Undefeated Lutheran and resurgent Center Grove are one win away from a trip to IHSAA state football championship games on Thanksgiving weekend in Lucas Oil Stadium.
The Saints, ranked No. 1 in Class 1A, dominated nemesis No. 5 North Vermillion, 56-21, Friday, while Center Grove – sparked by the return of running back Carson Steele – avenged an early-season loss to Warren Central by downing the host Warriors, 28-14.
Lutheran now hosts No. 8 New Washington at 7:30 p.m., and the Trojans greet Ben Davis in a rematch at 7 p.m., Friday. The winners advance to the state championship weekend.
Lutheran avenged losses to North Vermillion that knocked the Saints from the playoffs in 2016 and last year.
“We knew from last year, they are a tough opponent,” said Saints senior lineman Peyton Knight, who is the team’s long snapper. “They hurt us bad last year, but we knew this time if we executed the coaches game plan, we would come out on top.”
The Saints and Falcons battled evenly (14-14) for the first 15 and one-half minutes until back-to-back touchdowns doomed the visitors.
Senior Marcus McFadden, the state’s best small-school running back, capped a four-play, 42-yard drive with a one-yard touchdown. And then McFadden, as a linebacker, intercepted a pass on the Falcons’ first play from scrimmage and returned it 48 yards for a TD and a commanding 28-14 lead.
“That (pick-six) was huge because it put us up by two scores and built some separation,” Knight said. “At halftime, we knew that we had played well, but we knew we had to finish the job and that’s what we did.”
McFadden scored three TDs from scrimmage and Dante Akins carried all 10 times for 69 yards for the Saints final TD.
Junior 6-5 end Joe Faubion added to the Saints romp by catching TD passes from Blake White for touchdowns of 7, 33 and 11 yards with a 10-inch height advantage over a 5-7 defender. He caught eight passes for 93 yards, an advantage the Saints knew they could exploit after watching video of North Vermillion.
“We had planned on that all week,” said Faubion, whose two older brothers played for the Saints. “Our quarterback coach (Bob Farmer) was calling for three touchdown passes to me all week. We worked on the fade (pass) into the flat and we were able to take advantage.”
Faubion’s eldest brother, Jake, is the Saints’ defensive backs coach.
The Saints racked up 393 yards total offense with McFadden gaining 121 yards on 12 carries. White was 14 of 19 for 170 yards to five different receivers.
At Warren Central, Center Grove junior running back Carson Steele returned to the lineup for the first time this season after recovering from a pulled hamstring.
Steele carried 21 times for 97 yards, mostly in the second half, and scored from 10 yards and one yard. His final TD with 54 seconds left iced the Trojans’ win and set up a rematch against much improved Ben Davis. Teammate Daniel Weems carried 10 times for 95 yards.
The No. 12 Trojans defeated the Giants in Ray Skillman Stadium, Sept. 13, 48-20. The Giants have won seven of eight games since and are ranked No. 10.
At Mt. Vernon, Roncalli’s comeback season ended as the host Marauders won, 25-17.
The Rebels closed to the final score with 7:51 left on quarterback Aiden Leffler’s nine-yard run. The defense got the ball back twice for the offense, but an interception and fourth-down incomplete pass kept the Rebels from scoring again. Leffler wound up with 166 yards passing and 92 yards on the ground.
The Rebels started with only one win in their first six games but developed into a 7-6 finish for a winning season under third-year coach Scott Marsh.