Raiders broke through huge in '02August 12, 2021
By COREY STOLZENBACH
Ross Fuhs looks at his red medal that is in a frame every time he goes down into his basement, and it brings back memories for him.
The Forest Park coach played right guard on the Southridge team that finished as the 2002 Class 2A state runner-up, a team that came so close to the championship in its 36-30 loss to Fort Wayne Bishop Luers.
"It kind of comes back to that Raider football culture and tradition, and you just think about all the hard work and all the time you put in, and you hope to get rewarded," Fuhs said. "And lucky for us, we were able to get rewarded by going to state and finishing second."
He knows how big of a deal it is to go to Raider Field on Friday nights during football season and cheer for Southridge. That’s what he did as a kid with his parents, Charlie and Cindy, and made his way through the football program growing up.
It was during that time that he was part of a highly-touted class that consisted of 18 seniors — the Class of 2003. Fuhs played right guard on that 2002 Raider team, a team that was knocking on the door after some lean years in the 1980s and much of the 1990s, but they started to break through toward the late ‘90s.
The community was starved for a winner. The only sectional championship the program ever won was the 1982 team that was the Class A state runners-up.
“I remember there being a lot of, I don’t know if pressure’s the right word, but a lot of expectation on our particular group,” said Brad Ohanian, a running back and defensive back on that 2002 team.
The problem for the Raiders was that they ran into an obstacle in Evansville Mater Dei. The Wildcats denied them in both the 1999 and 2001 sectional championship games.
“Mater Dei was tough,” Fuhs said. “Those years I think they were just a little bit more experienced than we were.”
“We felt like we were going to be the group to win that first sectional in 20 years,” Ohanian said. “So, not getting it done in ‘01, in ‘02 - we could definitely feel, I guess pressure would be the right word, or the expectations that this was our last shot to do it.”
Fuhs played on that offensive line with Andy Scherle at center and Nathan Eckert at guard. The Forest Park coach thought that line was undersized but made up for it with their quickness and toughness.
Ohanian was part of a formidable rushing attack that season. Both he and Matt Terwiske reached 1,000 rushing yards each that season. Brain Yost could be a dual-threat quarterback, and Brian Hadley was another option out of the backfield.
Now Southridge’s offensive coordinator, Ohanian knows how crucial the offensive line is to a productive rushing attack. But it also helped that there was no featured back, as it reflected in the offense Brad Hanner used.
“He brought in this offense, this straight T,” Ohanian said. “I can remember when he brought it in, mid-90s, sitting with my dad (Phil) in the stands. And it wouldn’t be what you would call a typical I-Pro offense. It was kind of something neat, and kind of something different.”
The Raiders got off to a 5-1 start during the 2002 campaign, but then came the setback on Oct. 4 against the Heritage Hills. The Patriots were in the midst of their unbeaten regular season streak, and their stretch of six consecutive semi-state appearances. Southridge, despite being ranked No. 6 in Class 2A, took a 42-0 loss on its home field.
“That was the best football team I had played throughout high school,” Fuhs said. “I thought they were even better than the Mater Deis that we played that beat us in sectional.”
“I got knocked out the first possession of that game, and I don’t really remember much of that game still to this day,” Ohanian said. “I know what I saw on tape, but I remember I got popped pretty good.”
Ohanian noted that the coaching staff made sure the team focused on the big picture. This loss to the Pats didn’t end their season. He knows that a loss unless it ends a season isn’t really a loss unless the team doesn’t learn from it.
Southridge was down but got right back up after that Heritage Hills loss. The Raiders bounced back with a 61-7 win the next week at Pike Central. They also posted back-to-back shutouts of Gibson Southern and North Posey, 52-0 and 35-0, respectively, after their win against the Chargers. That shutout of North Posey was in the sectional opener.
That means, then, they would have their opportunity at payback with Mater Dei in the sectional semifinals.
“We knew that the play action passes were going to work because we didn’t drop back,” Hanner said.
The Wildcats were ranked No. 9 in Class 2A, but Southridge got off to a 20-0 lead, and never looked back. A 26-7 win meant they had finally exorcised those Mater Dei demons, but they still had a test at South Spencer in order to claim their first sectional championship since 1982.
The Rebels made it close when Southridge had a 12-7 lead, but a touchdown from Ohanian extended the lead. He was part of a ball hawk secondary that year, along with Brett Bueltel, who had four interceptions in that game, along with Ohanian’s own pick.
“Our defensive secondary - a lot of us were three-year starters - a lot of us had started since we were sophomores,” Ohanian said. “And I coach defensive backs now at Southridge, along with being the offensive coordinator - and I can tell you the more time you spend back there, just the more familiar you become with route combinations.”
After years working toward a turnaround, the Raiders were sectional champions once again, 18-9.
“Our slogan that year, and we put it on the back of our shirts was ‘To The Dome,’” Fuhs said, “So, we had high expectations that we were going to go play in the RCA Dome, and we didn’t want anything less than that. So, it was exciting, it was awesome to celebrate with the teammates, with the parents, with the community.”
