The Herald Bulletin

November 7, 2013

Football sectional title game preview: Raiders ready for another title tilt

By George Bremer The Herald Bulletin
The Herald Bulletin

---- — MIDDLETOWN — The current senior class at Shenandoah never has experienced a football season that ended before the sectional championship round.

On Friday, the Raiders (9-2) will make their fourth consecutive Class 2A sectional title game appearance by hosting Indianapolis Scecina (9-2). Shenandoah is 1-2 in its previous championship tries, with the victory coming in thrilling fashion last season against Heritage Christian at Dale Green Field.

John Harrell’s highly respected high school football website anticipates another close game, predicting the visiting Crusaders will pull out a 35-28 victory. Scott Widner has won 56 games in his six seasons as head coach of the Raiders, and he’s not making any predictions.

He’s just happy to have another big game coming up.

“Most of our kids are still excited about playing football,” Widner said. “We’re excited to play another game this week.”

After a slow start last week, Shenandoah rolled past rival Knightstown 40-20 to set up the showdown with Scecina. The Crusaders, who finished as Class A state runners-up in each of the past two seasons before moving up a class because of the IHSAA’s new success factor, advanced with a 48-8 victory against Winchester last week.

The Raiders played a pair of Indianapolis-area teams recently, losing to Cardinal Ritter 63-35 in the regular season finale and trouncing Broad Ripple 49-6 in the sectional opener. Those teams both are led by their quarterbacks, with Jake Purichia chasing state passing records at Ritter and C.J. Shittu providing a dual threat as a passer and rusher at Broad Ripple.

Scecina has a more balanced squad with weapons all over the field. The Crusaders average 34.9 points per game and allow just 11.7. They’ve scored at least 48 points in each of the past three games and have allowed 20 or more points just three times all year.

“It’s definitely to our advantage that we’ve played a couple of really good football teams this year,” Widner said. “In the past, when we’ve played in the sectional title game, we’ve been kind of shocked by the speed and physicality of the game.”

Shenandoah lost its first two sectional championship appearances under Widner, falling 28-25 at Speedway in 2010 and 36-20 against Guerin Catholic in 2011. Last season, the Raiders rushed for 500 yards and rallied in the fourth quarter to beat Heritage Christian 41-35 and claim their first postseason title in eight years.

Lane Young scored the winning touchdown in that contest, and the senior power back has 1,092 yards and a team-high 21 touchdowns on 149 rushing attempts this season. Fellow senior Chandler Hale leads Shenandoah with 1,252 rushing yards on 125 carries. He’s scored 15 touchdowns.

They’re part of a core group that has played in several championship games and will lead the youngsters Friday.

“Experience helps quite a bit,” Widner said. “(These seniors) had good leaders before them. They’re good kids, and they do things the right way.”

Widner doesn’t expect the same type of offensive shootout against Scecina that last year’s title game turned into against Heritage Christian. But the level of athletes on the opposing sideline is similar, and the atmosphere should remain consistent with another large home crowd.

Shenandoah’s proud of pushing its program to the point where playing for a sectional title is an expectation. Now, the Raiders are hoping to start another tradition.

“Hopefully, we can make it to another level where we’re used to playing for regional championships as well,” Widner said. “We’d like to raise our expectations to even playing a week longer.”