It is the most bittersweet reality of a winner-take-all tournament. There can only be one winner.
Or, in the case of the IHSAA class football championships, five winners.
That means 310 schools go home with an “L” in their last game.
Let’s not confuse that with a team’s body of work over the entire season, though.
No way. There is much more to remember than a negative balance on the scoreboard as the clock reached zero for the last time.
For local teams especially, that is not the epitaph for the season. Instead, it has been another banner year on the gridiron.
No ‘L’ in Trojans
Center Grove proved once again that it is, well, Center Grove, simply the dominant Class 5A team in the southern half of the state on an annual basis.
While Friday night’s loss to Lawrence Central (let’s say it here, the Class 5A champ) stings, a little perspective is helpful.
The Trojans have gone to the semistate four of the last five seasons. In each of those seasons, they have either won the title or lost to the eventual champion.
You just can’t get much better than that.
In fact, only state finalist Fort Wayne Snider has had better postseason success over the past two years.
Each season offers moments, those times that end up being posted in scrapbooks and talked about at class reunions for years to come. Here is some of what should be put in a time capsule:
- Center Grove was the star of the postseason, but Greenwood generated the most regular-season buzz. The Woodmen captured the Mid-State Conference title with a high-scoring offense and opportunistic defense. While early in the season, that title was won in a wild September shootout with Martinsville that featured five fourth-quarter touchdowns in a 41-40 Greenwood win
- Edinburgh equaled its win total (4-6) from the last two seasons and took a giant step forward with a dedicated class that laid the groundwork for a solid future. It was the Lancers’ best season since 1995. While the wins will be remembered, it was a tight late-season defeat to Milan that deserves attention as a turning point. After losing by 66, 35 and 42 to the perennial Class A power, Edinburgh took the Indians into the fourth quarter in a 21-6 battle. Forget the scoreboard, this was a major win.
- Franklin was supposed to be down this season, but the Grizzly Cubs showed that heart doesn’t take a year off. Losing six of their last seven games before a sectional opener with Bloomington North, the Cubs did not quit. Franklin showed the heart of a lion with a stunning fourth-quarter rally to upend the Cougars, 22-19.
- Indian Creek ran (make that, passed) through the Mid-Indiana Football Conference to another title. The Braves’ aerial assault may be the most entertaining show around. It also is effective. Titles are earned, not given, and Indian Creek needed all of its firepower in a 39-35 title-deciding game at North Decatur. The Braves went on to their fourth straight sectional title game.
- Roncalli’s biggest win was also Greenwood’s biggest loss. In a semifinal Class 4A sectional contest that matched the two neighbors for the first time in decades, the Rebels threw enough wrinkles in their game plan to dominate the Woodmen, 35-14. This was supposed to be a rebuilding year for Roncalli, but good programs are still just that year in and out.
- When you are undefeated, there is a target on your back. Whiteland hit the bullseye in a regular-season win over then-perfect Greenwood. In a game matching the county’s two leading rushers, the Warriors unleashed a potent air assault and swarming defense that proved to be the difference in a 56-35 win.
The price of tradition
Next season will see a jumble of tournament changes with the introduction of a “tradition adjustment” and the addition of a sixth class.
Moving up via the adjustment, which is designed to provide equity among teams that dominant in their current class, are: Cathedral (4A to 5A), Bishop Chatard (3A to 4A), Fort Wayne Bishop Luers (2A to 3A) and Lafayette Central Catholic (A to 2A).
Locally, Center Grove will move to Class 6A, while Franklin and Whiteland will stay in Class 5A.
What does that mean?
The big winners are the Woodmen and Rebels, who will be rid of Class 4A gorilla Cathedral. The Irish have won seven straight sectionals.
Of course, the Irish become a Class 5A problem for the Cubs and Warriors, although not likely in the same sectional. With Center Grove gone, Whiteland and Franklin should be competing for Sectional titles.
Indian Creek also will benefit with potential regional foe Chatard gone to Class 4A. The Trojans took out the Braves in the 2011 regional and 2010 semistate.
Center Grove’s move to Class 6A is more of logistical and financial headache than a matter of Xs and Os. With the possibility of four-team sectionals, the Trojans likely will be paired with Jeffersonville and Terre Haute North, along with Columbus North.
The long-anticipated realignment of the Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference is likely to set off a chain reaction in the Indianapolis area.
It will be nothing short of amazing if reshuffling stops with Pike and Lawrence Central’s departure from Conference Indiana for the MIC.
More likely, this is just the start of a busy football offseason with new alliances and affiliations under heated consideration. As we have suggested in the past, a 16-team MIC with most area Class 6A schools is among the more intriguing and game-changing possibilities. That would also be the most unlikely, with some Class 6A schools reluctant to sacrifice regular-season success.
More than just the two conferences mentioned, the Hoosier Crossroads Conference and Mid-State may be implicated as the new Class 5A/6A split acts as a catalyst.
Locally, the question is whether this will cause 5A Franklin and Whiteland to consider other opportunities outside the Mid-State.
Changes in conference affiliation, of course, impact all sports. Make no mistake, though, football is driving this issue.
Bob Johnson is a sports correspondent for the Daily Journal. His columns appear Tuesdays and Fridays. He is contributing special columns during the high school football players. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org