Harter, Schank formed dynamic duoAugust 13, 2021
Editor's Note: This is the last in a series of stories this week on the 50th season of Southridge Football. Look in next week's Herald for stories on the 50th season of Heritage Hills Football.
By COREY STOLZENBACH
Whenever Jayce Harter goes from Indiana University back home to Huntingburg, he drives by Raider Field and it starts jogging his memory.
He remembers being a little kid, playing football with a Gatorade bottle with his friends at that time, or when he was in eighth grade, when older brother Bryce helped the Raiders win the sectional championship, 21-19, against Evansville Mater Dei in 2013. Jayce slid onto Raider Field in celebratory fashion but instead broke his ankle.
And that was before Jayce created his own legend as a dual-threat quarterback for the red and black. He went 106-of-187 passing for 1,772 yards and 14 touchdowns while rushing for 1,177 yards and 12 touchdowns on 186 carries his senior year — not bad for somebody who wasn't always into the game.
"I'll be honest - in fourth, fifth, sixth grade, I really didn't like football because I wasn't a big guy," Jayce said. "And quarterbacking was hard as a fifth grader trying to throw to somebody."
But football isn't a like for Jayce now, it's love, as he's still a huge fan. And he's looked up to Bryce, considering him a best friend to this day. Bryce just recently moved to Indianapolis, and Jayce has been living with him this summer while interning for Impact Networking — crashing onto his older brother's couch at night.
Jayce noted Bryce didn't have a natural instinct of talent and worked very hard for everything he accomplished as a football player and wrestler.
So, another Southridge football memory that resonates with Jayce was not a pleasant one. He reflected on when Bryce lost to Mater Dei in the sectional semifinal, 35-7, in his senior year.
"I just remember coming to tears," he said. "It was probably the most I've ever cried, honestly — hugging all of those guys and just knowing that was their last game. I had looked up to them forever since I was a little boy, and that's another memory.
"I remember looking at two of my closest friends, Mitchell Carter and Jose Chavez in the locker room and promising them that we weren't going to lose to Mater Dei if we ever got the opportunity to play them," Jayce continued.
Jayce's opportunity to avenge the Wildcats didn't come overnight. Meanwhile, attending the Manning Passing Academy in high school changed a lot of who he became as a quarterback. There, he met Peyton Manning himself, and mentors at the camp included then-college quarterbacks Nate Sudfeld and Patrick Mahomes.
"I can remember to this day he was the person that taught me to keep my left foot back and my stance under center," he said of Mahomes.
Jayce and his Raider teammates ran into a roadblock in the sectional championship his sophomore and junior years in Brownstown Central. The Raiders saw their season stamped out both times, dropping a 37-0 loss in 2015 and a 50-14 loss in 2016.
Jayce always dreamt of state, though, and he knew it was possible because of the people he had around him because they also had that mindset. The first goal was winning the sectional championship that year, and it was personal for him.
Along the way, he became part of a formidable duo with Tucker Schank, whom he refers to Jayce as his best friend. Schank entered his junior season of 2017 believing Southridge was close to breaking through.
"Jayce and I would get together all the time and talk about things that we needed to do to be better," Schank said. "And I feel like that summer — sophomore leading into junior year — was where we took a lot of big steps leadership-wise."
Jayce and Schank still even hang out to this day together at Indiana University. Schank noted how bought in they always were to Southridge Athletics, but they especially bonded together over Southridge football.
"We had great chemistry on the field because he spent so much time talking about things that we need to do to be better," Schank said. "I could look at him and he'd look at me, and I would know exactly what he's thinking about the future play that was coming up, which was pretty cool."
Schank, Jayce and the rest of the Raiders made sure to take the weight room very seriously during the summer and hold everybody to a high standard in the weight room and practices.
If the Raiders would win a game in blowout fashion, they asked themselves how they could get better to prepare for the next week.
Schank had a whole lot to say on the field that season when he carried the ball 234 times and ate for 1,307 yards and 26 touchdowns.
"I was pretty agile in the hole," he said. "But really one of the main things was that I studied the offense so hard for many years to where I knew when the holes would be there, exactly what each line was doing. So, I knew when things were going to open up for me."
The studying began when he first walked into the football locker room when he was a freshman because he didn't want to mess up the opportunity to play varsity then.
To have that opportunity meant he would be experiencing what he anticipated so much throughout the week when he was younger.
"I just remember it was always so exciting being in elementary school, middle school, whatever it was," Schank said. "I just remember every other night of the week was irrelevant until it got to Friday night. It always seemed like every single day would lead up to Friday night because it was just very exciting for everybody."
They rolled along in the 2017 regular season, taking a 28-21 loss to Jasper in their second week, but scored at least 50 points while holding opponents under 10 three times in a four-game stretch.
The Raiders themselves would have their own setback, however, with a 55-14 loss to Gibson Southern in that year's regular season finale. It was a single-possession game at halftime, but then that game unraveled on the Raiders in the second half.
