Tonight’s game between Central Catholic and West Lafayette won’t have quite the same fanfare as last year’s meeting.
Approximately 4,000 fans packed LaRocca Field a year ago to watch two undefeated teams ranked No. 1 in their respective class play for the Hoosier Conference championship. That was also the first game between the programs in more than a decade.
Both CC and West Side have blemished records this season, and only the Class A No. 1 Knights are currently ranked. But a share of the conference title is still at stake, not to mention bragging rights.
“No matter if we’re No. 1 or lower than that, we’re going to have the same intensity coming into this game, because we know it’s a big one,” CC junior defensive lineman Tyler Schrader said.
Central Catholic (7-1) can lock up a perfect 6-0 Hoosier Conference season and repeat championship with a victory tonight. If West Lafayette (6-2, 4-1) wins and Tipton beats Delphi, it would create a three-way share of the title.
The Knights rallied to win last season’s game 21-14 on Travis Smith’s 55-yard interception return touchdown in the final 30 seconds. West Lafayette’s players reminded themselves of that loss this week by posting a photo of the scoreboard from last year’s game around their locker room.
“The way that game ended last year was part of it,” WL coach Marshall Overley said. “You could say for 51 weeks we’ve been waiting on this game. But we’re a different team and they’re a different team.
“Really, this is what high school football’s all about.”
Each team’s game plan for tonight includes a similar goal: contain the other team’s standout running back.
West Lafayette junior Maurice Woodard rushed for a school-record 311 yards and five touchdowns last week against Seeger. Only two weeks earlier, Woodard had rushed for 229 yards against Rensselaer, and he is already the program’s all-time leading rusher.
Central Catholic’s defense has held up well all season against the run, holding Rensselaer to 49 yards on 34 carries last week.
“You don’t stop a kid like Woodard,” CC coach Kevin O’Shea said. “You hope to slow him down enough that whatever yards he gets he has to earn them, so he’s not ripping one off for 75 yards. You hope it’s like 75 yards over 30 carries.”
Central Catholic has increasingly relied on senior fullback Brad Schrader to grind out yards and control the clock. He’s averaging six yards per carry and is coming off another 100-yard-plus performance against Rensselaer.
Yet the Knights have shown as much explosiveness in their passing game, especially via seniors Timmy Mills (14 catches, 309 yards) and Will Jones (25-272).
“They’re strong in so many different aspects,” WL junior running back and linebacker Everett Gorup said. “(Ty) Preston’s a good quarterback. He’s got a very strong arm and he knows the game well. They have a lot of good running backs with Schrader, and Will Jones is good too, when he gets the pitches. And Timmy is a very good receiver, one of the best in the conference.”
After last season’s electric atmosphere, the players are looking forward to another memorable game.
“Last year was awesome, just being in that atmosphere with so many people there,” Schrader said. “Once it got into the third and fourth quarter, it was so loud you could barely hear the calls the defense was making. But I bet it will be the same way this year.”