The recent-history from the two teams entering Friday night’s Class 5A State championship game could not be any more different. On one-hand you have the perennial-power in the Cathedral Fighting Irish, a program that has won ten State championship games, having won four of the last five in Class 4A. On the other end you have the Westfield Shamrocks, a team that has never won a State championship game and went 16-35 in the 2008-2012 seasons. Of course, you can throw the past out the window once the kick-off takes place at Lucas Oil Stadium, because on Friday night you have two very good 2013 squads contending to be the kings of Class 5A.
For Cathedral Head Coach Rick Streiff, who has a chance at tying the record with most State championship victories at nine, the move from the Class 4A tournament to the Class 5A tournament went as smooth as it could have. The Irish arrive at Lucas Oil Stadium in large part due to victories in the tournament that were mostly one-sided, with a 56-13 Sectional championship victory over Anderson, 56-28 Regional championship over Whiteland, and a 42-20 victory in the Semi-State against Terre Haute North. What makes the Fighting Irish (9-5) so successful come tournament time once again? Same as always, a brutal regular season schedule that saw the likes of Ben Davis, Warren Central, Bishop Chatard, Cincinnati St. Xavier, Louisville Trinity, Aresenal Tech, and Cincinnnati Moeller.
“I think a lot of our regular season schedule, playing a lot of the bigger schools all season long has paid off for us to be in this situation,” said Streiff. “It is part of our programming. Some of the things that we try to do is to play those folks so we are ready when the tournament comes around.”
The Irish have a lethal offense heading into Friday night’s game, averaging 35.6 points per game that is gaining 399 yards each contest. Lead by Senior quarterback Collin Barthel, who has thrown for 24 TD’s and and rushed for 9 TD’s on the season, the Irish have been able to put up points all season along with the best of them. That’s also in thanks to a great number of weapons that Barthel has in his arsenal, including Junior running back Caleb Cross (16 TD’s, 91.5 yards per game) and Senior wide receiver Terry McLaurin (11 total TD’s, averaging 109 yards total offense each game).
But the part of the ball that Head Coach Rick Streiff has really been impressed with, particularly during the tournament, hasn’t been the offense.
“I think it’s the steady improvement of our defense,” said Streiff. “Our defense has gotten better week by week. Offensively we have been really solid, and we have done a nice job offensively. But as we’ve improved as a program, our defense has gotten better.”
Entering Friday night, Cathedral knows that both the defense and the offense will have to be on full-cylinders against a tough Westfield squad.
“They are a tremendously athletic team,” said Streiff. “Their quarterback is a great player, they have a kid going to Ball State that is a great player, but they’ve got several kids they can throw the ball too and an offensive-line that protects. This is their second-team running back because the first kid got hurt, and he’s got 1,100-1,200 yards. They are very diverse, and quite like ourselves in that they have a lot of problems to try to defend.”
Similar to Cathedral, the Westfield Shamrocks also took care of business with ease on the road to Lucas Oil Stadium. The shamrocks knocked out #4 Fort Wayne Snider on the road 36-7 in the Regional championship, and defeated #8 Concord 35-3 to return to the championship game for the first time since 1992. It’s the type of run the Hoosier Crossroads Conference champions realized they could potentially have going all the way back to the beginning of the season.
“We lost the Fishers game (48-45 in triple-overtime) in week three,” said Head Coach Jake Gilbert. “And I think our response the next week was big. We came back against Brownsburg (37-13 victory) and maybe played our best game. I was excited to see how we would respond to that adversity because the Fishers loss was heartbreaking. That made me realize that we had the character and the guts and gumption about us to really get it done.”
Westfield has a Senior quarterback in Nick Ferrer who will certainly standout as among one of the best players under center this weekend, having thrown 28 touchdowns and 2,532 yards on the season. A lot of those balls have gone to Senior and soon to be Ball State Cardinal Devin Reece, who has 15 touchdowns and is averaging 47 yards per game. On the defensive side of the ball, the Shamrocks have been just as stellar, allowing only 16.5 points per game.
And similar to Cathedral, Westfield Head Coach Jake Gilbert knows his team has been able to put up those numbers against difficult teams as well.
“I think if you look at it, the best two teams in 5A have made it,” said Gilbert. “But we are also the two teams with the toughest schedule. Cathedral plays a ton of really good teams, and then our conference being loaded helps us. I think in the playoffs our kids didn’t blink or panic because we have been in games against quality opponents all year, and I’m sure Cathedral feels the exact same way.”
The kick-off in the Class 5A State championship game takes place at Lucas Oil Stadium at 7:05 pm on Friday night.