Resolute Raiders erase No. 1 Cats

Photos by Dave Weatherwax/The Herald
Southridge’s Evan Lange, left, Trent Dischinger, Brett Nordhoff, William Gutgsell, Andy Fischer and Baden Pund celebrated after the sixth-ranked Raiders unseated No. 1 Evansville Mater Dei to claim the Class 2A sectional title Friday night at Raider Field. The Raiders won 21-19 to earn a visit to Paoli for next Friday’s regional. For a gallery of photos, click here.

Herald Sports Writer

HUNTINGBURG — Where to start?

How about in the first quarter, on Evansville Mater Dei’s first drive in Friday’s Class 2A football sectional championship in Huntingburg? How about the opening drive that ended with a field goal and the Wildcats’ only lead of the night?

How about three minutes later, on Southridge’s first drive? The one that ended in the game’s first touchdown, a 4-yard scamper by Connor Craig. How about there?

Where to start?

How about at the end of the half? After Wildcat quarterback Rob Bow came in to replace injured starter Chase Hoehn? How about a shoestring tackle by Southridge’s Beau Schneider on the 6-yard line as time expired?

How about Southridge’s lead of 21-3 that slowly shrank to 21-10, then 21-13, then 21-19 before the subsequent stop on the potential game-tying two-point conversion?

Where to start?

How about at the end?

The Raider football team gathered around the 25-yard line near the north end zone, mobbed in a huddle of black and red, surrounded by coaches, parents and classmates, and the sectional trophy, the first since 2008, raised above it all.

That’s where. With the celebration, the tears the hugs and the chant from the coaches and players.

Who am I?

I am a champion!

Who am I?

I am a champion!

The sixth-ranked Raiders shocked No. 1 Mater Dei 21-19, earning their seventh sectional championship in program history. And they did it against the team that ended their season the last three years. The team they knew served as the biggest roadblock to any tournament aspirations.

Raider coach Scott Buening was practically speechless.

“It’s ...” he paused, chuckling, “umm ... I ... I don’t know how to put this into words,” he said smiling. “This is the true epitome of what high school football is all about. This football team, they do the right things. They work extremely hard. They’re good kids. They’re great in the community. I don’t know if you put us man-to-man, how many players we had that were maybe one-to-one better than Mater Dei ... but this team collectively, as one unit, one football team, is a heck of a football team.

“I believe wholeheartedly that people get what they deserve in the long run. This football team got what it deserved.”

With the two-point escape, Southridge (10-2) won its three sectional games by a combined nine points, and the Raiders executed the high-wire act again on Friday with a familiar formula of big plays and a devastating rushing attack.

Southridge’s Connor Craig, who scored two of the Raiders’ three touchdowns, stiff-armed the helmet off of Evansville Mater Dei’s Julian Weidner.

Twice, the Raiders were able to recover fumbles immediately after punting the ball away. Twice, they held Mater Dei running back Nolan Goebel and company to field goals after 60-plus-yard drives. A year after committing five turnovers in a 22-15 setback to Mater Dei, the Raiders committed none. Southridge’s offensive line, giving up pounds at nearly every spot, controlled the line of scrimmage, especially in the first half, setting up touchdown runs of 4 and 23 yards from Craig and a 13-yard rumble from Alex Householder. The Raiders kept the Wildcats’ dynamic offense — held to just two touchdowns after averaging 36.8 points this season — on the sideline, holding the ball for more than 29 minutes to just under 181⁄2 minutes for Mater Dei.

“We just wanted it,” Raider senior offensive lineman Alex Merkel said. “They came up with blitzes. They came with stunts. In the end, all of us up front, we knew how bad we wanted this. They were bigger than we were. (But we had) more fight in the dog. More fight in our dog.”

It was the offensive and defensive lines — the one factor Buening predicted would determine Friday’s matchup — that created lanes for Craig (17 carries, 126 yards) and Householder (20 carries, 92 yards). The Raiders entered halftime with a 21-3 halftime lead, but not before the Wildcats’ biggest play that never was. With four seconds left in the half from their own 43-yard line, Julian Weidner tipped a Bow pass to himself and appeared to be on his way for an easy score, when Schneider dove to trip up Weidner at the 6-yard line. Crisis averted.

The second half started with the Raiders’ first punt. Southridge recovered a fumble on a bungled exchange the next play, but quickly turned the ball over on downs. Mater Dei (11-1) answered with 74-yard scoring drive, capped by a 26-yard run from Goebel, who finished with 178 yards on 19 carries.

Southridge punted again, then held the Wildcats to another field goal. The Raiders got the ball back and punted it away the third time in four possessions, but with a 21-13 lead, were in good position after pinning Mater Dei at its own 5-yard line. Then three plays later, set up by an 84-yard Goebel draw up the middle, Goebel punched in the Wildcats’ second touchdown of the night and positioned for the game-tying two-point conversion.

Raider senior linebacker Jacob Mundy explains the rest.

“I looked at my end, I said, ”˜Merkel, we got this if they come over here,” Mundy said. “(Merkel) said, ”˜yes sir,’ and he told me ... ”˜Jake, it’s a run.’ ... So a slot guy comes out and tries to stock block me, I just threw him off, took out (Bow’s) legs and stopped him about a foot short.”

Mundy and Merkel combined to halt the quarterback sweep with four minutes left. Up by two, the Raiders were able to run out the clock with three first downs and 35 of their 292 rushing yards.

“We had to get the first downs,” Buening said. “There wasn’t anybody that was going to feel good about (Mater Dei) having the ball for another drive.

“And against the No. 1 team in the state, when you can line up and you can get three first downs in the last drive to win a game; there is nothing that makes you feel better as a coach. And I’m an ol’ O-line guy, but nothing makes you feel better, because we were able to win it on our terms.”

The final knee by quarterback Luke Stetter was met with whoops not just in Huntingburg but even in nearby Jasper, where the announcement of a Raider win was met with a raucous cheer. The Southridge crowd, after waiting four years for a sectional championship, barely let the players shake hands before streaming onto the field. The final image was a group of the team’s seniors piled onto Southridge’s flaming “S” logo at midfield in what they hope isn’t their last game at Raider Field. Southridge travels to Paoli (10-2) for next Friday’s regional, but until then — until Sunday, actually — Merkel and his buddies will be celebrating finally exorcising their demons.

“I’ve been waiting three years for this,” Merkel said. “Every single time we got on the field, it’s been heartache after heartache. And now, to get them, I’m on top of the world. I know we’ve still got work to do ... but right now until about Sunday afternoon I’m going to enjoy this.”

Contact Joseph Fanelli at

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