The IHSAA revealed the football sectional pairings late Sunday afternoon. Here are the first-round pairings for all local and area teams. Here is the write-up for Monday’s print edition. And below are my top five storylines from the random draw.
- Is this Gibson Southern’s year to get past an Indy private school in semi-state? The 3A No. 1 Titans (8-0) are heavy favorites to win Sectional 32 and can make a strong case as the toughest team in Southwestern Indiana. They pack postseason experience, depth, an up-tempo spread offense and a front four defensively that can wreak havoc. All signs point toward No. 3 Indianapolis Bishop Chatard (5-3) standing in Gibson’s path in advancing to its first state final in program history. This may be head coach Nick Hart’s best team to do it with. The Titans lost semi-state appearances to Brebeuf Jesuit in 2013 and Chatard in 2012.
- How much does Reitz have left in the tank? The Panthers (8-0) have looked susceptible at times but have retained their 4A No. 1 ranking all season backed behind a high-powered and balanced offense and a defense that possibly doesn’t get enough credit. They face considerable challenges ahead the next few weeks. Not only is all-state senior linebacker Will Brown sidelined for the season (in addition to sophomore Joey Diekmann), Reitz also faces an emotional game against Westside rival Mater Dei in a battle of unbeaten and top-ranked teams Friday. The Panthers road to a regional is no cakewalk, either. There’s a lot of parity in 4A, and the perception that Reitz isn’t convincing enough to justify its ranking may fuel the fire of a talented senior class. Blocking its likely path are also No. 5 East Central (7-1) in a regional and potentially either No. 3 Northview (8-0) or No. 13 Roncalli (4-4) in a semi-state. Head coach Andy Hape was glad to stay relatively close for the sectional and remains optimistic based on progress shown.
- Does Mater Dei again have the best odds of the pocket to reach state? I think it’s a fair assessment. The 2A top-ranked Wildcats (8-0) are currently the only team with a winning record in Sectional 40. Their offense has been borderline unstoppable for the majority of the season and head coach Mike Goebel believes his defense is continuing to make strides. Mater Dei’s road beyond sectionals likely features No. 3 Monrovia in regionals and No. 2 Eastern Hancock in semi-state. Sagarin ratings have a sizeable difference between the Wildcats and teams below them in 2A, though.
- Will Castle make a run past sectionals? That’s the $100 question in Newburgh. The Knights (4-4) have flashed the potential to compete with top-tier programs but need to become more consistent over 48 minutes. The recent realignment favors Castle in Sectional 16, and head coach Doug Hurt believes it isn’t far from playing at a high level. If the Knights take care of business, they’d likely host No. 4 Bloomington South (8-0) in a regional. 5A is fairly loaded after both Columbus East and New Palestine were promoted due to the IHSAA tournament success factor. “I think our kids will be really excited to get back to practice (Monday) and try to have a better result in the second half of the season than we did in the first,” Hurt said. “We’ve just been a little bit off. If we can find a way to be just a little bit better and make some championship plays down the stretch, then I think we can make a run out of this thing.”
- How much of a banner year will this be for Harrison? The Warriors (6-2) already captured their first winning season since 2004 and are positioned well to advance to the sectional championship for the first time since then as well. But consistency has plagued Harrison week to week. At times, they’re capable of upsetting a top-ranked team while at others, you wonder how it’s the same team. Anyone can lay an egg at any time, especially in high school. Much has been written about the Warriors athleticism and that has translated to the win column. A sectional title is asking for a lot, but it’s the next step on the ladder.
- A year after drawing a ranked Vincennes Lincoln team in the opening round, Heritage Hills moves to 3A-31 and are still stuck with a quality opponent off the bat in Charlestown. It’ll be a rematch of last year’s regional championship, won by the Patriots.
- Southridge saw an uptick in academic enrollment and join the 31 party as well. The Raiders (6-2) won’t have it any easier when they host No. 8 North Harrison (8-0). 31 is arguably the toughest in the C&P coverage area. Six teams boast winning records.
- Both Castle and North waved goodbye to the Terre Haute schools that won 5A-16 the last two years, and say hello to old pals Bedford and Floyd Central. Both are nearly equidistant to the two SIAC schools and only slightly further away than Terre Haute.
- Edgewood and Bosse are newcomers in 4A-24 as Silver Creek and Seymour move out. Bosse was reclassified after a reported increase in enrollment that bumped them up from 3A. Tough break.
- Gibson Southern and Heritage Hills could meet for a rematch of last year’s 3A-32 championship in this year’s regional round. The Titans should clinch their third Pocket Athletic Conference title in four years Friday, taking back the crown from the Patriots.
- Most sectionals have a clear-cut favorite, but I’m still going to cop out and say I need to see what happens this week to make final predictions. There aren’t many dark horses to pick as upsets outside of Jasper/Harrison in 4A-24 and Southridge in 3A-31.