Pingpong balls pulled from a hopper determined first-round pairings in the annual IHSAA State Football Tournament. Beyond that, it’s anyone’s guess as to who will play where.
Circumstances in Class 5A have No. 3 Whiteland hosting its third consecutive postseason game tonight, having conquered Sectional 14 with home-field victories against Franklin Community and Floyd Central.
“Luck of the draw. Just the way that it goes,” said Warriors coach Darrin Fisher, whose 9-2 club must get past fifth-ranked and three-time defending Class 4A state champion Cathedral in order to notch the program’s second regional title (3A in 1999). “We’ve been unbelievably fortunate, but we’ve been on the other end of it before, too.”
As is the case most seasons, Cathedral’s record (7-5) is deceiving. Every season the Irish tackle a brutal regular-season schedule that best prepares the program for the rigors of postseason competition.
Cathedral’s losses have come at the hands of Ben Davis, Warren Central, Cincinnati St. Xavier, Louisville Trinity and Cincinnati Moeller.
This is hardly the first get-together between Whiteland and the Irish. Cathedral, a 10-time state champion since 1986, defeated Warriors teams three straight seasons (2006-2008). Two of those Irish squads went on to secure the 4A state championship.
“You’re playing in a regional game. The circumstances dictate it’s a big game regardless of who you’re playing,” Fisher said. “This is not 2006, 2007 and 2008. This is Whiteland 2013 vs. Cathedral 2013. We’re preparing for an opponent the same as we would anyone else.”
It’s a mindset that’s paid dividends. A win tonight assures Whiteland a double-digit win total for the third time in Fisher’s nine seasons at the helm.
“We just try to maintain that 1-0 mentality, and our players have done a great of doing that,” Fisher said. “Stay in the moment, be 1-0 today and chase the trophy.”
Cathedral receiver Terry McLaurin, who in June committed to play at Ohio State, is his team’s most dangerous offensive weapon. Junior quarterback Collin Barthel stands 6-foot-6, 190 pounds and has thrown for more than 2,000 yards this season.
Whiteland defensively allowed its first eight opponents an average of 40.4 points; by contrast, it’s surrendered an average of 16.3 in wins against Greenwood, Franklin and Floyd Central.
“We are a constantly improving team, and I think we’ve played much better defense over the past month,” Fisher said. “I think we’re playing very good defense right now. I don’t know if we’re a great defense, but we’re a good one.”