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Ben Smith

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Dwenger peaking in playoffs

– This goes back further than you think it does, all this wild joy on a frosty night.

It goes back to the heat of August, to summer’s end, to a football team stitching itself together around a quarterback, Mike Fiacable, who hadn’t played in a year and a defense that, with a tweak here and a tweak there, would get bullheaded as all get out before it was all said and done.

It goes back to a lost night on the south side of town four days shy of Halloween, and a hard loss the next week, and then another hard loss the week after that.

It goes back five weeks, or six or seven, or maybe all 14, because that’s how it always seems to work for the teams that finish on the big stage.

Bishop Dwenger is headed there again, for the first time since 2010. And its doing it after yet another surgical dismantling, this one a 38-0 deconstruction of East Chicago Central in the northern 4A semistate at Zollner Stadium.

“These guys, they’re not about seniors, juniors, sophomores. They’re about team,” said Dwenger coach Chris Svarczkopf, as his football players bounced up and down behind him, shouting “We’re goin’ to the Luke!” into the night. “They don’t know class. They know team.”

And so they pogoed up and down and chanted their chant, this team, and you think back to Sept. 27, when Wayne simply tore them to pieces, 45-6.

You think back to the next week, when they fought Indianapolis Cathedral to the finish before falling 47-30. You think back to the week after that, another hard loss – 38-35 to Snider – and after that …

Well. After that, a whole lot of tail-kicking.

It began with a 36-2 victory over Bishop Luers in the regular season finale, and on and on it has gone. Three sectional victories by a combined score of 106-23. A 42-7 rout of New Haven in the regional.

And then Friday, and another evening without much doubt to it.

And, listen, if you think it’s all happened because Svarczkopf or one of his seniors, say Fiacable or Ryan Watercutter, went all Rockne after the Wayne or Cathedral or Snider loss … well, you’ve seen too many Rockne movies.

Those losses, Svarczkopf points out, came against quality teams (“Wayne just smacked us … That’s about as good a team as we’ve seen”), and two of them were flat-out battles. So there was no soul-searching moment there. The answer is far less dramatic.

It begins, first of all, with simple luck: The Saints have stayed inordinately healthy this year. The rest is as elemental as chalk dust on a coach’s blackboard.

“After the Cathedral game, we moved a lot of players one way,” says linebacker Marcus Stepp. “Lot of players one way so we could focus on defense and get that right.”

That’s it. Really.

“I think (defensive back) Griffin Feichter is a great example of that,” Svarczkopf said Friday. “Griffin halfway through the season was still playing wide receiver. Antonio Blackmon spending more time on defense helped us a great deal. And Marcus Stepp playing defense the whole time, those things have made a big difference.”

And so here came Friday, and more of that difference. They’re goin’ to the Luke, one more time. And if that goes back farther than you think, there’s no one trumpet-blaring moment in it.

“I’d say we just stepped up our expectation level,” Stepp says.

Do tell.

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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