Need to hold on to a Ben Davis squad that averaged 36.5 points per game on offense out of the end zone on a final two-point conversion? Easy, an 11-9 victory for a 15th Regional championship.
In all reality, the Carmel Greyhounds (13-1), second-ranked in the State and 15th in the USA Today polls, shouldn't be competing in Saturday night's IHSAA Class 5A State championship game. At some point, the Carmel Greyhounds should have dug themselves too deep into a hole that the team should not have been able to climb out of. Yet here they are now, one game from IHSAA immortality, with only the Penn Kingsmen (14-0) standing in their way.
"I think that there is a God-given resiliency that our kids have," said Greyhounds Head Coach Kevin Wright.
"That's the only real way I can really explain it. We keep fighting, fighting, fighting, and finding different ways to win. We have found different ways to win throughout the last few weeks. They don't get rattled, the coaches don't get rattled. You pull together, find different ways to motivate, you are beat up, emotionally tired, you have got to find a way. We have had people step up in different ways in big games."
How have the Greyhounds done it? Large part is thanks to a stellar defense, one that has only allowed 10.4 points per game on defense. Led by John Kenny (95 tackles, 6 sacks) and Jimmy Herman (92 tackles, 12 for loss, 3 INT's) the Greyhounds defense is as good as a fundamentally sound defense that anyone will find on the high school gridiron. And despite falling behind early in games, Carmel's defensive attack has found a nack to completely shut-down teams for lengthy periods of time whenever they need too.
"You have to have a foundation as to where you are going to start every year," said Wright.
"And for Carmel, traditionally it is on the defensive side of the football. This year has been no different. These guys have been tremendous all of the way through. The one game where they did feel bad, they did what they needed to do. That was the Warren game, where we almost gave up 500 yards of offense against a tremendous football team. So they felt bad, and they wanted to redeem themselves the next week against Ben Davis. They did a great job against a talented football team to stop the two-point conversion in the end, and of course last week as well. Even in the Warren game when we gave up points, at the end Race Johnston, a junior defensive back, strips the ball on a 4th and 6 play. Where if the make the catch, they probably win the football game. So all throughout they have made big plays, and it's cliche, but defenses really do win championships."
But a stellar defense doesn't win that many games in the Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference without a stellar offense as well. Senior unning back Jalen Duncan (22 TD's, 1,574 yards, 112.4 YPG) and Senior quarterback Brandon Denning (11 TD's passing, 16 TD's rushing, 706 yards rushing) have combined to be a dual running-threat that has helped the Greyhounds average 38.8 points per game and earn the respect of their opponent.
"Offensively, their fullback is a stud," said Penn Head Coach Cory Yeoman. "He runs, runs, runs, and he runs. Kevin is not scared to keep handing him the ball and i wouldn't be either. if I had a guy like that. He is an impressive young man. The quaterback can hurt you with his arm and hurt you with his legs."
The Kingsmen themselves enter Saturday night with an impressive defense (10.4 points per game) and an offense that features many weapons as well. The offense is led by running back Jamil Davis (13 TD's, 1,001 yards), but a double quarterback combination of Chad Gindleberger (18 TD's combined rushing/passing) and Zach Oakley (20 TD's passing/rushing) lead the Kingsmen with an almost unpredictable at times offensive attack.
"Both kids are very smart, are very competitive, and both kids want to be the guy," said Yeoman about the dual-quarterback plan that Penn uses. "But both kids put the team in front of them, and this wouldn't work with every quarterback like this. But these kids get the big picture figured out."
The potent offense has seen the Kingsmen outscore their opponents in the playoffs 179-58, most recently a mostly relaxed 28-10 victory over Fort Wayne Snider in the Semi-State championship.
Kick-off will take place approximately 7:05 ET at Lucas Oil Stadium for the IHSAA Class 5A State championship, and live coverage of the game can be seen on WTTV Indiana's 4.