Hanner, Murphy, Buening a formidable trioAugust 11, 2021
By COREY STOLZENBACH
Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of stories this week on the 50th Season of Southridge Football.
Some lean years came for Southridge football after posting its fifth consecutive winning season in 1985. The team went 1-8 in 1986, and wouldn’t have another winning season until 1996. Southridge experimented with different head coaches, but the Raiders never won more than five games in a season during that time — with nothing at .500 or better.
They turned to Brad Hanner in 1994. The 1972 Turkey Run graduate and former state champion assistant at Blackford came to Southridge after previously serving as Lawrenceburg’s defensive coordinator.
“I don’t know if I’d have taken any job that was offered, but I had a good interview, I liked the feeling of people here,” Hanner said. “And Walt Ferber interviewed me back in ‘94...and asked me if I’d have taken the job if you knew how bad it was.”
“He had been very successful and he was a motivator,” said former Southridge athletic director Jim Bardwell. “And whenever you’re down somewhat, you got to have a motivator, you need these people for motivating.”
It would take some time, though, for the Raiders to progress.
“First day with them, I went to the weight room, had one kid that could bench 225,” he said. “I was 40, and I benched it 10 times. So, I knew I had my work cut out for me.”
He made sure his players got in the weight room at 6:30 a.m. Results didn’t come overnight, since the Raiders went 4-5 his first season in 1994 and 5-6 in 1995. The winning season of 1996 was followed up by a 4-6 campaign in 1997.
However, Hanner thought things began to change in 1998 when the team went 8-2, and they only went up from there. Hanner also had former head coaches Steve Winkler, Ron LaGrange and Jeff Williams on his staff.
The Raiders began the season 8-0 and lost their last two. However, they had some really big victories.
“We beat Jasper and Heritage Hills in the same year, and that’s when both those schools were just ridiculously good,” Hanner said.
He also made sure to establish a freshman football program. Hanner knew players had to play if they weren’t good enough at that time to play junior varsity or varsity as freshmen. It was important for them to learn instead of just doing nothing on the sidelines.
“I’ve seen over the last 20-some years, so many schools our size try to maintain a freshmen program, and they don’t have the numbers to do it,” former Southridge athletic director Brett Bardwell said.
“Because they move those freshmen up to JV, or they move those good freshmen — they throw them into varsity when they’re not ready because they have to. But Hanner stuck to his guns. Even though Brad Ohanian and some of those kids probably could’ve helped the varsity their freshman year, he kept them all together as freshmen.”
The Raiders in 1998 fielded a freshmen class that would become 18 seniors by the time 2002 rolled around, but Southridge had a couple of sectional championship losses to Evansville Mater Dei in 1999 and 2001.
Hanner knew those 2002 seniors wanted to win.
“We wanted to beat Mater Dei really bad,” Hanner said. I think the key was they all were great kids and smart kids and talented. They pushed themselves, and I think the success to any program when your leadership comes from the kids.”
The 2002 season got off to a great start, with the team winning five of its first six games. However, a 42-0 loss to Heritage Hills dealt the team a setback.
They bounced back, however, and went on a winning streak to close out the regular season and into the postseason.
Southridge again met Mater Dei, this time in the semifinals at Raider Field, and this time, the Raiders came away with a 26-7 win. They previously lost to the Wildcats eight times in a row.
“We were better than them, and we believed that we could beat them,” he said.
They won their first sectional in 20 years the next game at South Spencer and won regional and semi-state championships to appear in the Class 2A state title game against Fort Wayne Bishop Luers.
Hanner was excited, so were the players, and received warm community support along the way. They were giddy to be there and play for the state championship.
It didn’t go their way, as a 36-30 loss meant the state crown just eluded them but they would no longer have to wait 20 years for another sectional championship — as another one came in 2004, Hanner’s final season with the team. They took a 31-27 loss to Brownstown Central in the regional.
“I did the best coaching job of my career in 2004,” Hanner said. “We shouldn’t have been that good.”
However, the Southwest Dubois School Board decided to go in another direction in March 2005, not renewing his extracurricular activities contract.
“Truthfully, I was shocked,” Hanner said.
He had another coaching opportunity at Alexandria, but he resigned on Oct. 14, 2007, and the Tigers went 0-10 that season.
