Senior staff writer
The road to Roncalli’s historic ninth state football championship began last year in December.
“It all starts in the offseason and goes back to December with all their work in the weight room to become bigger, faster and stronger,” veteran coach Bruce Scifres said. “We tell them that the ones who work the hardest will get the playing time.
“I don’t know who said it but we don’t necessarily play our 11 best players; we look to play our 11 players who play the best together.”
Roncalli began the season with big holds to fill offensively but more to fill defensively. Along with the seniors, juniors Cade Morgan and Asher Jones emerged as defensive leaders along with classmates Dylan Williams, Tony Schott and Domini Clouse.
The Rebels progressed slowly but successfully, winning seven of their first eight games by one possession. After narrowly defeating Brebeuf Jesuit 14-6, the Rebels began their roll that went through the Class 4A playoffs, culminating Nov. 25 in the 2016 state championship trophy at Lucas Oil Stadium. The Rebels, in their first return since 2005 to the state championship game, defeated NorthWood 34-22.
The 2016 Rebels finished 15-0, the third time that Roncalli went unbeaten through the season and playoffs (1993 and 1999), each under Scifres, whose 26-year record is 248-88.
Roncalli is 9-3 in state championship games and 105-27 in playoff games since 1973.
There were a few scares along the way this year, but reliable senior kicker Patrick Sandler kept the season alive with game-winning field goals on the road against Lebanon and East Central in the tournament.
Third-generation quarterback Derek O’Connor led the Rebels with three touchdowns runs and a 70-yard scoring pass to receiver Jacob Luedemann in the title game. The Rebels iced the championship by running out the clock for the final six minutes, 43 seconds. O’Connor wound up the season with a remarkable 69.1 completion percentage (159 of 230), 2,009 yards, 18 touchdowns and only two interceptions.
Senior Kenny Gillum led the running game with 1,290 yards on 204 carries for 17 touchdowns. Classmate Patrick McManama gained 756 yard on 123 carries and scored 10 touchdowns.
Morgan led the defense with 147 tackles followed by Christian Bueggemann 102, Josh Swan 70, Alex Kuntz 67, Asher 56 and Chris Teney 55.
The Rebels move up to Class 5A for the next two seasons due to the Indiana High School Athletic Association’s success rule.
The Rebels will be able to reload, and it all begins this month in the weight room with the same goal – win state.
Roncalli state championships:
1985 (3A) – Roncalli 37, Wawasee 3
1988 (3A) – Roncalli 14, Tipton 13
1993 (3A) – Roncalli 14, NorthWood 12
1994 (3A) – Roncalli 35, Tipton 14
1999 (3A) – Roncalli 24, Norwell 14
2002 (4A) – Roncalli 24, Fort Wayne Dwenger 21
2003 (4A) – Roncalli 17, East Noble 0
2004 (4A) – Roncalli 35, Wawasee 10
2016 (4A) – Roncalli 34, NorthWood 22