Southsider Voice correspondent
Lutheran’s football team stared at adversity in Eastern Hancock in a Class A regional championship game Friday, after rolling through three sectional opponents by a 151-21 count.
The visiting No. 8 Saints trailed Eastern Hancock 13-0 with two minutes left in the first half.
“We had been able to get off to fast starts, but they had a great game plan,” Lutheran coach Dave Pasch said. “It took us a while to settle down in the cold. We were confident in what we were doing; we finally got everything back on track.”
The Saints regrouped and scored on a 14-yard pass from quarterback Jake Reid to Keyen Nowalski with less than a minute in the first half. Max Rozema’s PAT kick was good.
Lutheran trailed 13-7 but gained momentum and captured the school’s first regional football championship, downing the No. 9 Falcons 21-19.
The Saints iced the game on a defensive play with less than seven minutes left in the game. With the Falcons backed up near their end zone, Lutheran’s Dalton Needy blocked a punt that Esteban Novelette recovered in the end zone for a 21-13 lead.
Earlier, the Saints went ahead 14-13 on Andre Jones’ 10-yard run, which capped a 76-yard scoring drive in the third quarter.
Eastern Hancock (10-3) came up with a stunning 85-yard return of the kickoff after Novelette’s recovery. The Saints’ defense stopped the Falcons’ two-point PAT to preserve the win.
The Falcons drove to Lutheran’s 33 late in the game, but the Saints’ defense stopped the hosts on downs, ending the Falcons’ nine-game winning streak.
Lutheran goes for another historic win Friday against No. 2-ranked and unbeaten North Vermillion (13-0) at Roncalli at 7:30 p.m. The winner collides with No. 2 Pioneer (12-1) or unranked South Adams (7-6) at noon Nov. 29 for the Class A state championship at Lucas Oil Stadium.
“North Vermillion is very athletic and has great team speed,” Pasch said. “They spread the field on offense, and they present you with multiple threats.”
With size on the offensive and defensive lines and an experienced team, the Saints have won six consecutive games since starting 4-3.
Pasch credits the rugged competition in the Indiana Crossroads Conference for toughening the Saints for the playoffs.
“I think it is one of the better small conferences in the Midwest,” Pasch said. “You have to play at a high level every week. It prepares you mentally and you find a way to keep going no matter what happens.”
Pasch credited the continued development of quarterback Reid and the team’s overall experience level for the late-year surge. “The experience that we have and that we bring onto the field cannot be overstated. It gives us the ability to change our blocking schemes on offense and make adjustments on defense.”
The season already stands as a landmark year with the school’s second sectional championship and first regional title. Now the Saints find themselves one win away from a state championship game.
And Pasch knows what it takes at the level. “State championships are reserved for great teams and great effort,” he contended.
The Saints stand ready for the task.
Center Grove, Roncalli bow out
The Saints are the lone Southside team left standing in the tournament.
Center Grove, No. 5 in 6A, reached the semifinals for the fourth straight year but could advance no farther again as host Ben Davis came from behind to win 49-45.
The No. 4 Giants scored the game’s final three touchdowns after CG led 45-28 with main minutes remaining in the third quarter of the matchup between the Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference foes.
The Trojans led 31-21 at the half. CG running back Max Norris gained 198 yards on 20 carries but left with a pulled hamstring late in the second quarter. The Trojans’ No. 2 back, Titus McCoy, was injured in the fourth quarter.
After losing their first three games, the Trojans ripped off nine straight wins before falling to the Giants.
Roncalli (7-6) ran into 4A No. 2 New Palestine’s high-powered offense. The host Rebels held the visiting Dragons to 44 points, well below their nearly 60-point average, but the Rebels could only counter with two touchdowns.
Roncalli took a 7-3 lead in the first quarter on Nick Boehle’s 5-yard run. The TD awakened a sleeping giant as the Dragons scored three times in the second quarter for a commanding 23-7 halftime lead before cruising to a 44-13 victory.
New Palestine’s held Roncalli to 77 yards rushing and intercepted three passes.