"They beat us," Jayce said. "It was similar to the Brownstown feeling the year before that and the year before that."
"It was very hard after it happened because it was very humbling," Schank said. "A lot of times, great teams go through a case where they get humbled by another good team, and that's exactly what happened."
Schank thought that score didn't reflect how good of a team they were, as some unlucky breaks for the Raiders and quick scores by the Titans led to the unraveling in the second half.
But the Raiders put that loss behind them in short order when they ran past South Spencer, 46-7, in the sectional opener and blanked Linton-Stockton, 20-0, in the semifinals. Jayce and Southridge were back in the sectional championship, and here was the chance for the quarterback to settle personal business with Mater Dei in the championship.
Mater Dei had Southridge on the ropes with leads of 28-16 and 31-23, but Colin Smith's touchdown and a two-point conversion breathed new life into the Raiders. They tied it and send it into overtime.
Southridge offensive coordinator Brad Ohanian told the story about the two-point conversion against Mater Dei. He went with his father, Phil, to watch Heritage Hills play Bishop Chatard in the 2019 Class 3A State Championship game. Preceding that was the Class 1A state title game between Lafayette Central Catholic and Indianapolis Lutheran. Brad knew Lafayette Central Catholic's head coach, Brian Nay, since they played together at Franklin College.
Lafayette Central Catholic went for two after scoring a touchdown, and took the lead and eventually won the game on a roll out pass that was good for two. Brad told Phil before it happened what kind of play was going to happen.
"That was the play that we ran against Mater Dei," Brad said. "It was a very hard to defend two-point play."
Southridge took the lead on a Schank touchdown run.
"I just remember that whole game we were just punching and fighting and just working and working and working — and just not a whole lot was going our way," he said. "And it was just an emotional roller coaster, and when I got the ball on that last drive there, I just thought to myself, I was just like, 'Just do whatever you can to get there - just freaking get there.'
"I was super-sore," Schank continued. "I was fatigued, I was black and blue because that was a very hard-fought game. And then once I dove into the end zone, I was relieved. I wasn't even ecstatic. I was just like, 'Thank God I got into the end zone.'"
The Raiders sacked Mater Dei quarterback Cole Happe twice after Schank's touchdown to win it in overtime. He credited the job the defensive line did against Mater Dei's offensive line. Schank thought the secondary did a good job of covering the receivers, but the tenacious defensive line made it happen.
Revenge was Jayce's.
"That meant so much to me — more than a lot of people even understand," Jayce said.
The Raiders had no trouble with a 47-7 regional championship win against Providence, and a 24-7 win against Indianapolis Scecina at semi-state meant they were on their way to their fourth state championship game in program history. They would take on Woodlan for the Class 2A prize, and like the Mater Dei game, they trailed the Warriors for a good portion of it.
Jayce knew the offense didn't play its best game, and Woodlan led Southridge, 14-7.
"It became quite apparent that we were going to have trouble with their front five, and really, their box in general — their back three linebackers," Brad said. "I'll just say it, they were better than I thought were going to be on tape. I would never say that I was unprepared because I try to make sure that I'm as prepared as I can be, but I was not expecting to have such a battle upfront that we had."
Jayce threw three interceptions in the state championship game, but the Raider defense kept the Warriors from running away with it. Schank knew this team dreamt and fought their whole lives to get to the football state championship, and they weren't going to stop playing their hardest until the last minute.
“Our defense was tremendous that day," Raiders coach Scott Buening said. "They’d bend a little bit, but that was a big, strong, physical team — and they had some good backs, and they had some good receivers. I mean, that was just a very talented team, and our defense was just incredible that day.”
“I personally think that if they call some different plays overall through the game, we might not have had as much success stopping them,” said Steve Winkler, Southridge's longtime defensive coordinator. “Because we had a lot of trouble with their jet sweep. Why they didn’t run it 20 times, I don’t know.”
Schank credited Buening for keeping them in it — to keep playing in it, stay in it, that something would happen and the Raiders were going to get it done.
He was right.
"I don't know if he 100 percent believed what he was saying, whether he was just trying to inspire us or not," Schank said. "But regardless, it inspired us to the point where we hung in there and we kept fighting and exactly that happened."
Jacob Masterson picked off Warriors quarterback Justin Durkes, and created an opening for Southridge.
The opening nearly closed with it being fourth down with five yards to go, but a pass from Jayce to Matt Price kept the drive alive.
"I liked throwing to Matt," Jayce said. "I threw to him a lot my senior year. He's reliable — love that guy, still one of my close friends to this day. I knew he was going to catch it if I put it to where it needed to be."
That set the scene for the screen pass from Jayce to Schank, who took it 42 yards to the house to put Southridge down by one.
"Woodlan's defensive line — they were keying Jayce hard," Schank said. "And they all bit on the fake because they thought he was going to drop back for a three-step drop deep pass, and all they rushed by. And our linemen did an absolutely flawless job of selling it - and they all got in front of me in time.
