By Al Stilley
Senior staff writer
Lutheran seniors Bailly Barham and Emeka Jillani have been this route before.
They have won four football sectional championships. In 2015 they fell in the regional. Last year’s loss to Linton-Stockton in the semistate stung and left the Saints motivated for a deeper playoff march.
“All our seniors are determined to get to state, and this team is going to do everything in our power to get there,” said Jillani, a Ball State commit. “We came so close last year but couldn’t finish. We don’t want that to happen again.”
The Saints will face Arlington for a regional championship Friday. The host Golden Knights (9-2) are skilled with speed and athleticism.
Barham knows it is one step at a time.
“We have been through a lot since then; hard work during the summertime and we want it to pay off,” Barham said. “We believe in the program, what coach (Dave) Pasch says, believe in ourselves and be very humble; being humble is the key.”
The 1A No. 2 Saints are 10-2 and overpowered sectional foes Cambridge City Lincoln 54-16 and South Decatur 56-12 before defeating Hagerstown 19-12 Friday. Lutheran gained a 19-6 lead on Andre Jones’ second touchdown run. The Tigers scored on a 50-yard pass, but the Saints avoided a nail-biting finish with a fourth-down pass caught by a diving Barham.
Sophomore running back Marcus McFadden scored the Saints’ second TD, and senior slotback Trevor Russell added to the offense. Jillani and 300-pound senior lineman Mike Eakle played most of the game on both sides of the ball.
“Both teams had opportunities to make plays, but near the end we made more plays than they did,” Pasch said. “Our defense rose to the occasion, but there were times on offense that we made the big catch.”
Jillani has matured from a pudgy 250-pound freshman to a rock- solid 289-pound lineman who will play in NCAA Division I next season. He is not looking that far ahead but does want to play two more games for the Saints after Friday.
“My sophomore year was a drain physically because I went from not playing much as a freshman and then starting on both sides of the ball,” Jillani said. “When I thought of the big picture (state finals), that’s when I knew what I had to do.”
Barham contends that playing linebacker on defense helps him as a slotback on offense. “That helps me know what the linebackers are thinking, so I know what route to run to get around them. On defense I read our linemen and if they drop, then I try to disrupt the receiver coming my way.”
“We knew Hagerstown would be tough,” Barham said. “Our conference (Indiana Crossroads) – as tough as it is – has helped us. Playing teams in classes above us, even though we don’t like to lose, it makes us better so we can win after Week 9 (the start of the tournament).”
A vice principal at Scecina, Pasch (75-45) is in his 10th season at Lutheran. This year’s 12 seniors are 38-15 over the past four years.