INDIANAPOLIS, IN—The Carmel Greyhounds were certainly battle-tested heading into their Class 5A State Championship match-up against Penn. In the last two months, Kevin Wright's team played top-ranked Warren Central twice. They also beat Metropolitan Interscholastic rival Ben Davis twice, knocked off 2010 Class 5A runner-up Lawrence Central in the sectionals, and claimed a thrilling victory over Center Grove one week ago.
The 21-17 victory over Center Grove came after the Greyhounds trailed 17-0 at halftime. That game and many others where Carmel rallied from double-digit deficits led Kevin Wright to talk at length about his teams' God-given resiliency in the days leading up the State Finals.
"We had the ball bounce our way and had to overcome adversity, I do believe that is God-given resiliency to get us here. Tonight, we had to finish and we came out ready to go, especially defensively I thought we got after it pretty good the first half," said Carmel head coach Kevin Wright moments after the victory.
Despite all the points Carmel put on the scoreboard, the defense deserves the most credit. In the first half, Penn tallied just 53 yards of total offense and moved the ball into Carmel territory just one time in eight possessions prior to halftime.
"We put the ball on the ground, didn't tackle as well as we did all year long," said Penn head coach Cory Yeoman. "I feel bad the way that it had to end for these guys because they deserve better, but I'm real proud of them."
Penn's fans were disappointed by the outcome, but the Kingsmen ran into a Greyhound team that showed all season long they would not be denied. Some Carmel seniors remember the pain the program felt in losing the 2008 State Championship game on an epic comeback from Center Grove 36-33, then on a questionable call in the 2009 state finals to Warren Central. The Greyhounds were determined not to repeat history.
"We were down in a lot of games, but we were destined to win this. Two years ago (to Warren Central) we lost, then the year after that we lost in sectionals (to eventual state champion Fishers) and after that we just knew as a senior class we weren't going to let that happen again," said senior linebacker Shawn Heffern.
The final statistics tell most of the story. Carmel out-gained Penn 269-55 on the ground. The Greyhounds had enough balance to keep the Kingsmen off balance thanks to 169 yards passing from senior quarterback Brandon Denning. Carmel also owned the special teams as kicker Billly Stumbo booted four first half field goals during the drives Carmel was unable to find the end zone. The kickoff unit also routinely made Penn start drives deep in their own territory.
Individually, there were a number of stars for Carmel. Denning rushed for 60 yards in addition to his passing exploits, and accounted for two touchdowns. Jalen Duncan had 14 carries for 110 yards, while Jimmy Herman and Demarco Williams had first half interceptions which helped set the tone on that side of the football.
Simply put, Carmel dominated Penn and showed it had plenty left in the tank after a very challenging post-season slate.
"We saw that in the headlines, but we didn't focus on that. We knew we had enough left in the tank for one more game. That is what we preached all week, 48 more minutes of football, that is all we needed to win a state championship. All the games before this had been leading up to this point, now we were finally able to for 48 minutes give it our all," said Denning who was named player of the game on the IHSAA Champions Network television broadcast.
Down the road, the Carmel football fans might look back on the sectional championship victory against Warren Central or the regional slug-fest against Ben Davis, or the Semi-State comeback against Center Grove as the game that led to the title. However, the Greyhounds still had to take care of business against Penn to complete the goal.
After showing so much resiliency in the post-season, Carmel played a complete 48 minute game in the finals, earning the right to be called a State Champions.