To accomplish such a goal, however, Southridge would have to get past Indian Creek. The Braves had back-to-back undefeated regular seasons in 2001 and 2002, and Southridge would have to get by an unbeaten Indian Creek team that allowed a combined 79 points through the 12-0 record it accumulated.
The Braves were ranked No. 2, but that night, Ohanian was No. 1 when he went off for six touchdowns on 203 rushing yards in front of the home fans at Raider Field. The emphatic performance lifted the Raiders to a 39-20 triumph.
“I think we ran like four or five plays that game,” Fuhs said. “I think it was a deal where they had just seen all spread teams and things like that all year - and we lined up in double tight and three backs and honestly just ran it right down their throats.”
Ohanian turned in a monumental performance against the Braves, but it was in that year’s semi-state against Indianapolis Scecina that he made one of the most famous and iconic plays in the history of the program.
The Crusaders held the Raiders on the ropes with a 17-7 lead in the third quarter. Ohanian said Hanner told the team the week of semi-state they cannot freak out if they’re trailing at some point while pursuing the state championship.
“He just walked in (to the locker room at halftime) and said, ‘I told you that this could happen,’” Ohanian said. “He said, ‘Now, how do we fix it?’ And then he went right into the adjustments.”
He made it a single-score game with a two-run rushing touchdown, but something bigger was about to unfold.
Quarterback John Lux tried to find Jason McGuinness, but Ohanian snatched it, dodged a tackle, and took the ball to the house. He had picked off somebody he became good friends with at Franklin College, while matching up a receiver he was roommates with. His interception return for a touchdown gave Southridge the lead, and a 28-17 win meant it was mission accomplished for “To The Dome.”
“They hike the ball, and the quarterback’s dropping back, and Kevin Seib (an assistant coach at the time) said, I swear to God this is true, before the ball is thrown, ‘Oh, my God, he’s going to score,’” Southridge defensive coordinator Steve Winkler said. “I said, ‘What are you talking about?’ He goes, ‘He’s going to score! He’s going to score!’ There goes the ball, Brad O. picks it off.”
Ohanian broke down the route to The Herald.
“It was a combination route, which means two receivers were in the route, and the first guy closest to the sideline runs kind of like an in-cutting route - and they’re trying to just get you mixed up as a defensive backfield,” he said. “And then the second guy is going to come, and he’s going to run towards the sideline on what you would call a typical out-pattern.
“Well, it was a deke out, they were on the opposite hash, and Lux said, when we got to talking about it, it’s such a long throw - and obviously, he said he wished he wouldn’t have thrown it,” Ohanian continued. “So, yeah, that’s how that route came together. I just happened to be the cornerback on that side, and again, it was going to be a long throw. So, if you can bait a quarterback, because Lux talked about how he never really saw me in the picture, but I had my eyes on him the whole time, and I was just waiting for him to release it.”
The Raiders overcame a deficit against Scecina. They almost - almost - did the same thing in the Class 2A state championship game against Luers. Southridge led early, 6-0, then 12-7, but then trailed, 29-12, but 15 unanswered points meant they were on the heels of the Knights at 29-27.
“Third quarter, it was awful,” Hanner said of the deficit. “We didn’t do anything right, and we didn’t stop them.”
Fuhs credited the brotherhood that that team had for their rallies in the postseason.
“We were all together all the time,” he said. “Off the field, we were always at somebody’s house hanging out and watching film - and understanding kind of how to push each other’s buttons, so to speak. Some guys, you needed to talk up to motivate them. Some guys, you needed to light a little bit of a fire under them to motivate them. So, I think it was just that brotherhood, so to speak.”
“I just remember that we were going to keep playing until there were zeroes on the clock, and we dang near made a really incredible comeback, just kind of came up short,” Ohanian said.
They went undefeated in seventh, eighth and ninth grade. They didn’t want to stop playing with one another, and never stopped pursuing that happy ending. Eckert forced a fumble on Knights running back Jhormy Martinez, but Brian Kurtz recovered the fumble for Luers and was off to the races for a 28-yard score. The Raiders responded with a 66-yard drive and a 23-yard field goal by Matt Boeglin for a 36-30 game.
However, Southridge’s onside kick attempt was unsuccessful, and that brought the game to its final score.
“I feel like we all played our hearts out,” Fuhs said. “We left everything on the field, which is what you want to do, obviously. There’s probably a block or two that maybe I missed, along with everybody else that maybe could’ve sprung a touchdown - another one, but overall, I wouldn’t have changed anything, other than the final score.”
Hanner still hasn’t watched that entire game on tape. It’s a loss that he has lived with, rather than something he is over.
“From the standpoint of the kids because we had this great group, it’s one of those lifetime things you’ll never repeat,” he said. “I mean, I was glad to see Southridge win it when they did. I feel like maybe I had a little bit to do with that. I hope so.”
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