As the Cardinal Ritter Raiders (11-2) practiced for their upcoming Semi-State championship game against Paoli (11-2), you could sense an extra set of focus that has perhaps been there all season long.
“Dealing with adversity always helps us as a team,” said Senior wide receiver Jake Hagan. “Losing that State game, that is motivation in the back of our heads all of the time. I want to say that is our driving force to get us back to the State title game this year.”
In the “Football Friday Night” Buffalo Wild Wings Game of the Week. either the Raiders or the Rams will come away victorious and give themselves a birth in the Class 2A State championship game next weekend at Lucas Oil Stadium. For Cardinal Ritter, playing in this game is nothing new, having defeated Evansville Mater Dei in the Semi-State last season before ultimately losing to Fort Wayne Luers in the title game by the final of 40-28. And though that result may give them motivation, all eyes are on Paoli could potentially do against them on Friday night.
The Raiders are coming off a 28-14 victory over Scecina Memorial in the Regional championship, a game in which saw Senior quarterback Jake Purichia hook-up with Senior wide receiver Jake Hagan for four touchdowns on the night.
“It’s always tough beating a team twice,” said Purichia.
“We knew going into that game it was going to be a hard-fought, hard-hitting game. I think we played pretty well, our defense especially stepped up. The offense also played very well. Playing a team like that every year and then playing them twice, they kind of know what you are going to do on offense. So we had to put in a few tweaks and it was a great game. Scecina played well, but I guess we played better and came up on top.”
Puricihia, who own the State record for most touchdowns in a career, and the Raiders offense have been outstanding all season long, averaging 40.5 points per game on the season. They will be tested though against a Paoli Rams defense that has allowed two or less scores per game eight times this season, also averaging 38.5 points per game on the offensive end.
“Coach Bryan Balsmeyer and I coached in the North/South game a couple years ago,” said Ritter Head Coach Ty Hunt. “They are a hard-hitting group, are physical, have some tall wide receivers, and line up to play football. It’s going to be good stuff.”
Paoli defeated Southridge 24-20 to advance to Friday’s Semi-State championship, with quarterback Brett Balsmeyer throwing for two touchdowns and rushing in the game-winning score with 3:06 left in the game. The boys from Ritter though, they seem to be up for the challenge that Paoli will give them.
“We are going to have to go out there and play every down like it’s the State title,” said Purichia. “It’s one of the biggest games. We just have to go out there, and the offense and defense has to play really well. I think we need to go out there and give it all we got. We’ve had a great week of practice, so hopefully once we get out there everything will take care of itself and we’ll be pretty good.”
The Buffalo Wild Wings Game of the Week will take place at Marian University at 7:30, and highlights of the game can be seen on “Football Friday Night” at 10:35.