“Third day of practice, I had this massive seizure, broke my back, my heart went into afib and couldn’t come back,” said Hanner, who permitted The Herald to mention this.
Since then, though, Hanner has remarried and resides in Holland, where he’s retired.
“I have a great wife, great family, have four grandkids,” he said. “Three of them athletes, one of them wants to be a comedian. (laughs)”
Whoever followed up from Hanner would find themselves following a tough act. The Raiders went younger and went with a familiar name — one who student taught and coached under Hanner at Southridge in 1997.
“The actual student teaching part of it wasn’t much fun because I was teaching anatomy and physiology — it was one of my classes that I was student teaching, I hadn’t even had it in college yet,” said Kelly Murphy. “I really struggled on that aspect, but what I liked about it was just the kids, it’s a different atmosphere.”
Murphy got the opportunity to be Wood Memorial’s head coach in 1998 — when the Trojans went 0-10 with a mere 20 players. However, they later improved to four straight non-losing seasons and went 7-3 during his last year. He went 30-43 overall.
“I had no desire to leave Wood Memorial — things were going well there,” Murphy said. “But the opportunity presented itself to interview here, to be an administrator, an assistant principal and the head football coach. In the success that Raider Football had, it was just too good to pass up.”
“My two cents in the situation was I felt Kelly was a good person — great attitude, fresh, young and he was coming off some real good success at Wood Memorial,” Brett said. “He had two or three really good years at Wood Memorial, and it was just a natural move. We actually contacted Kelly and asked him if he was interested and would like to apply.”
Murphy knew replacing Hanner would be pressure, but it was good pressure. He wanted to take what Hanner did and make it better.
Southridge had 29 juniors during Murphy’s first season in 2005. The Raiders went 5-6 and heading into 2021, it’s their most recent losing season to date.
“Not all of the kids had all of their heart in there to do their best because they would focus on bad things,” Winkler said.
“They want to feel sorry for themselves that their coach was taken away.”
Murphy knew he had to prove himself, and wanted to do what he could to immerse himself in the community.
“The year before was kind of an adjustment, and so it took a little bit of time for both of us — both the kids and I to get used to each other and build those relationships,” he said.
“But once that winter hit, and we started getting in the weight room quite a bit — and they started seeing me at their wrestling meets or their swim meets or their basketball games. And being a part of that, I think they felt a little more comfortable,” he continued.
They adopted a slogan — Prove It. These seniors were seen as the ones to take the Raiders back to state.
Southridge had a chance to upset Jasper in its second game of the season. The Wildcats were ranked second in Class 4A, and while the Raiders were on the verge of an upset, Jasper tied it following a 44-yard touchdown pass.
“We went into a little prevent defense and we let a guy catch the ball right in between two safeties and go right through them, and we should’ve beat them,” Winkler said.
However, a touchdown by quarterback Brad Roesner in overtime sealed the deal, 20-14, and fans stormed Raider Field for Southridge’s first win over Jasper since 1999.
“I remember it was so hot that night,” Murphy said. “We had guys coming off the field and getting ice towels. It was a gut check for really both teams. I mean, both teams had guys going down just left and right, but it certainly showed the team we could win those big games.”
The 2006 team had a stingy defense just like the 2002 one did. Like the 2002 squad, the 2006 team had 10 games where they held opponents to under 10 points.
Murphy noted how fast that defense was.
“Jon Reed was one of our defensive tackles,” he said. “He was six-four and he was (I believe 230 pounds), and he ran one leg of a 4x100 relay during the spring. So, it was just the talent was there. Chad Wertman was on the line, and he went to state in shot-put that year. Andy Lichlyter, who was big and fast and strong — I could go on and on and on.”
Southridge led by two touchdowns against North Putnam in semi-state, but the Cougars chipped into that to make an eight-point lead for the Raiders. However, North Putnam fumbled on a potential game-tying drive. Phil Sollman recovered the fumble, and the Raiders would eventually score to put the previously undefeated Cougars away, 22-7.
