"You don't get the movie Hoosiers looks where you have to tape-measure and stuff like that," said Cathedral Head Coach Rick Streiff. "Our kids are used to it."
Though this year's Fighting Irish team returns many key members on the offensive side of the ball that averages 34.6 points per game, such as Anthony Corsaro (8 TD's, 426 yards) and Gino Gillum (19 TD's, 1,229 yards), this Fighting Irish squad is much improved on the side of the ball that seems to win the most championships.
"Well last year we came with a real high-powered offense," said Streiff, who is looking for his seventh State championship as coach. "This year our offense is really good, but our defense has played extremely well, particularrly the last three ball-games. We knew that was kind of the group we were going to hang out hats on this year."
Tyler Willis (102 tackles, 3 interceptions) and Evan Pulliam (11.5 sacks) lead a defense that has just allowed 16.5 points per game on the season, even more impressive considering Cathedral has played against some of the toughest teams in Indiana (Warren Central, Ben Davis), Ohio (Centerville, Cincinnati Moeller), and Kentucky (Louisville Trinity).
But the most impressive feat of the year? Holding down Columbus East's high-powered offense in the Semi-State championship, keeping top-ranked quarterback Gunner Kiel (173 yards on 32 attempts) at bay in a 62-7 victory. Of course, it helped along the way that the Fighting Irish nearly slammed the ball down Columbus East's throats on the rush, finishing with nine touchdowns on the ground.
"Our goal was to run the ball with some effectiveness," said Streiff. "Be TD's, cause Gunner Kiel is such a great quarterback, we figured if we could keep the ball out of his hands, we would have a shot. We wanted to run the ball, and we did it well, we ran for 425 yards. That was the most in a long time."
Luke Cureton (210 yards) and Gino Gillum (83 yards) both combined for three touchdowns each in the victory, and don't be surprised if these two are major factors Saturday's championship game. But on the offensive side of the ball, Senior quarterback Corey Babb (21 TD's, 8 INT's, 1,1709 yards) has been an improving threat to defenses across Indiana.
"Corey Babb has been oustanding for us, his development has mirrored our development as a team," said Streiff.
"We struggled a little bit early when he was struggling, but once he caught wind the second-half of the season, he has played extremely well for us. Making great decisions for us at this juncture, and throwing the ball where it needs to be thrown, managing the game."
To say the South Bend Washington Panthers have some talented kids on the offensive side of the ball would almost be an understatement. Senior wide receiver Gehrig Dieter (22 TD's, 2,003 yards, 143.1 YPG) broke the national receiving record for yards in a game with 437 against Elkhart Central on September 2nd. That's not to forget the talented David Perkins (1,300 yards, 15 TD's), with two teammates combining for a versatile offensive attack that has left teams stifled all season long. South Bend Washington Head Coach Antwon Jones expects the same results on Saturday.
"We're going to run the ball against Cathedral," said Jones. "And we are going to pass the ball against Cathedral. If you want to win the game, that's what you got to do. But just like Penn and the other teams we have played against, we are going to move the ball."
South Bend Washington had perhaps one of the toughest roads to the State championship game, defeating number-five ranked Hammond Morton 33-20 in the Regional championship, and then following that up with a 14-3 victory over number-four ranked Fort Wayne Leo in the Semi-State championship. Jones believes the road to Lucas Oil Stadium, along with a tough schedule from facing South Bend teams all season long, has prepared the team well for Saturday's match-up.
"They are a very good team," said Jones. "We have to come out and play. We have gone out against some other good teams, and they are another one. If you want to wear that ring, you have to come out and play some football."
Along with a high-powered offense that Panthers defense might be up for Cathedral's balanced offensive game. Only allowing fifteen points per game, Devonte Hughes (113 tackles, 15 sacks) and Matt Clay (147 tackles, 3 sacks) can be expected to give the Fighting Irish major problems.
The IHSAA Class 4A State championship will kickoff 3:30 p.m. E.T. at Lucas Oil Stadium, and will air live on WTTV Channel 4.