Wrinkles put both teams on state of high alert

Photo by Jacob Wiegand/The Herald
Tucker Schank, right, Jayce Harter and Colin Smith each have rushed for more than 730 yards this season as part of a Southridge offense that scores 35.1 ppg. Schank has more than 3,000 career rushing yards heading into Saturday’s Class 2A state finals. 


HUNTINGBURG — New York spoken word artist Earl Simmons once wrote a song about having one more road to cross, which is a timely notion, considering the position the Southridge football team has found itself in this Thanksgiving week.

While most people have been counting their blessings and preparing to feast with their families, the No. 5 Raiders have been applying the final tweaks and adjustments to their game plan, as they travel to Lucas Oil Stadium to face Woodlan in one last football game for the Class 2A state championship.

Southridge coach Scott Buening is cognizant of the challenge that lies ahead of his team, as he and the entire football staff have been analyzing all their scouting materials to be ready for whatever the No. 6 Warriors decide to throw at them on Saturday.

“They got a very good football team,” he said. “They’re pretty complicated offensively. They do a whole bunch of different stuff. They’re not afraid to use trick plays. They’re not afraid to be creative. Offensively they will provide a lot of challenges for us.”

Raider defensive coordinator Steve Winkler compared Woodlan to a North Harrison team the Raiders beat in the sectional in both 2015 and ’16.

“Their line has some really huge, strong guys,” Winkler said. “We identify them as a power running team because they’ve been able to block people with their offensive line so well.”

The task the Raiders face will not be an easy one; Woodlan boasts a quarterback in senior Justin Durkes who has thrown for 2,420 yards and 31 touchdowns on the season. They also have the luxury of senior running back Jack Rhoades, who has rushed for 2,089 yards and 25 touchdowns . Seniors Donald Guerrant (59 catches, 933 yards, eight touchdowns) and Ah’Lan Howard (29 catches, 646 yards, 10 touchdowns) will split out wide for an offense that averages 429 yards and 40 points a game.

“No one’s a scrub in the state finals,” said Southridge senior defensive end Mitchell Carter, who said one of the keys will be trying to work around the size of Woodlan’s offensive line. “I think we’re going to have to stay lower than them. That’s the biggest thing we can do because they outweigh us. We can’t be getting driven back all day or it’s going to be a long game.”

But Woodlan coach Sherwood Haydock has also done his due diligence and is not mistaking the Raiders, who fought back from an early deficit in last week’s 24-7 victory against Indianapolis Scecina, as light work.

“On Southridge’s offense we don’t really see a weakness,” said Haydock, who saw Southridge up close in the 2006 state finals, when Haydock’s Harding squad beat Southridge 20-7. “Our biggest concern is the quarterback, because they run that wing-T out of the shotgun. In most wing-Ts, the wingbacks get the carries. Here, the quarterback and running back take all the carries. And (the quarterback) has a good arm, so you can’t cheat and give him the pass. It’s a new challenge.”

As for the defense, Haydock said Southridge’s unit will be the best the Warriors have faced all season. In addition to being stout up front, he believes that the Raiders’ safeties will be the best pair of defensive backs that Woodlan has faced all season.

“They’ve shut down some really good offenses, so it’s not going to be easy,” he said. “We understand we’re the underdog going in. Southridge is the most difficult task for us.”

Both Buening and Winkler believe the key element that determines this game will be how each team’s linemen fair against the other. Winkler said the defense is focusing in on 6-foot, 268-pound junior Dane Castleman, as he seems to be the lead blocker from whence all of the Warriors’ offense flows. They will also have to be wary of a number of trick plays that the Warriors like to run out of their numerous formations.

“You have to be ready for all kinds of razzle-dazzle plays,” he said. “They have every trick play in the book. And they will try to formation you to death to get you out of alignment. Being in the right spot is very important, and they’re going to try to move us out of the right spot.”

But the players are confident in their abilities to remain disciplined and sniff out any wrinkles. They’re not arrogant about themselves, but they trust in their preparation and believe, at this point, that they can play with anyone.

“We just got to focus all week in practice and make sure we are not goofing off or anything,” said sophomore linebacker Cole Calvert. “We got to make sure we know who we’re keying all week and I think we’ll be good.”
“I noticed they like to throw a lot of deep shots sometimes just to test you and you’ve to be ready for that,” said senior cornerback Grant Maxey. “I think we will be come game time. We’re going to focus on that steady dose of run and pass.”

Buening said the team is sticking to its core philosophy of being balanced and versatile. He’s simply approaching this game the same way as all the other ones: see how the other team comes out and respond accordingly.

In addition to winning the battles in the trenches, Buening thinks maintaining that balance in the face of adversity will be the key element that determines which team leaves Indianapolis with a state title.

“I think the team that can make the other one go to Page 2 and Page 3 of their playbook is going to have a good chance to win on Saturday,” he said.

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