“They had speed and they had all of this stuff, but we knew that they had not seen our physical play — they just hadn’t,” Murphy said. “Somebody asked me one time, ‘What kind of pregame speech did you give?’ I said, ‘I didn’t give any.’ I walked in and said, ‘Let’s Go.’ And when we got up there, there were firetrucks in the parking lot. Our kids saw the firetrucks in the parking lot, it made them mad and that was all the motivation we needed.”
The Raiders met Harding in the RCA Dome, but this time, they were the ones who turned the ball over.
The turnovers proved costly, and Harding scored twice in the first 14 minutes. Southridge narrowed its deficit to 14-7, but the Hawks were the Class 2A state champions in the 20-7 game.
“The fact our defense played like that was crazy,” Murphy said. “I still feel bad as an offensive play-caller because I don’t think I called a very good game. I tried to do too much — tried to throw the ball too much.”
Southridge returned to semi-state in 2007 and won a sectional in 2008. The Raiders also played in the sectional championship game in 2010 and 2011.
He appreciated the opportunity to serve on successor Scott Buening’s staff, which is a rarity for the predecessor to come on.
“Now, sometimes, Coach Buening will call and ask me to watch film, to break down the film statistically for them,” he said. “I love watching film. I still do that, but now I’m refereeing football at the varsity level. I did that last year and this year.”
Buening knew how important it was to win a sectional championship in 2013 in his first season at Southridge.
“When I took this job, rightfully so, there was probably some questions over who in the heck did they just hire?” Buening said. “(I) didn’t have any ties here, not from here, by no means had any kind of stellar coaching record prior to that.”
Buening spent four seasons at Jennings County from 2009-2012. The 1995 North Decatur graduate went 12-28 during his time before his hire with the Raiders — a far cry from the heights he’s reached at Southridge. The Panthers never achieved a winning record, with his 5-5 record in 2011 being the closest.
“When I went to Jennings County, I learned a tremendous amount when I went there,” he said. “As a young coach, I wasn’t nearly as smart as I thought I was, it was a humbling experience in a lot of regards. And I loved the kids at Jennings County — they worked hard, they wanted to do well.”
Brett let it be known that there was some pushback to Buening’s hire at the time.
“I didn’t hear a whole lot of it directly to myself, but I knew that in the community, there were people that would read about his past record, ‘What? Who is this?’ ” Brett said. “And the hiring process with Coach Buening was not much different than with Kelly in that we had the program rolling, things were going well. And we wanted, again, to find the best coach we could, find a guy who could keep it going and fit in.
“In all my years as AD, there were more people that would call me with concerns when we were hiring a football coach than anything else,” he added. “They don’t really care who the principal is or the AD might be or this or that. But man, they care about who the football coach is.”
He told The Herald that Buening came across well in his interview, knew his football and Southridge didn’t pay attention to the record.
Buening found himself blessed to have an opportunity to coach at a place with so much tradition, and his biggest goal was that he didn’t want to mess anything up.
“I had no expectation in regards to, ‘We got to come in and we got to win this many games,’ or ‘We got to do this,’’ Buening said. “I just wanted to come in, work as hard as we could, try to do things the right way — work hard and represent the community and the school corporation the best that we could.”
The Raiders won six in a row at one point during Buening’s first season with the team. They had to sweat it out just to even play Evansville Mater Dei in the Nov. 8 sectional championship at Raider Field. Southridge held off Tell City, 28-27, in the opener, and, contrary to the 40-0 win against the Vikings in the regular season, the Raiders survived the tougher test the second time around, 27-21.
All they had to do was knock off the Mater Dei team that was ranked No. 1 — the program that eliminated them in each of the previous three sectionals.
The Wildcats sure made the Raiders earn it. Southridge had accumulated a 21-3 lead at one point, but Mater Dei rallied. Wildcats running back Nolan Goebel went the distance on an 84-yard run that shrank Southridge’s lead down to 21-19.
Mater Dei went for two to try to tie it, but the Raiders put a stop to it, holding for the win.
Southridge led Paoli for much of the way in the regional championship game, and it was 20-18. However, a 24-20 win for the Rams ended the Raiders’ season in heartbreak, and Buening just missed out on a trip to semi-state in his first year.
Brett thought it was after that loss to Paoli that he thought Buening was the right man for the job — consoling the Raiders after their defeat.