"And I will say I never got touched by a single defensive player on that play," he continued. "And it's not because of my doing — because I had my back turned to the defense waiting to catch the screen, and then I turned around and just saw daylight and ran."
There was Brad, who called the screen pass. He was running and jumping on the sideline, and then he passed Buening. Brad revealed to The Herald something he doesn't think he's ever told anybody before, but was willing to do so in honor of this project.
"I grab him on his big old shoulder, and I say, 'Go for two! Go for two!' and I think I phrased it as a question, but I can't remember, right?" he said. "But I know in the back of my mind, I never in my wildest dreams thought he would say yes.
"And he paused, just for a brief second, and he gave me the answer. And when he gave the answer, I remember thinking, 'Holy Crap!'" Brad continued.
Buening took ownership of the decision when he spoke to The Herald.
“It was my call to go for it, and it’s got to be the head coach’s call," he said. "You got to own that one way or another with what you’re going to do. Coach Ohanian drew the play up and ironically, we had practiced it religiously. We don’t practice two-point plays as much — we do practice them, but for whatever reason, we had practiced this one over and over and over.”
Buening let it be known there wasn't even a name for the play. Buening called it the two-point play, Brad called it the two-point special.
Yet, this wasn't what the Raiders ran against Mater Dei. Brad reflected on the week of the regional, in the coach's office. Buening asked what the play would be if the Raiders had to go for two again, since the play against Mater Dei was on film.
"I knew I wanted to run a version of it, but I knew it couldn't have been out of the same formation," Brad said. "So, I said, 'Well, let me think about it.' So, I go home, and I want a version of that play, a quick pass to the flat, but I want a different formation. It just dawned on me to what we call that yo-yo motion, I said, 'Well, wait a minute. What if we do this? What if we do that? It will give it the same concept but from a different look.
"So, I brought it the next day, I said, 'Alright, Coach B., here's what I'm thinking.' I showed it to him, and he said, 'I like it. It's a different formation, it won't tip the hand, but it's still kind of the same concept,'" he continued.
Jayce recalled what was going on in the sequence prior to what had all happened.
"I remember looking over at the sideline to all the coaches," he said. "Coach B. was holding two fingers in the air, and at the time, I don't really know if I was for it or against it. It was in the moment, and I was like, 'Alright, we're doing it. Let's do it.'
"And I remember in the huddle, after I called the play, I remember saying, 'For the state championship,' before we broke," he continued.
Jayce rolled out and threw it to Schank, with Woodlan's Jack Rhodes defending him, trying to stop him and deny Southridge.
"I knew that as I went in motion - the fake motion to the left — I knew that Jack Rhoades would be man-to-man on me," Schank said. "So, it was out of the corner of my eye. I saw Rhoades follow me as I went in motion. Then I put on the brakes and ran out into the flat.
"I knew I'd have him," he continued. "I knew I'd have him because he would have his head up to follow me and then he would have to turn and run backwards and weave his way through his defense, and then I knew by that time I would have him. He still did a great job staying on me. He was very fast, very athletic, but the few extra steps that I had on him ended up being the difference maker."
Schank told The Herald that he was numb the entire time during the game. He put it honestly that "absolutely nothing" went through his mind through the whole sequence. Schank nodded his head and walked to the huddle as the Raiders were going for two.
"I was very ecstatic," he said. "But honestly, I did my best to keep my emotions down. I was still kind of numb and just in the zone. There's pictures of Jayce picking me up in the end zone - celebrating and of our guys yelling - and you look at my face and it's a total blank expression."
The Raiders still had to hold the Warriors off when they got the ball back - which they did. Schank knew the game wasn't done after the touchdown and conversion. He credited the field position Southridge's defense had, and also the job the special teams did to prevent a big kickoff return.
For Winkler, he was finally a state champion coach on his fourth trip to state.
“It means we didn’t lose a fourth one," he said. "It was tremendous, but I didn’t want to be the high school version of the Minnesota Vikings. I didn’t want to lose. I wanted to win one, but the not losing it was more important than the winning it.”
Jayce was thankful to have left Lucas Oil Stadium with a blue medal and not a red medal. That alone would've been something to forever cherish, but after the game, Jayce was announced as the winner of the Mental Attitude Award for Class 2A.
He didn't even consider the award because he was so excited to have won state. He was speechless and refused to take credit for it.
"My family - the way I was raised, the way Huntingburg is, just the people — how we act, kind of me realize what a great background I come from," Jayce said. "And how fortunate I am to have such a background because there's a lot of people out there that don't."
"That dude was calm, cool, collected, personable, never got rattled — never, never got rattled," Buening said. "How he led that team, he just inserted confidence in the group. Things weren’t going well, he got things settled down, he kept the kids calm. He just had such a knack for those things — such a tremendous leader, and just was a winner.”
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