FORT WAYNE – Snider defined its season in a two-minute span of a 36-35 Class 5A regional overtime win over Fishers.
The Panthers (14-0) trailed 28-14 with just a couple of minutes remaining at Wayne Stadium on Nov. 9. Perseverance and big plays helped Snider tie the game at 28.
Then in overtime, after Fishers scored to take a 35-28 lead, Snider scored a touchdown and completed a gutsy two-point conversion to move on to face Merrillville in the semistate.
“And not every guy on that sideline believed we were going to win, but enough guys did,” Snider coach Kurt Tippmann said of the comeback against Fishers. “When the guys that do are the leaders on the team, everybody else is going to follow.”
The Panthers avoided a letdown in the semistate even as a 16-point, fourth-quarter lead dwindled to three. They recovered an onside kick and ran out the remaining minutes in a 42-39 win that propelled them into the 5A state finals Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium.
“Because of their camaraderie and bond as a team, they don’t get flustered when highs and lows happen,” Tippmann said. “Great teams are going to make great plays. Keeping your mind focused on what your job is has been our message all year. These guys have done a good job of that all year. They talk about it, and that’s what they have been able to do through some tough situations.”
A balanced and deep Snider team doesn’t have one or two players who can be called the heart and soul of the group, but the constant fight in the three dozen seniors leads the way.
And these are no ordinary seniors. They have played a lot of games in a 2011 season that went to the semistate and a 2012 campaign that will finish at the state finals.
“It comes from their experience, and their age,” Tippmann said.
“A lot of those guys have been starting on this team for three years.”
Whether it be coming from behind or holding onto a lead, Snider seems comfortable in both roles.
The SAC champion Panthers have been through all kinds of games this year, beating 2A state finalist Bishop Luers 10-7 in a slugfest in the season opener and then taking out Elkhart Central 66-51 in a shootout later in the season.
And now, here the Panthers are just one win away from the program’s first state title in 20 years.
The task will be a tough one against top-ranked Lawrence Central (14-0). And the Bears know they can expect a battle against the Panthers.
“Their ability to never give up,” Lawrence Central coach Jayson West said of what he notices in the Panthers.
“They seem like they are tough, hard-working kids. Fishers had them down, and they came back. You can see they have had some close games. Merrillville came back on them, and they never gave up on each other.”
Whatever you want to call it – tenacity, resolve or good old-fashioned guts – it might be enough to help Snider reverse the trend of the last two Panthers teams that have trekked south to the state finals only to come away with a runner-up trophy.
Don’t count out these Panthers.