MERRILLVILLE-- In the end, perhaps, it was a matter of simple arithmetic.
Three years of experience plus three straight semistate appearances equaled state finals trip No. 4 for this particular group of Bishop Luers Knights.
For the fourth straight year Friday night, the Knights cleared the Class 2A semistate hurdle, beating 11-3 Andrean 35-21 to ensure they would have a shot at a 2A four-peat. Given everything that’s happened this year -- the mid-season coaching change, the forfeiture of a victory, the tough road trips to Toledo and Columbus, Ohio -- it’s perhaps a greater achievement than it appears at first glance.
And the consensus is, you can lay a lot of it at the feet of experience -- i.e., those three previous trips to this level.
"This has been our goal all year," Luers coach Steve Keefer said when it was done Friday. "This will be the fourth year in a row we’ve been down there, and a lot of these kids have been two, three-year starters.
"Jaylon (Smith) started as a freshman. So they know what it’s about."
And that likely gave them an edge that Andrean, which won a Class 3A state title in 2004 but hadn’t gotten beyond the regional since, didn’t have.
"Oh, yeah, that experience, it helps us a lot," defensive back Kendrick Mullen said. "You know a team comes down, and maybe they get a touchdown on you. Normally inexperienced players maybe break and fold under that pressure.
"But it’s really just that experience that helps us to rise to the occasion when we really need to."
It certainly seemed to Friday. After sabotaging their own cause with two penalties on their first possession, the Knights caught Andrean flat-footed on their second, Quinn Cook hitting Michael Rogers with a 30-yard touchdown pass.
Andrean immediately responded by throwing an interception to Mullen, setting up Jaylon Smith’s 18-yard touchdown run to get the Knights out to a 14-0 lead. And Luers never gave it back.
"That’s what we do," Keefer said. "You know, really my first message to them (when he took over as head coach) was, ’You know everybody wants to win, but you have to have the will to prepare to win.’ And that’s been our mantra every week.
"And these guys do it. They show up on Friday night and they play their heads off."