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Ben Smith

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Swikar Patel | The Journal Gazette
Luers’ Jaylon Smith leaps over Ritter’s Jalen Chandler in the fourth quarter. Smith was penalized for the leap, preventing the Knights from getting a first down.

Tradition carries day for Knights

– So here is what history looked like, as Quinn Cook took a knee and the last second fled, and all those Luers kids back there began to chant.

History was Jaylon Smith lying flat on his back with his hands covering his face, laid low by the moment in a way Indianapolis Ritter never was able to lay him low.

History was Bishop Luers coach Steve Keefer taking off his headset and walking out to midfield, where, swarmed by minicams and microphones, he began to talk about family and tradition and all those things that have never been more worth talking about than in this strangest of autumns.

History looked like, yes, those kids back there along the rail, chanting “Four-peat! Four-peat! Four-peat!” – the anthem of this Friday night. And Smith, after making one last breathtaking cut and stampeding into the end zone for the dagger score in a 40-28 victory, flipping the ball to the official and then coming straight off the field toward Luers principal Mary Keefer, whom he enveloped in a bear hug.

History was Kendrick Mullen, who made two clutch defensive plays in the final seconds to keep Ritter quarterback Jake Purichia from throwing yet another touchdown pass, wearing a four-lane grin as he found defensive coach Lew Goodwin on the field when it was done.

“What’s up, Coach? What’s up, Coach?” Mullen howled.

Goodwin grinned back at him.

“Ah, it’s a beautiful thing,” he replied.

Beautiful and hard and something everyone expected to happen when they all walked out of the Luke a year ago, but hardly like this. Not after a coaching change at midseason that both shook the Luers family to its core and demonstrated its strength. Not after storming to a 27-0 lead against unbeaten Ritter in the first half of the 2A championship game – Smith and Charles Gaston and Jaquale Cooper shredding the Ritter D like mozzarella; Cook going over the top to Michael Rogers for six in an 8 of 8 half – and then nearly letting it get away in the second half.

The Raiders got it back to 27-7 and then 27-14 and then 27-21, the last score coming on Jake Hagan’s punt return with 10:38 to play. And then …

Well. And then, the Knights gathered three straight state titles and everything it took to win them around themselves, and went out and got the fourth.

A 9-play, 63-yard drive, all on the ground. A 7-play, 60-yard drive, again all on the ground, Smith getting the last 16 and then finding Mary Keefer. Luers going eyeball-to-eyeball with the top-ranked, unbeaten Raiders and making them blink first.

How’d that happen?

“There’s 24 of us (seniors) and this was our last game, so we wanted to get it done,” TyVel Jemison said.

And?

“It’s all about how you overcome adversity,” Smith said. “That’s what defines you.”

That, and all those other things.

Right, Coach Keefer?

“We’re a family,” he said. “These guys, a lot of them played for me as freshmen. Some of the guys on the staff, they played for me, and some of these guys coached for me. It’s just one big family and we buy into that Luers football tradition.”

He could say that again. Four times.

Ben Smith has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1986. His columns appear four times a week. He can be reached by email at bensmith@jg.net; phone, 461-8736; or fax 461-8648.

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