Even though traditional state football power Cathedral built a 42-0 third-quarter lead in Friday’s Class 5A regional game at Whiteland, the host Warriors made sure the Fighting Irish knew why they came back in so many games this season.
Cathedral pulled several of its starters after building that lead, but the Warriors responded by scoring three touchdowns in the next nine minutes, cutting the deficit to 42-21 and forcing Cathedral coach Rick Streiff to re-insert his first-teamers.
Whiteland added another fourth-quarter touchdown, but the Irish scored two of their own to cruise to a 56-28 victory and claim their eighth straight regional title.
Class 5A No. 5 Cathedral (8-5), playing in Class 5A for the first time, advances to host second-ranked Terre Haute North, which defeated Bloomington North 56-21 in its regional game, in next Friday’s semistate. A win would give the Irish their fourth straight semistate crown and 12th in school history.
Third-ranked Whiteland, which won sectional and Mid-State Conference titles in the same season for the first time in school history, finished 9-3, including comeback wins against Decatur Central, Martinsville and Franklin.
The Warriors were aiming for their second regional crown in school history. Whiteland also won a regional title in 1999.
“It’s hard to look back right now, because we expected to win this game, but we did some things this year that had not been done here before,” said Whiteland coach Darrin Fisher, referring to conference and sectional titles in the same season. “This team improved daily, and the way we played in the second half is a testimony to concentration and consistency.”
Unfortunately for the Warriors, Cathedral took control quickly.
The Irish scored their first touchdown on their second offensive play from scrimmage, a 59-yard run up the middle by Caleb Cross, then needed just five plays to score on their second possession. Evan Whigham’s 45-yard reception from Collin Barthel set up a 6-yard Zach Saum touchdown reception to give Cathedral a 14-0 lead.
The Warriors, meanwhile, managed just 23 first-half yards and only one first down in the half. The Irish added three more first-half touchdowns, two on Cross runs and another on Barthel’s 2-yard pass to Dan Dolan with just 36 seconds remaining in the half, to build a 35-0 halftime lead. A Whigham 45-yard touchdown catch with 10:45 left in the third quarter gave Cathedral a 42-0 edge and prompted Streiff to pull several starters.
“We’ve been a slow-starting team most of the year, so this was good to see,” Streiff said. “We had a good week of practice. We thought we had a speed advantage going in, so we were trying to get downhill.”
Fisher agreed that Cathedral’s speed played a huge role in the game’s outcome and left his defense reeling. The Warriors gave up at least 31 points in each of their first eight games, but stiffened late in the season, never allowing more than 22 in its three most recent games.
“Our angles were off a little bit, and their speed and execution gave us problems, and the game got away from us,” Fisher said. “Momentum’s a big thing. We adjusted our blocking schemes at halftime, and we tried to stay with it and finish.”
Jeffery Wooten, fully recovered from a high ankle sprain he sustained a couple of weeks earlier, ended his career at Whiteland with 119 yards on 22 carries and three touchdowns.