With Indiana High School semistate football action commencing on Friday night, there’s still several Indianapolis schools still participating for a chance to advance to the state finals next weekend.
#1 Carmel vs. #8 Merrillville
Carmel’s faced probably the toughest road to semistate of any team in the state of Indiana. They had to go through highly ranked Hamilton County rivals Fishers and Hamilton Southeastern in the sectionals, and then a very good Fort Wayne Snider team in the regionals. Carmel’s offense still hasn’t found a groove yet — they’ve managed just 55 points in four playoff games — but the defense has been outstanding, holding opponents under 10 points in six straight outings.
Despite a one loss record (their only loss was a 49-16 trouncing at the hands of Warren Central), Merrillville hasn’t been playing great football of late. They edged six win Portage 9-3 in the sectional finals, and needed a late game stop on a two point conversion to escape with a 28-27 win over Mishawaka in the regionals. Those type of performances won’t cut it against the battle tested Greyhounds, even with raucous home crowd cheering them on. Look for Carmel to advance to their fourth consecutive title game in typical close fashion.
Carmel: 13 Merrillville: 9
#11 Center Grove vs. #3 Warren Central
Since losing their last regular season game against Warren, defending state champion Center Grove’s been on an absolute tear through the playoffs. They dispatched #2 Columbus East in the second round of the sectionals, and then beat Bloomington South and Floyd Central by a combined score of 90-14 to advance to semistate. Warren Central’s been decidedly less dominant in their advancement, struggling with the likes of Brownsburg, Lawrence Central and Franklin Central.
Offensively, their strategy revolves around getting Shakir Bell the ball, and…that’s about it. In their regional game against Brownsburg, Bell accounted for 219 of the Warriors 243 yards, and in the first meeting with the Trojans, the water bug of a running back went off for 303 rushing yards.
Center Grove was without five defensive starters in that game, however, and they’ll be fully healthy when the two teams meet at Warren Central on Friday night, meaning Bell won’t find nearly as much space run free. In the end, I like the Trojans multi-faceted running game to prove more potent than Warren’s singular attack in this battle of MIC Conference heavyweights.
Center Grove: 35 Warren Central: 21
#1 Indianapolis Cathedral vs. #4 Evansville Reitz
Evansville’s season totals read like a video game box score. They averaged nearly 40 points a game and surrendered less than nine, accounting for a 31.3 average margin of victory. They steamrolled East Central in the regionals 52-28, and they dominated their sectional opponents to the tune of 112-13.
The 13-0 Panthers are the best team that Cathedral’s faced since the opening weeks of the season, and they’ll need Indiana University recruit Kofi Hughes to step up and show why he’s considered among the most electrifying players in the state. He’ll get help from running back Nick Najem and receiver Reece Horn, but ultimately, the Irish’s fate will hinge on the performance of Hughes and the defense.
Matt McIntosh leads Evansville’s spread offense, and he’s accounted for over 3,000 yards and 39 touchdowns from the QB position. His brother, Paul, the 2007 Indianapolis Star Indiana Mr. Football, guided Reitz to a one-point semi-state victory over Cathedral two seasons ago, and you can bet coach Rick Streiff will use that as motivation to get his team back to Lucas Oil Stadium to defend their title. Call me a biased Indianapolis sports fan, but I think the Irish get their revenge in Evansville on Friday.
Indianapolis Cathedral: 17 Evansville Reitz: 14
#1 Bishop Chatard vs. #9 Evansville Memorial
Speaking of revenge against a team from Evansville, Bishop Chatard hosts Evansville Memorial at Tech High School in a rematch of last year’s semistate game that Memorial won 27-14. The loss snapped the Trojans 15-game postseason winning streak, and prevented them from adding to their record nine state titles. Evansville quarterback Grant Gribbins threw for 253 yards and accounted for four touchdowns in that game and he enters this year’s matchup as the state’s leading passer.
Chatard will try to counter the Tigers potent aerial attack by controlling the clock with their formidable running back Ari Pappas (2,078 rushing yards and 38 touchdowns), and an attacking pass rush. Considering the history, many in the Indianapolis media are figuring this to be a closely fought battle, but without the advantage of being over-looked (as they were last year), I just don’t see Memorial staying within striking distance of a focused Chatard squad.
Indianapolis Chatard: 35 Evansville Memorial: 17
#2 Monrovia vs. #3 Paoli
Undefeated Monrovia struggled in their sectional, needing overtime to beat South Putnam, and then edging North Putnam by a score of 7-6, but they made amends when they knocked off top ranked Ritter in the regionals. The Bulldogs sport the second best scoring defense in the state (allowing 4.8 points a game), and a powerful running game that relies on multiple players to make it go.
Paoli’s also undefeated, and their defense is no slouch either (surrendering 5.9 points a contest). The game will played at Plainfield High School due to poor field conditions at Monrovia, though there’s little doubt the small school located southwest of Indianapolis will be well represented by its enthusiastic fan base. Neither school has ever made it this deep into postseason play, so the experience factor can be thrown out the window. With all things seemingly equal, give me the Bulldogs to continue their magical run to a first state title.
Monrovia: 28 Paoli: 27