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Sectional titles on the line; Local prep football teams gear up for showdowns

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Is there an echo in the Roncalli locker room?

The biggest game of the year for the Rebels will be followed by, you guessed it, the biggest game of the year for the Rebels.

After executing a revised defensive scheme to perfection to shut down Class 4A No. 5 Greenwood this past Friday night, 35-14, No. 3 Roncalli (9-2) travels to No. 4 Cathedral (6-5) on Friday night for the Sectional 14 title.

The Rebels aren’t the only local team facing a tough tough test against a familiar foe.

Indian Creek and Center Grove match up against their opponents from last year’s sectional title games, both won by the local team.

The Class 3A Braves (9-2) travel to Greensburg (9-2), a team that is an impressive 5-1 against larger schools this season.

In Class 5A, the Trojans (10-1) play host to dangerous Columbus North (6-5), which has hit its stride to win five straight games following early season stumbles.

The Roncalli-Cathedral matchup pits two tradition-rich private schools in a southside/northside showdown.

Although the two teams have a rich tournament history between them, that past does not include a regular season meeting this year.

Indeed, the only common opponent is Class 3A Chatard, which beat the Rebels 28-25 in double overtime, and Cathedral, 21-7, the following week.

Veteran coach and football commentator Dick Dullaghan, who has seen both play this season, thinks the Rebels will be tough to stop.

“They are clicking on all cylinders,” Dullaghan said after watching Roncalli shut down a Greenwood offense that was averaging 40 points a game.

The Irish defeated the Rebels in the semifinal round of the 2011 sectional and have won eight straight going back to 2007.

Still, this is a Cathedral program that might be a notch below recent standards, as especially shown in the Chatard loss. Three of the other Irish losses are to out-of-state teams (the fifth was to Class 5A Ben Davis), making the assessment challenging.

Cathedral has blown through an easy tournament path to date, blasting Northview and Lebanon by a combined score of 111-19.

Roncalli, meanwhile, has demonstrated increasing offensive firepower in playoff wins against Plainfield (24-7) and Greenwood. It’s a defense that allows only 14 points a game, though, that powers the Rebels.

For Indian Creek, the Braves’ pass-oriented, high-powered offense is bolstered by a defense that has been impenetrable late in the season.

Led by Johnson County sack leaders Wess Cornett (9) and Vince Reese (8), Indian Creek has proved tough to score on, allowing only five points a game throughout the past month (20 points during four games).

At Greensburg, the Braves will meet a similar defensive foe. The Pirates have allowed just 23 points in their past five contests, including consecutive playoff shutouts against Brown County (36-0) and Batesville (14-0).

On the offensive side of the ball, fans will see quite different schemes.

“They are a pound-it-out ground team. We’re the opposite of that,” coach Mike Gillin said. “We know each other pretty well.”

Friday’s game is a rematch of this past year’s sectional title tilt, won by the host Braves, 20-13. The teams also have scrimmaged together the past few Augusts.

“We’re happy to be where we are, and we’re going to work hard this week to try to pull one out for the Braves, “ Gillin said.

Indian Creek has advanced with wins against Rushville (28-6) and Beech Grove (28-8).

Against the Hornets, junior wideout and safety Brenden Smith continued his impressive play. His two interceptions tied him for the county lead with seven on the season.

This is the fourth-straight year the Braves have been in a sectional championship game, with titles in 2010 and 2011.

At Center Grove, the host Trojans will face Columbus North for the Sectional 7 title for the second-consecutive year. Center Grove’s offense put up impressive rushing numbers in a 38-24 win that propelled them to a semistate appearance.

Against the Bull Dogs, they will encounter a team that is used to playing tight games. North pulled out a tough 35-33 against Whiteland in the tourney opener. The Bull Dogs came back from 14 points down at halftime this past Friday to beat Franklin Central, 17-14, in a reversal of an early-season contest.

The Bull Dogs have been hampered by the loss of leading rusher Jesse Tompkins, a move that forced North to come back against the Flashes through the air.

The Trojans have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to carrying the football. Senior Connor Stapleton posted the latest gaudy numbers, with 174 yards and three scores on just six carries against Franklin this past Friday.

Meanwhile, since an early-season loss to Carmel, Center Grove’s defense has yielded just 10 points a game.

As Dullaghan cautioned, though, Class 5A is more wide open than ever this year. Already, Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference powers Ben Davis, Carmel and Warren Central have fallen, leaving the Trojans as league’s best hope for a title.

One of those four MIC teams has won 10 of the past 11 Class 5A championships. Center Grove shared the league title this year with the Giants and Greyhounds.

Bob Johnson is a sports correspondent for the Daily Journal. His columns appear Tuesdays and Saturdays. He is contributing special Monday columns about local teams throughout the high school football tournament.

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