ELWOOD — Sammy Mireles' pursuit of the state rushing title is an extremely important storyline for the Elwood football team this fall.
But one of the season's biggest goals all along has been defending the program's Central Indiana Conference championship. In that regard, tonight's game against Eastbrook (2-2, 2-0 CIC) couldn't be larger.
"It's a big game because it's the next one," Elwood coach Marty Wells said. "That's kind of the mentality we took last year. The more you win, the bigger they become next week."
Elwood (2-0, 2-2) is coming off a wild 74-54 win at Madison-Grant that Wells said was unlike any other in his 14 seasons as a head coach. Elwood trailed 34-26 midway through the third quarter then scored 42 unanswered points to take control.
The Argylls hammered Elwood with a unique rushing attack out of extremely tight formations. Wells likes to say Madison-Grant's offense would fit in a phone booth, and that's not far off the truth.
Constant motion by the guards and backs keeps defenses guessing where the ball is, and the scheme has been consistently effective. Against Elwood, Madison-Grant had three rushers top the 100-yard mark and gained 543 yards on the ground overall.
"It's a difficult offense to defend," Wells said. "Especially the first time you see it."
Wells was more concerned that Elwood allowed the Argylls to make some big plays in the passing game — an area that is hardly the team's strong suit — to get out of third- and fourth-down situations.
The challenge against Eastbrook is different but just as daunting.
After losing its first two non-conference games to start the season, Eastbrook has exploded against CIC foes. The team has won by scores of 62-8 and 62-0 in the past two weeks, and the attack centers around star quarterback Jacob Singer.
A dual-threat with his arm and his legs, Singer has thrown for 176 yards (on just four completions) and run for 388 yards this year.
"He is a man," Wells said. "He is a beast. He is an athlete. Any superlative adjective you want to come up with for a football player, that's got No. 10 written all over it."
Elwood will need to be disciplined in its own defensive scheme and not allow Singer to take advantage of the seams.
"He's definitely the straw that stirs that drink, and everything revolves around him," Wells said. "As the quarterback, he'll have the ball in his hands on every play. We've got to get the ball out of his hands. And that is easier said than done. I think we have a great plan. We just have to execute that plan."
Wells expected the CIC to be a "four-horse pony show" entering the season. He saw his team competing with Eastbrook, Mississinewa and Oak Hill for the league title. Alexandria's upset of Mississinewa last week might also throw the Tigers (3-1, 1-1) into the mix.
Oak Hill visits Alexandria on homecoming tonight.
"Alexandria has definitely closed the gap a lot," Wells said. "It didn't surprise me they beat Mississinewa. (Coach) Pete (Gast) has done a great job since he's been there."
The large number of teams involved in the race only reinforces the idea the conference championship will not be determined tonight.
As big as tonight's game is, win or lose, bigger days for both teams lie ahead.
"We're trying to keep our feet on the ground," Wells said, "and our head out of the sky."