Lawrence Central Head Coach Jayson West will be the first one to admit it. Though the Bears (14-0) run to the IHSAA Class 5A State championship game is similar to their first appearance when they finished runner-up to Fishers in 2010, this time around things couldn't be completely different.
"I think two years ago we were more happy to be here," said West. "And this group now expects to be here. So we have to coach that dynamic, and they have to also live up to that dynamic. Two years ago it was a shock the world moment, and that was great and a lot of fun. But now with what those seniors left is a legacy of expectations. Now these expectations are coming into fruition, which is really awesome to watch."
The Bears enter Saturday night's main event with undefeated Fort Wayne Snider (14-0) as perhaps the most highlight heavy team in the state of Indiana. As proven with their 38.2 points per game average on offense, the Bears have a number of dynamic athletes that can seem to change the game in a blink of an eye. Senior quarterback Drake Christian (18 TD's, 4 INT's, 1,670) has a number of weapons he can throw the ball too, but it's perhaps what Christen and two other backs do best is with their legs. Christen (92.6 YPG, 10 TD's) is joined by two seniors in Alex Rodriguez (95.9 YPG, 19 TD's) and Isaiah Townsend (85.9 YPG, 13 TD's) as a trio that has put points on the board against virtually any defense in the state of Indiana.
"They are very diverse," said West. "They have very different gifts and abilities. Isaiah (Townsend) is a burner but he is becoming more physical every week, and I am very happy with that. Alex (Rodriguez) is very physical, but he is becoming more dynamic. Then Drake (Christen) kind of runs the show, and he is the guy who kind of makes everything go. He knows everything that we do, and he is another coach on the field. When his number is called, he does a nice job of executing and making things happen."
The athletes the Bears have on offense are just as well represented on the defensive side of the ball as well, allowing just 10.3 points per game. Junior linebacker Nikia Aeritte leads the way with 118 tackles and 8 sacks on the season, while defensive back Quinten Turman also has 76 tackles with five interceptions.
After running through Conference Indiana practically untouched, many wondered how the Bears would respond once they faced some of the schools in the Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference. The Bears responded with a 21-14 victory over Warren Central in the second round of Sectionals, as well as a 28-15 victory over Center Grove in the Semi-State.
But West knows that he will have his hands full in the Panthers on Saturday night.
"They remind me of us," said West. "They run the ball very physically and have a great system. They have the ability to get it out in space and they love their quarterback (Senior Brandon Phelps). I think he is a really nice player. Then on defense, they play a little bit different of a defense than us, as far as the front, but they play just like we do. They play fast, physical, and if they come at you, if you aren't ready to go, they will put one on you. So we have to be ready to go."
The Panthers enter the Class 5A State championship a little bit more battle-tested than the Bears, along with 37 seniors that have had Head Coach Kurt Tippman convinced the team could make a run all season long. In the Regional championship they defeated Fishers 36-35, and then the following week defeated Merrillville 42-39.
And just as West said, they have a near identical offensive attack that averages 37.21 points per game led by a talented quarterback in Phelps (20 TD's, 135.5 YPG passing), along with Senior rushers Je'Norie Smith (15 TD's, 87.9 YPG), Tyrell Swain (75.2 YPG, 8 TD's), and Nicolas Reese (15 TD's, 49.9 YPG).
Defensively they have allowed 18.28 points per game, and Coach Tippman knows they are going to need to play a high-caliber game to slow down the Bears.
"They are very physical and very fast," said Tippman. "Those two combinations are tough to defend and be productive against. They are very well coached, and a great program. They just played in the State championship game a couple years ago, they are a great group and if we don't play our best, we don't stand a chance."
The Class 5A State championship game is expected to kick-off at 7:00 pm at Lucas Oil Stadium, and the live broadcast can be viewed on WTTV-4.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times