The new-look Class 5A has managed in one week to deliver both the familiar and foreign to Whiteland’s football doorstep.
Last week’s 24-22 thriller against county rival Franklin qualified the Warriors for this evening’s Sectional 14 championship game against Floyd Central.
Coached by former Franklin Central football player Brian Glesing, the Highlanders (8-2) make the long trek north for what will be the first meeting between the programs.
The winner goes on to play tonight’s Anderson-Cathedral winner in one of four Class 5A regionals. Should the Warriors prevail, they would either play at Anderson or host Cathedral.
Dodging first-round elimination the way they did wasn’t a new experience for the Warriors. Head coach Darrin Fisher would like to think regular-season close calls against South Bend Riley, Decatur Central and Plainfield prepared his players to remain poised in the midst of such late-game suspense.
“We’re resilient. We played without (senior running back) Jeff (Wooten) again and had some guys dinged up during the game,” Fisher said. “You have to be mentally tough enough to play the next play, and our guys did that. There’s a mental toughness to us that we’ve been able to do that all season.”
Floyd Central presents challenges of its own to the Warriors’ defense, namely juniors Gaige Klingsmith and Colton Kimm.
The 5-foot-7, 155-pound Klingsmith has cracked the 100-yard rushing barrier in eight of the Highlanders’ games this season and averages 153.1 per game. Klingsmith accounted for a 265-yard performance against Seymour in Week 4 and ran for another 226 four weeks later against Jennings County.
“Floyd Central is very good offensively. They have always been a power running team and still are,” Fisher said. “Their tailback is an excellent athlete, and we need to do a great job of containing him. They line him up deep, so we have to get to him before he gets his motor running.”
Kimm is Floyd Central’s 6-3, 190-pound quarterback who has passed for 1,303 yards and nine touchdowns. He is also a threat to run with the football, having been credited with 31 carries and 64 yards rushing.
Wooten, a 5-7, 162-pound senior who rushed for 1,333 yards and 20 touchdowns in Whiteland’s first eight outings, returns to the lineup tonight after sitting out the past two games with an injury.
Whiteland’s leading tacklers are junior linebacker Nick Ratti (96), senior linebacker Jesse Street (78) and junior lineman Skylar Hall (54).
Another 11th-grader, cornerback Gabe Clippert, leads Whiteland in interceptions with three, one ahead of senior defensive back Quentin Snapp.