The road to the state finals has finally reached its endpoint, and with just 6 matchups left in IHSAA’s high school football season, the best of the best will brawl it out on the biggest stage in Indiana; Lucas Oil Stadium. Dreams are made from these games, and heartbreaks are a result. For all 12 of the teams that will be playing on this stage, the question will be whether they come up just short of their dreams or go on to live them out.
Day one of the state championships will take place on Friday, November 26th. The matchups consist of 1A, 3A, and 5A teams all fighting for the top spots in their conference. A long treacherous road is coming to an end this weekend, and we will find out what 6 teams will be crowned as champions.
Adams Central Jets vs. Lutheran Saints / 12:00 P.M. EST.
The first matchup of the weekend consists of the Adams Central Jets (13-1) and the Lutheran Saints (14-0). Both teams are playing at the top of their conference as Lutheran obtained the #1 rank in both the AP and coaches poll while Adams Central trailed right behind them at #3 for the AP poll and #2 for the coaches poll.
Adams Central is appearing in their first state championship in 21 years in what was a magical season for the Jets. After falling short in sectional finals to Southwood in 2020, they improved to just a one-loss season. The road to Lucas Oil was not effortless for Adams Central as they took two top 10 teams down during the state tournament with a 25-15 win over #6 Churubusco and a 41-0 over #5 South Adams. ACHS also ranks #2 in points per game in Indiana (47.07), #1 in point allowed per game (4.71), and #1 in average margin of victory (42.36). In what was a dominant season, a fitting way to go out is with a win over the top 1A school in the state.
Blake Heyerly has been the leading charge for the Jet’s deep postseason run in 2021 playing both running back and linebacker for ACHS. The senior has run for just under 1,500 yards averaging 102 yards a game and racking up 24 touchdowns along the way. On defense, Heyerly has stacked up 126 tackles along with 2 sacks, 3 interceptions, and a forced fumble to seal his case for having a true presence on both sides of the ball. Senior Alex Currie has done much of the same as he has run for 921 yards and 14 touchdowns though Currie’s biggest impact has come in the pass defense game as he picked off 7 interceptions this season.
On the other side of this matchup, the Lutheran Saints are also appearing in their second state title. For Lutheran, this is their second emergence at Lucas Oil in the past 3 years. As the favorites to win the 1A conference, wins over defending state champions Covenant Christian and other 1A powerhouses like #8 Parke Heritage have headlined their season.
Lutheran has a tremendous trio for QB-RB-WR all starting with dual-threat quarterback Montasi Clay. He has 2,385 passing yards with 29 touchdowns as well as 1,856 rushing yards and 32 touchdowns all in 2021. His most used target has been receiver Micah Mackay connecting with him for 836 yards and 11 touchdowns. Joe Davis caps off the trio after rushing for 1,197 yards for 11 touchdowns.
Brebeuf Jesuit Braves vs. Gibson Southern Titans / 3:30 P.M. EST.
The action continues with the Class 3A state championship as Brebeuf Jesuit (12-2) faces off against Gibson Southern (13-1). Both teams have greatly exceeded all expectations this season compared to relatively average seasons last year. To add to the similarities to these two teams, Brebeuf has ranked #3 in the AP poll and #2 in the coaches poll while Gibson Southern ranked #2 in the AP poll and #3 in the coaches poll. One of the headlines for the matchup is that two future Purdue teammates will be facing off in Friday’s game as Gibson Southern’s QB Brady Allen battles against Brebeuf Jesuit DE Joe Strickland before heading to West Lafayette to become teammates for the next four years presumably.
Brebeuf Jesuit has shown up in two previous state championships; one in 2013, as well as one in 2017 but, has fallen short of a state title in both years. They hope to turn that legacy around with one of their best teams yet. Undoubtedly much of the credit for their season should be given to head coach Matt Geske who has turned the Braves back into championship contenders in just his second year at Brebeuf.
Brebeuf Jesuit has a pair of 1,000-yard senior receivers this season as the duo consists of Max Walters and Anthony Annee. Walters has caught for 1,298 yards which leads the team and fourth-most in the state. To add to his receiving stats, he has caught 16 touchdowns on the year. Though Anthony Annee is trailing in receiving yards at 1,128, 20 receiving touchdowns is enough to lead the team. The man that has been leading the offense is quarterback Nolan Buckman. Buckman has thrown for the 6th most passing yards this season with 2,993 and 37 touchdowns to go along.
Gibson Southern is one of just three teams that are appearing in a state final for the first time in their school history. The Titans have made it to semi-state three other times in 2012, 2013, and 2015 but were never able to burst through to the state finals. This was the year after dominating Tri-West Hendricks 44-7 in semi-state, submitting themselves to their first chance at winning a state title.
MVPs are not given out in high school football, but the most deserving of the award this year would have undoubtedly been senior QB Brady Allen. Allen has many great accomplishments, but leading Indiana high school football in all-time passing touchdowns and second in all-time passing yards might just be the most astonishing. He has thrown 53 touchdowns to only 3 interceptions this season, and will likely break the 4,000 season passing yards mark in Friday’s game as he has 3,885 currently. On the defensive side, Ben Luttrell, Tye Whitledge, and Levi Dickerson all have over 5 sacks on the season and will look to put the pressure on Braves QB Nolan Buckman at the state finals.
Zionsville Eagles vs. Cathedral / 7:00 P.M. EST.
To cap off the day one lineup of games, we have a rematch of last year’s 5A state championship between the Zionsville Eagles (9-5) vs. the Cathedral Fighting Irish (13-1). Both teams have a long run of history in state championships. Zionsville is competing in their fifth state championship and will attempt to go above .500 after going split 2-2 in their previous appearances. Cathedral will take the record when stepping on the field this Friday as the school with the most state championship appearances with 17. The Fighting Irish have been nearly perfect on this stage with a 13-3 record.
The odds were stacked against Zionsville when entering tournament play after going 4-5 during the regular season. Wins over #9 Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger and #5 Harrison had obstructed the Eagle’s path to state finals, but Zionsville managed to make it back to Lucas Oil for another shot to halt powerhouse Cathedral.
Senior Colin Price has been the main playmaker for the offensive side of the ball with a stat line of 1,656 yards for 26 touchdowns which includes a wild 99 yard run against Noblesville in week 5. A large part of his success is credited to the offensive line, notably senior Joey Tanona. Tanona, standing at 6’6” and 289 lbs, is staying in Indiana for college football as he committed to Notre Dame in 2020. On the defense, team leader Owen Rossell has been nothing less than a machine for the Eagles as he racked up 68 tackles, 5 tackles for a loss, 2 sacks, and 2 interceptions.
Zionsville’s matchup will not be easy as they take on a dominant Cathedral team. Disregarding a loss to the #9 ranked team in the country, Center Grove, the Irish have dominated in every single matchup this season. Wins over Westfield, Brownsburg, and Decatur Central all have done nothing but submit their top-ranked spot in 5A.
Cathedral is led by sophomore QB, Daniel O’Neil who threw an amazing 29:2 touchdown to interception ratio in 2021. Along with 2,601 passing yards, O’Neil has successfully led the Irish back through the postseason and to the state finals once again. Defensive back Bryce Llewellyn has been a big threat back in coverage with an impressive 8 interceptions on the year. Hudson Miller has also been a force on the defensive line with 9 sacks on the season leading his team and tied at 12th most in the state.