“He just had some great words,” he said. “And I think at that time, I thought, ‘This guy is the guy. We hired the right person because of this adversity, this crushing loss — the way he handled it with the kids.’ It was just really, really marvelous, in my opinion. And he said the right things and he kept them together and the compassion and all that stuff. And the way handled that loss was more impressive to me than any wins.”
The Raiders have been to the sectional championship under Buening’s tenure in all seasons but one — 2014. Southridge lost to Brownstown Central in the 2015 and 2016 title games.
He couldn’t have known what was coming in 2017.
“(I) really didn’t know, to be honest with you,” Buening said. “And the thing is, Linton-Stockton got bumped up to 2A from their back-to-back state teams. You had Mater Dei, who was tremendous again and really good. You just go down the list — to be honest, nobody’s thinking state championship. Not that we didn’t think we had a good team, we just knew getting out of the sectional was going to be hard enough.”
They had first put the stinging 55-14 loss to Gibson Southern in the regular season behind them to make progress in the sectional.
“Gibson was tremendous that year — extremely good,” he said. “It was one of those deals where we were a little disappointed. We played well in the first quarter-and-a-half. We had played well, we had done some things very well. And we felt like the dam kind of broke, and we didn’t recover.”
Yet, the Raiders remembered the lessons they learned in that game and used that to apply to Mater Dei in that year’s sectional championship — a game they trailed for most of the way.
“When we were at halftime, we drew back on that Gibson Southern game,” Buening said. “It’s like, ‘Alright, so we got two directions to go here. Alright, we failed against Gibson in this perspective in that we just kind of let the dam continue to break.’ And we learned a lesson from that game, and the kids — they stayed in contact, they kept hanging in there.”
Sure enough, Southridge notched a touchdown, and the Raiders converted for two to send it to overtime. A Tucker Schank touchdown gave them the lead, plus a defensive stop afterward made them sectional champions on their way to a state title.
“That team had a lot of good players, that team was not a juggernaut,” he said. “That’s the toughest-minded team, one of the tightest groups I’ve ever coached. And that was why they were able to do the things that they did that year.”
The Raiders have kept it going since that state championship season. They had some adversity with an injury to Schank in 2018, and entrusted sophomore quarterback Colson Montgomery to take the reins from Jayce Harter. Schank eventually rejoined the team to help the Raiders win another regional championship in 2018.
They had a shootout with Paoli at Raider Field for the regional crown. The Rams were undefeated ranked No. 7 in Class 2A, while the Raiders were No. 10 in the class.
“That was a nightmare, that team was really good, especially offensively,” Buening said of Paoli. “They were another situation — just a ton of seniors, won a bunch of games, knew their system inside and out, had every adjustment to anything you did, they had something to take advantage of it. And man, that week of preparation for our defense was rough, and it didn’t go tremendously well. They couldn’t stop us, we couldn’t stop them and fortunately, we got a couple opportunistic stops. And Colson and Tucker just had big play after big play.”
However, a return to Lucas Oil Stadium wasn’t in the cards when top-ranked Western Boone shut Southridge down, 48-7. The Stars would go on to win their first of three consecutive state championships.
The Raiders were without some key players in Seth Nunamaker, Matt Gentry and Cole Calvert for the Western Boone game.
“We would’ve loved the opportunity to have played them at full strength,” Buening said. “But that group was tremendous, and that was a lot of fun, too.”
After a year of finishing as sectional runner-up in 2019, the Raiders were undersized, but found a way, winning their third regional championship in four years in 2020, finishing 13-1 after a 30-7 loss to Danville at semi-state.
Buening had never been more emotionally drained than he was after that season, the uncertainty of if he’d have his players as the COVID-19 pandemic has caused all sorts of disruptions.
“I’d be lying if I had said they didn’t exceed our expectations with what they did,” he said. “...If you’d have told me before the season that we would’ve been 13-0 playing in the semi-state, I might’ve looked at you a little funny.”
Much of the 2020 team is gone, but this year’s Raiders will try to keep the line moving, just like Buening has done after Hanner and Murphy.
“All three of those coaches were good to work with for sure,” Brett said. “And they knew what they’re doing and know what they’re doing — and they’re just good football guys.”
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