ANDERSON — Two weeks ago, Elwood and Alexandria played a record-setting 49-42 thriller that filled the stands to capacity.
Turns out they were just getting started.
The Panthers (7-3) and Tigers (7-3) meet again Friday. This time the stage has flipped to Elwood, and the loser’s season will be over. The winner faces either Oak Hill (7-3) or Bluffton (5-5) for the Class 2A Sectional 36 championship next week.
“It’s almost like we never left,” Alexandria coach Pete Gast said of preparing to face the Panthers again. “The game plan and the scouting report are still fresh in our memories, and that makes practice pretty good.”
The game also is likely to live up to the hype again.
Last time around, Elwood’s Sammy Mireles rushed for 350 yards and five touchdowns as the Panthers erased a 34-24 third-quarter deficit. In the process, Mireles passed former Indianapolis Cathedral star Otis Shannon as the state’s all-time rushing leader.
He needs 87 yards Friday to become the first player in Indiana history ever to rush for 8,000 yards in his career.
On the other sideline stands Alexandria quarterback Blaize Kelly, who went 41-for-57 for 334 yards and three touchdowns against Elwood on Oct. 18. Kelly, just a junior, also became the Tigers’ all-time leading passer in the contest.
Mason Hoke was his top target against the Panthers, catching 14 passes for 166 yards and two touchdowns — including the record-breaker on a 29-yard completion that tied the game at 21-21 in the second quarter.
In last week’s 61-34 victory against Frankton, Alexandria receiver Drew Johnson set the school record for career receptions. He and running back Evan Hodges provide Kelly with plenty of firepower as part of an offense that has averaged 35.8 points per game this season.
Elwood’s offense has been even more efficient, scoring at a 42.6-point clip. In addition to Sammy Mireles, the Panthers get big contributions from quarterback Alex Mireles, wide receiver London Leavell, tight end Jared Bourff and running back Zane Boyer.
Elwood’s coming off a high-scoring 58-50 victory at Lapel in last week’s sectional opener, and Gast said he’s glad the Tigers had a chance to play the Panthers two weeks ago.
“That was a really hyped up game, there were a lot of people there and it got a lot of attention,” he said. “It was really good for us to play in a game like that because it was a sectional environment and a big-game atmosphere.”
Both teams walked away with regrets.
Kelly’s lone interception killed a scoring drive in the end zone, and another sure touchdown pass was dropped. Elwood fumbled twice — once on a promising drive deep in Alexandria territory and again on its end of the field to set up an Alexandria score.
Gast said neither team showed its full hand in the contest with the knowledge they could meet again in postseason play.
Now that day has come, and execution will be critical.
“That play or two, whoever makes it, could be the difference,” Gast said. “Because I think it’s going to be another close game.”