State finals at Lucas Oil Stadium
Class A: Lafayette Central Catholic (13-1) vs. Indianapolis Scecina (11-3), 3:30 p.m.
Class 2A: Bishop Luers (10-4) vs. Indianapolis Ritter (14-0), 7 p.m.
Class 3A: Hamilton Heights (13-1) vs. Indianapolis Chatard (12-2), noon
Class 4A: Mishawaka (11-3) vs. Indianapolis Cathedral (9-5), 3:30 p.m.
Class 5A: Snider (14-0) vs. Lawrence Central (14-0), 7:05 p.m.
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INDIANAPOLIS – Snider will be looking into a mirror. Bishop Luers will be staring at an alternative offensive universe.
But the two Fort Wayne high school football teams' bottom line is the same: To win a state title this weekend, they must beat undefeated No. 1 teams.
Snider's opponent in Class 5A, top-ranked Lawrence Central (14-0), packs the same kind of balanced, deep offensive attack that has led Snider to state.
Bishop Luers' opponent in Class 2A, top-ranked Indianapolis Ritter (14-0), relies on an aerial attack – a passing bonanza – that contrasts sharply with the Knights run-and-pound first, ask questions later approach.
It's hard to picture Snider (14-0) and Luers (10-4) as underdogs, especially since Luers is pursuing a fourth straight state title, but based on rankings and production, that's probably the case.
The coaches of the state teams gathered Monday at Lucas Oil Stadium to learn logistics and talk to the media. Luers plays Ritter at 7 p.m. Friday. Snider plays Lawrence Central at 7:05 p.m. Saturday.
Lawrence Central coach Jayson West said he looks at No. 2 Snider and has a familiar feeling.
“I think we're playing ourselves,” West said. “Really, you could mix and match uniforms and you'd have the same exact kids. … They're athletic. They have physicality. That's why they're here. We have similar strengths. They're well-coached and they've got those kids wanting to play hard.”
Lawrence Central is led by small but big-playing Drake Christen, a 5-foot-9 running quarterback (92.6 yards rushing per game) who can also throw the ball (18 touchdowns to four interceptions) when needed. He has two other 1,000-yard-plus running backs – Alex Rodriguez and Isaiah Townsend – and three quality receivers.
Lawrence Central linebacker Nikia Averitte is a force of nature with 118 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, eight sacks, three forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries.
“Their quarterback is unbelievably good,” Snider coach Kurt Tippmann said. “He's one of the best athletes we've played against. They're big up front with big hulking guys who move real well. They pose all kinds of problems with their athleticism and size.”
Tippmann, making his first state appearance as a head coach, is equally impressed by Lawrence Central's defense. Snider will use its usual balanced attack with quarterback Brandon Phelps, running backs Je'Norie Smith, Tyrell Swain and Nick Reese, and several quality receivers.
“(Lawrence Central) is very physical and they fly around to the football, more so than any team we've played this year,” Tippmann said. “They're fast, they're talented and they're big.”
In other words, they're like Snider.
Bishop Luers coach Steve Keefer, meanwhile, will be planning for a Ritter team that is the epitome of offensive powerhouse.
Ritter ranked second in the state in scoring in all classes with an average of 51 points per game. The Raiders have scored at least 48 points in every playoff game. They have wins over two state finalists: Class A Scecina and Class 3A Bishop Chatard. They beat last year's Class 2A runner-up Evansville Mater Dei 49-14 in the semistate.
Quarterback Jake Purichia, who is being recruited by some Mid-American Conference schools, has thrown for 2,717 yards and 42 touchdowns with only five interceptions. He's thrown 26 of those touchdown passes to receiver Alex Parrett, who averages 19.5 yards per catch.
Contrast that with run-first Luers. The fifth-ranked Knights have only eight touchdown catches this season, and they're averaging a modest 24.7 points per game.
“They have some talent in Jaylon Smith and those guys doing some big things,” Ritter coach Ty Hunt said. “But I have confidence in my guys as well. I think we'll end up doing some good things and match up where we match up.”
Keefer, who took over at midseason as Luers interim coach, is making his third state finals appearance. He led Luers to the title in 1985 and was runner-up in 1983.
That's a long stretch between visits to the state finals as a head coach, but he's been an assistant/freshman coach the last few years.
“We're pretty much opposites,” Keefer said of his team and Ritter. “They're a wide-open offense that throws the ball all over the field and runs everywhere. We're a little bit more control-oriented power football team, trying to dominate the line of scrimmage. Defensively, we both play very quick football with great team speed.”
Keefer said he believes all four of the Luers running backs (Smith, Tyvel Jemison, Charles Gaston and Jaquale Cooper) would be starters if they were at other schools. Smith, the Notre Dame recruit, has become big dog at running back during the playoffs.
Junior quarterback Quinn Cook averages only 55 yards per game compared with Purichia's 194 per game. Luers does have some good receivers in Michael Rogers and Matt Williamson, and both had big catches in the semistate win over Andrean.
Nick Deiser and Quay Brooks lead Luers in tackles while Smith is a force at outside linebacker.
“I think we have a little more power up front defensively,” Keefer said. “We'll play the game and see how it shakes out.”