his team has played and calls the sectional championship win a highlight of his football career.
“When we met before the summer, they (Leo players) set some lofty goals – one of which was to win a sectional championship,” said Doerffler. “They have worked extremely hard towards those goals and deserve the success they have received so far.
“I’m especially proud of how together they are. They really like being around each other, are great teammates and love playing together for Leo. They are a special group.”
Against Bishop Dwenger last week, the stars of Leo had a strong game, including Kaden Hurst, who caught eight passes for 175 yards and two touchdowns and added an interception in a 31-13 win over Bishop Dwenger. The emergence of Dearious Carter in the backfield has given Leo that elusive, quick playmaker carrying the ball whenever it needs to get yardage and move the chains. Carter is averaging 7.4 yards per carry in the playoffs with five touchdowns.
For Leo to have a shot at claiming the program’s third-ever regional championship, it will need to keep the energy high as well as get a strong performance from their defense.
Mississinewa is playing in its fourth regional game in the last six years, but have not won a regional since 1985. Ole Miss looked impressive against Kokomo last week in a 31-24 win. Quarterback Nolan Quaderer finished 10-of-18 for 264 yards and three touchdowns. While Deakon Dilts gets the most attention at wide receiver, it was junior Andrew Monday and his 132 receiving yards and two rushing scores that made the biggest difference.
Doerffler said his team is capable of coming away with the win, but this game will come down to limiting mistakes. Leo has not committed a turnover yet this postseason.
“We will need to limit their quarterback, as he can really make plays with his feet and has a great arm,” said Doerffler. “We’re also going to need to make some explosive plays in the kicking and return game. And as always, be the more physical team at the line of scrimmage.”
Class 2A: #8 Bluffton (10-2) at #7 Bishop Luers (9-3), 7 p.m.
Overall series: Bishop Luers leads 2-0
Luersfield is the site of the hottest ticket of the night in Fort Wayne as the Knights entertain a very good Bluffton team out of the ACAC. These two met in last year’s regional, a convincing 35-6 win for Luers.
Bluffton coach Brent Kunkel said it feels good for the program to make history with their first-ever sectional title repeat. Last year, the Tigers’ sectional championship was not expected by many, whereas this year’s team achieved a goal they expected to reach. In Bluffton’s 41-6 win over Eastern last week, Tucker Jenkins led the Tigers’ backfield with nine rushes for 83 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Jenkins also had seven tackles and a sack on defense.
Meanwhile for Luers, the Knights looked every bit like the co-SAC champions in a 42-0 win at Manchester. The Knights exploited Manchester’s weaknesses in rushing for 175 yards, led by Gio Jimenez’s 103 yards rushing and three touchdowns.
Coach Kyle Lindsay said he was happy with his team’s defensive execution, but the Luers offense must be sharper moving forward if they want to have a shot at making a run to Lucas Oil Stadium. Lindsay said this Bluffton team does not look like the one that the Knights beat handedly a year ago.
“They’re physical and are playing with a ton more confidence than they did a year ago,” said Lindsay. “It shows on how quick they are to fill gaps and how they deliver blocks/tackles.
“Their QB (Braxton Betancourt) is a very good athlete who can run and has a very good arm, so keeping him in check while slowing down their running backs behind that line is a tall task.”
Kunkel said experience has been a big difference maker compared to last year’s team.
“Last year, we were happy to be in the regional,” said Kunkel. “This year, we expected to be. They (Bishop Luers) aren’t going to be intimidated playing against us. They play with a high level of confidence because their players and coaches have all been there before.”
The key in this game will come down to defense. The Bluffton defense will have to contain the explosive athletes that Bishop Luers is blessed to have. The last time the Tigers won a regional championship was 1988, a year in which they went 3-6 in the now-defunct NEIAC before making a Cinderella run to semistate.
This year’s Tigers head into Friday expecting to win. Kunkel emphasized that his team needs to continue to embrace the moment.
“Practice is a privilege…” said Kunkel. “There are only eight 2A teams playing in the state of Indiana and we are one of them. We earned the right to be in this game, but we are entitled to nothing moving forward.
“We have a great group of senior leaders who have taken this program to new heights. We are looking forward to playing against one of the best teams in Indiana high school football history and seeing where we stack up.”
Lindsay said his team respects Bluffton’s potential and will not take anything lightly. He emphasized to “Never underestimate the heart of a group of seniors” when mentioning this year’s Bluffton Tigers.
“We need to communicate and tackle well on defense,” said Lindsay. “We have to take care of the ball and limit penalties andloss of yards on offense. Special teams need to cover well and be prepared for any kind of onside kick…There should be no surprises this time of year.”
Class 1A: #2 Adams Central (12-0) at #3 Carroll (Flora) (12-0), 7 p.m.
Overall series: Adams Central leads 1-0
In the state of Indiana, there are only 10 undefeated teams remaining. Only two regional games will feature a pair of unbeaten teams, the other outside of this one being two-time defending 1A state champion Indianapolis Lutheran hosting undefeated Providence.
Last week, the Jets caught a huge early scare when Madison-Grant scored all 14 points early in the first quarter, the most points AC has allowed all season long. Despite that, the Jets scored 49 unanswered points on their way to a 56-14 win. While the game was eventually a blowout, it was a lesson that any team on any given night can beat anyone. Look at Heritage in 3A vs Garrett or Linton-Stockton in 2A vs Southmont. Both were favored to win their sectional and yet their seasons ended in a shocking upset.
It has been a tremendous senior season from quarterback Jack Hamilton, a Lehigh baseball commit. He completed 3-of-4 passes for 115 yards and three touchdowns while running for 125 yards and a pair of scores in last week’s win. Over the course of the season, we’ve seen other players on this Jets roster contributing in several games, including Trevor Currie, Keegan Bluhm, Zac Wurm, Max Kaehr and Ryan Tester.
The Carroll defense has held opponents to just 3.4 points per game, the top-ranked defense in the entire state regardless of class. The Cougars have equally as many shutouts (six) as they have touchdowns allowed. Against Tri-Central last week, the Cougars held the Trojans to just 100 total yards. Thes run defense hasn’t allowed more than 130 yards rushing in a game all season long. In fact, the Cougars have only allowed 100 yards rushing twice.
But the biggest knock with Carroll (Flora) is the fact that it plays in a 1A conference that is not nearly as strong as that of the ACAC. Last season, Adams Central defeated the Cougars 35-0. The Cougars last regional title came in 1996.
While everyone expects the third straight Adams Central-Lutheran state finals matchup, just know that even the best of teams can have their worst games. At this point, there are no bad teams in the state tournament.