BERNE – Grant Moser remembers the last time South Adams football hosted a semistate championship. He was only a kindergartner when Bishop Luers traveled to Berne and beat the Starfires in the 1992 state tournament, but the game still left an impression on the South Adams coach.
“I remember, people were wrapped all the way around the fence,” Moser said. “I think this time, we're only allowed 300 (spectators), but still it's going to be a cool atmosphere to play in. We're 22-1 in the last 23 games at Starfire Field, so that's a huge advantage.”
Today's Class A semistate championship against Lafayette Central Catholic is only the Starfires' (12-0) third semistate game. In 1992, South Adams fell 21-6 to Bishop Luers, and the Starfires were whacked 62-7 when they traveled to Pioneer in 2014. If South Adams wins today, it would be the first time a Starfires team would play in a state final game in any sport.
Starfires running back Christian Summersett returned to practice Tuesday and expects to play against the Lafayette Catholic.
“We're backing off a little bit this week, our varsity guys aren't in full pads, and we won't be all week. It's Week 14, everyone's banged up and bruised. The biggest key for us Friday is just making sure we're healthy,” Moser said. “Making sure that our guys are using the speed and strength that they normally have. Get rid of the aches and pains.”
Moser said the Starfires have the advantage of an incredible senior core of players, many of whom have seen significant playing time since they were freshmen or sophomores. But Lafayette Central Catholic (5-3) is the defending Class A state champion, having beat Indianapolis Lutheran 29-28 in the 2019 title game. The Knights have played four fewer games than the Starfires (they even skipped the sectional championship game two weeks ago, as Traders Point Christian withdrew from the state tournament), which means they have had more time to recover and less opportunity for players to get injured.
Knights junior quarterback Clark Barrett is averaging 246.1 passing yards per game, completing 54.8% of his attempts. He's thrown 18 touchdowns and just four interceptions. The Knights' defense has made just two interceptions, although they've recovered 17 fumbles.
“They're definitely not a team you can make mistakes against,” senior quarterback James Arnold said. “We know their DBs are very good. They're going to play tight man coverage, and you can't make mistakes against them, or they're going to make you pay.
Familiar territory for Bishop Luers
While South Adams plays for its first trip to the state title game, the two teams that have beaten the Starfires in the semistate round – Bishop Luers and Pioneer – will be playing in their own Class 2A semistate match in Fort Wayne.
Luers (7-6) has reached the state finals 15 times, and finds itself competing for a 16th trip after struggling early in the season.
The Knights led Tipton 23-3 at halftime of the regional and won comfortably 36-17. They have scored at least 36 points in each of the four playoff games.
“Last week, we got down inside the 5 and didn't punch it in,” on the opening drive, coach Kyle Lindsay said. “A lot of the time, with a young team, a team that doesn't have confidence, that can be a huge obstacle to overcome in a game. But watching our kids respond to those situations over the last two or three weeks has been comforting, and a sign of a confident team.”
Quarterback Carson Clark's exemplary postseason continued as he completed 72% of his passes for 293 yards. He has completed more than 70% in each of the last four games, with 15 touchdowns and just one interception.
The Luers running game has also gained at least 100 yards in all four games and scored 12 touchdowns in the postseason.
Pioneer (12-1) went undefeated and won the Class A state title in both 2017 and 2018. The Panthers run a wing-T offense and rarely attempt passes (they've completed 17 of 42) but have two 1,000-yard rushers in Ezra Lewellen (1,670) and Brock Robinson (1,104). Addai Lewellen has run for 913 yards.
“It's a challenge for the defense, the kids individually on defense and a challenge for the team to understand. We have not seen this offense with this group of kids. The level of efficiency they run their offense with is pretty awesome,” Lindsay said.
Defensively, the Panthers have 24 sacks and six interceptions. They gave up three touchdowns to Andrean in the regional.
At a glance
Pioneer at Bishop Luers
When: 7:30 p.m. today
Lafayette Central Catholic at South Adams
When: 7:30 p.m. today