The late-night bus ride home from Charlestown to Brownstown, 56 not-so-scenic miles on a high school football Friday in August, was a brutal hour for coach Reed May.
His Braves had just absorbed a 41-3 beatdown to the conference favorite and possible sectional opponent, a loss that exposed major weaknesses and established the Pirates as a legitimate power. Brownstown had not measured up, and the thought of a potential rematch was not appealing.
“If someone had told me we’d be playing Charlestown for a sectional championship, I would have said they were nuts,” May said.
Pass the peanuts. That’s exactly the scenario that has played out in the Class 3-A Sectional 23 tournament. No. 2 Charlestown (11-0) will seek its first sectional title since 1996 when it visits No. 11 Brownstown (10-1) tonight.
In the 10 weeks since that long road trip, the Braves have not lost. They have displayed rapid improvement, especially on the defensive side. They’re allowing only 11.1 points per game, and that includes a road shutout of Corydon.
But are they ready for the offensive storm of Charlestown? The Pirates have been punishing every team in their path, leading the state in scoring (at 59.8 points per game) and winning margin (53.6).
“We’ve gotten a lot better, but have we gotten good enough to beat Charlestown?” Reed said. “That remains to be seen. They’re the total package. I don’t know who is going to beat them. We’ll give it a shot. It’ll be tough. We’re glad we’ve got the opportunity.”
Brownstown’s first objective is to get past halftime. Over half of Charlestown’s games have been played with a running clock after intermission, with an uncompetitive blowout dictating that discretion. The Pirates have outscored their opponents 451-16 in the first half.
Senior quarterback Aaron Daniel and senior running back Seth McCutchen were the Brownstown thorns the first time, as they have been for every defense. McCutchen ran for 214 yards and Daniel added 178 rushing yards and three touchdowns. Daniel also threw two TD passes as the Pirates overcame four turnovers.
Daniel, one of the state’s top dual threats, leads the team in rushing (1,420 yards and 27 TDs) while averaging a whopping 12.1 yards per carry. He has also thrown for 1,613 yards and 29 TDs, with Tyler Odle (35 catches, 10 TDs), Wesley Sexton (21 catches, 7 TDs) and Cody Donahue (19 catches, 6 TDs) as his top threats.
So who does Brownstown’s defense target? How can Charlestown be slowed?
“If I had the answer to that question, I’d be a millionaire,” Reed said. “We’ve tried to find weaknesses. We haven’t found a lot.”
On the flip side, the Braves will have to find a way to score against the fourth-ranked defense in the state. Charlestown’s front line (led by sack leaders Desmond Wiley and Jimmy Garcia) dominated the first meeting, sacking Brownstown quarterback Clay Brown five times and recording eight tackles for loss on the running backs in Brownstown’s Wing-T attack.
“They’re running the ball better,” Charlestown coach Jason Hawkins said. “It’s a lot of misdirection, faking one way and going the other. You just have to play your position. If you don’t, that’s when they get you.”
Hawkins spent a lot of time challenging his defense to be prepared during his postgame speech following last week’s sectional semifinal win over Corydon. The bigger concern, if history repeats itself, is ball security.
“We cannot turn the ball over,” Hawkins said. “Champions do not turn the ball over. I would be shocked if we’re not ready. This has been one of the most amazing teams I’ve seen about staying focused. They’re not getting big-headed, they’re keeping their eyes on the big prizes.”
The first big prize is the sectional title that has eluded the Pirates, even during the rise to power during the Hawkins era.
“It’s been a long time,” Hawkins said. “This was the ultimate goal when I took the job. Our kids are fired up. “
Charlestown (11-0) at Brownstown (10-1), 7 p.m.
Charlestown is chasing its first sectional title since 1996.
* The Pirates won the regular-season meeting 41-3 on Aug. 24 at Charlestown. Seth McCutchen ran for 214 yards while Aaron Daniel ran for 178 yards and three TDs. Daniel also had two TD passes as Charlestown shook off four turnovers.
* No. 2 Charlestown leads the state in scoring at 59.8 points per game and winning margin at 53.6. Charlestown’s defense is fourth in the state, allowing only 6.3 points per game.
* Brownstown hasn’t lost since the clash with the Pirates. The Braves are led by running back Mitchell Scarlett (873 yards) and sophomore quarterback Clay Brown (1,056 passing yards and 13 TDs). Brown was sacked five times against Charlestown.
* “When you’ve got someone like Coach May, you’re going to improve. He did a good job this year.”
— Charlestown coach Jason Hawkins
* “I like playing tough teams early. It gives you an idea what you need to improve on.”
— Brownstown coach Reed May
The pick: Charlestown 42-14