By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin
ALEXANDRIA, Ind. — Sammy Mireles' pursuit of the state rushing record is just one piece of the puzzle Friday night at Alexandria.
Second place in the Central Indiana Conference is on the line as the host Tigers (6-2, 4-2 CIC) square off against the rival Panthers (5-3, 5-1). And the teams could meet again two weeks from now if both can get past their first-round sectional opponents.
Mireles, Elwood's sensational senior running back, needs 211 yards to surpass former Cathedral star Otis Shannon as the state's all-time leading rusher — a fact that dominated headlines all week.
But Alexandria's had a pretty fair season of its own. The Tigers can match their highest win total since 1998 with a victory, and junior quarterback Blaize Kelly also is on a record chase. He needs 157 yards to move to the top of the school's all-time passing list.
"We're excited about the year he's had," Alexandria coach Pete Gast said. "We're hoping we can set a pretty nice record ourself."
As for Mireles, he's approaching this game the same as any other week.
He's averaging 244.9 yards per game this season, and he had 215 yards on three consecutive carries in the second quarter of last week's 66-6 win against Frankton.
There's no denying his explosive potential, and Gast didn't even make an effort to hide the record chase from his players.
"They are aware of it," he said. "They can't help but be aware. There's been a lot of coverage. But we want to win the football game first and foremost. If he gets the record, we'll congratulate him. If he doesn't, he doesn't. I'm not looking at it like we have to stop him or it's a failure."
Mireles has taken a very similar tact.
He said winning the game is his most important goal. If the record comes along with it, that's just a bonus.
Mireles busted free for 385 yards and four touchdowns on 31 carries in a 53-28 victory against the Tigers last year, but he wasn't happy with the team's slow start.
"Last year, we shot ourselves in the foot early in the game," he said. "We thought we could just go in there and whoop 'em. If we take care of our business, we should be fine."
Alexandria has some recent history in its favor, however, as well. Mireles gained 200 yards on 31 carries in 2011, but he scored just one touchdown and the Tigers walked away with a 42-24 home victory.
"He's just a tremendous football player," Gast said. "His heart is big, and he has great tenacity and toughness. He's a great blocker. They put him on special teams at times and he makes plays. He's just a great football player. But I don't feel like it's us vs. him. They've got other outstanding players on their team."
Those players include senior wide receiver London Leavell, senior tight end Jared Bourff and junior quarterback Alex Mirles, Sammy's brother.
Alexandria answers with an offense averaging 31.9 points per game. Drew Johnson is an outstanding weapon as Kelly's top target, and running back Evan Hodges will take advantage of the spacing the Tigers' spread offense creates.
It's a game showcasing two of the county's best teams with a pair of records on the line, and a big crowd is expected to be on hand.
"It's going to be a good night, good weather," Gast said. "This is gonna be the place to be in Madison County."