On their Senior Night, and in their final prep for 3A postseason play, Gibson Southern football men get a chance to make history.
Should they beat reigning 2A state champion Southridge in the 6:30 p.m. CDT clash on Jack Jewell Memorial Field, it'll mark the first time in their school's 45-year history that the football Titans have beaten a reigning state champion. Their 2001 predecessors fell to 3A reigning state champ Heritage Hills. And their 2012 predecessors, after winning the Titans' first sectional football crown, lost the regional to Indianapolis Bishop Chatard, which went on to win a third straight 3A state championship.
Though Friday's clash won't decide the PAC championship, as did last year's October 13 meeting in Huntingburg where the Titans responded to a 14-13 mid-second-quarter deficit by scoring 42 straight points to win 55-14, they could gain another distinction Friday. Their records, 6-2 overall and 5-1 in the PAC that Heritage Hills can win outright by beating South Spencer, do not include victory over a team with a winning record. North Posey could move to 5-4 by beating Pike Central, but will open 2A sectional play vs. Evansville Mater Dei. Southridge, which matches Gibson Southern's 6-2 and 5-1, is assured a 13th straight winning campaign.
"A big game. Not only do we want to send our seniors off with a win in their last regular-season home game, beating Southridge would give us great momentum to take into the sectional," Titans Coach Nick Hart said.
"Definitely a challenge. Southridge is playing really good football. Their wing-T and shotgun offense is very good. Getting Tucker Schank back from injury makes a big difference," Hart said of the 172-pound senior wingback and safety who played a hero role in last year's 15-14 state championship win over Woodland in Lucas Oil Stadium.
With the Raiders trailing 14-7, the son of former Wood Memorial wrestling coach David Schank caught a 42-yard touchdown pass from then senior quarterback Jayce Harter with a minute 22 seconds left. Then he caught Harter's two-point for the win. And in last Friday's 48-0 win over Pike Central, his first action since a shoulder injury in a 35-7 opening win over Linton-Stockton, he scored the first touchdown on a 49-yard sprint and altogether rushed 114 yards though playing little more than a half.
"Tucker is a state-caliber wrestler, he played center field and batted No. 2 for our state runner-up baseball team last spring, and he hopes to play football at Indiana University when he follows his dad and sister there," said Southridge coach Scott Buening, owner of a 54-17 record in six seasons.
"It'll take him a little time to get both legs under him, but he's a fantastic runner who brings a lot of energy and confidence to our team."
Harter, 2A football's Mental Attitude Award winner last November, is succeeded at quarterback by 6-foot-5 sophomore Colson Montgomery, who as a freshman started on a 3A sectional basketball champion. "A tremendous athlete. Tall and rangy, he runs well, and we're passing a little more because he throws the ball well and has several targets," Buening said.
"Montgomery does a great job both throwing and running. He gives them another dynamic," Hart said. "He has good receivers, especially Garrett Voegerl (6-3 junior). Cole Calvert (191-pound junior fullback) is tough and physical. Up front they're really good both offensively and defensively. They played Heritage Hills tough (24-17 loss to the team that won 31-7 at Gibson Southern), and they're getting guys back from injuries."
"We've got to get their offense off the field. And when we're on offense, we must take care of the ball, not have the turnovers we had against Heritage Hills and Henderson County."
Buening, whose Raiders have regained senior wingback and safety Seth Nunamaker from injury, but not split end and safety Matt Price, calls the Titans "a tough matchup. They're doing what they've done for years. What Coach Hart does is really impressive. Brady Allen their freshman quarterback manages the offense well, makes good decisions and keeps getting better."
Allen will face a defense built around the linebacking quartet of senior Logan Seger (192) plus juniors Brad Springer (171), Conner Oxley (191) and Cavert. Up front are the senior trio of Wyatt Kramer (276), Matt Gentry (272) and Ben Hudson (247). Schank may rejoin junior Sam Schroeder at safety, flanked by Voegerl and senior Joe LaGrange on the corners.
They'll challenge Titans junior Mitch Spindler, averaging 9.7 yards per rush, including 15 touchdowns, and within 63 yards of 1,000 for the season. Junior Ben Butler has averaged 6.5 yards en route to 450 and 5 TDs, and also caught 31 passes for 331 yards and 6 TDs. Senior Dawson Witte's 39 catches have produced 607 yards and 9 TDs. Allen has completed 107 of 194 throws for 1,531 yards and 19 TDs vs. three interceptions.
Cornerback and receiver Andrew Smith and two-way lineman Noah Singer are among the 14 Titans who will be honored on Senior Night. Their classmates include Witte, linebackers Lucas Plasse and Garrett Martin and Jacob Fireline, defensive backs Beau Lamey and Cody Hupp, defensive lineman Ashby Henning, offensive lineman Blake Martin, kicker Bryce Williams, plus backup linemen Brendan Bittner, Sebastian Venson and Mark Sorg.
"A smaller senior group than we usually have, but they've worked hard and done an excellent job for four years," said Hart.
Plasse earned the team's Big Stick Award, and Singer the Pancake Award for their play in last Friday's 57-12 win at Tell City. Junior defensive back Colton Stefanich received the Hammer Award. Sophomore receiver Logan Murfin was named Special Teams Player of the Week, Jacob Fireline's brother Kyle the Scout Team Player of the Week.