INDIANAPOLIS – Four games into this season, neither Western Boone nor Bishop Luers was in a particularly good place.
The Stars (10-4), the two-time defending Class 2A state champions, had fallen to 1-3 with a loss at Tri-West. They had lost just one game in the previous two seasons combined.
Meanwhile in Fort Wayne, the Knights (8-6) were browbeaten 38-0 by Concordia and also fell to 1-3. It was the only time Bishop Luers was shutout this season and, coach Kyle Lindsay said, the only time, win or loss, that the Knights failed to compete in the way he expects.
But that mid-September Friday night feels like a long time ago now that the two teams are set to face each other in the Class 2A state final, which will kick off at 11 a.m. today at Lucas Oil Stadium.
“We're starting nine sophomores, one freshman, so we knew we'd go through our growing pains a little bit,” Western Boone coach Justin Pelley said.
Lindsay said the struggles of the first few weeks prompted his coaching staff to tinker with the lineup and find ways to better utilize his players.
“Our offensive line and our defensive line look completely different from what they did at the beginning of the season. We thought some size on the defensive line and some quickness on the offensive line was the way to go. But after a 1-3 start we said, no, let's get bigger on the offensive line and quicker on the defensive line,” Lindsay explained. “(Sophomore) Da'Von Doughty, he started the year as a middle linebacker. And we saw some quickness and strength that he would bring to the defensive line. And that allowed a teammate, a junior underclassmen to fill in at middle linebacker, Evan Linker, he's taken off at that position.”
Pelley said he once tried moving one of his best players, running back Robby Taylor, before allowing the senior to remain in his preferred position.
“I tried to move him to guard two years ago, and he wasn't real happy about that. I said, 'Robby, I'm just trying to get you on the field. If you go to guard, that would be helpful,'” Pelley said. “He didn't say no, but we figured it out to where we didn't have to make that happen. He played some JV. And then sure enough, last year he was that bowling ball that we relied on.”
The 5-foot-8, 200-pound Taylor has now been Western Boone's leading rusher for each of the last two seasons. He is averaging 117.5 yards and 5.4 yards per carry this season and has scored 19 touchdowns. He ran for 81 yards and three touchdowns in last year's championship game as the Stars beat Eastbrook 44-7.
“He's an old soul. If you go back to the '80s and '90s, those are the kinds of football players that you had,” Pelley said of Taylor. “He's not quite a tailback, but he's got some speed, and one guy is typically not going to bring him down. We get safeties and linebackers trying to tackle him. They do OK for the first half, but in the second half he really accelerates and does well.”
Lindsay said that Taylor will be the most physically intimidating running back the Knights have seen since they played Bishop Dwenger in Week 7, and that will not be the only problem the Stars' offense presents.
“They run the Wing-T, which we've had some problems stopping,” Lindsay said. “Out wide, they've got a 6-4, 220-pound athletic receiver (Connor Garrity) who also doubles up as a DB. They've got a quarterback (Elliott Young) who's athletic when he throws the ball. He's got a good arm. He runs the show well with a lot of poise and composure, but he can also run it.”
The Stars have given up an average of 16.2 points, and Lindsay said that “they look like a championship-level defense.”
“Their linebackers get to the ball. They've got defensive linemen who can move around and create pressure, so we're going to have our hands full up front, controlling their pressure. And they get pressure and they stop the run,” Lindsay said. “There are some moments where they bring a lot of pressure from the linebackers, and other moments when the front four bring pressure. So that's going to be a challenge.”
The good news for the Knights is that, at least in the estimation of junior quarterback Carson Clark, the offensive line played the best it has all season during the second half of the semistate championship win against Pioneer, allowing Bishop Luers to mount an epic comeback.
Clark is another bright spot: He was 22 of 34 against Pioneer for 326 yards and five touchdown passes. Starting with the win over South Side on Oct. 9, he has thrown just one interception. He has had 25 touchdowns during that stretch.
But perhaps the best thing going for the Knights this week is the knowledge that they overcame a 28-7 in the semistate championship just last week.
“I like the confidence we're playing with, the Never-Say-Die attitude that the kids play with,” Lindsay said. “I think there are some athletic matchups that we like at different areas on the field. Can we exploit those? That's going to be the big question.”
At a glance
Who: Bishop Luers vs. Western Boone
What: Class 2A final
When: 11 a.m. today
Where: Lucas Oil Stadium
Records: Bishop Luers (8-6); Western Boone (10-4)
TV: Fox Sports Indiana, in-area streaming on Fox Sports GO app, out-of-area streaming at IHSAATV.org
Radio: 1380 AM