INDIANAPOLIS – When this year’s senior class watched Central Catholic’s football program cap off an impressive stretch of four state titles in four years in 2012, they were ready to continue the tradition.
But a pair of difficult losses during the last two state tournaments put the pause button on those dreams.
Those dreams were fulfilled Friday as the top-ranked Knights pulled away from No. 3 Linton-Stockton 34-7 to claim the Class A state championship at Lucas Oil Stadium. It’s the program’s seventh state title and the school’s 20th overall championship since 1976.
“When we were here as freshmen, most of us didn’t play,” linebacker Ethan Schrader said. “The two years we weren’t here, it was tough. But it’s great to be back here and finish it off with a win.”
Brandon Yeagy rushed for three touchdowns, Jackson Anthrop gained 149 yards on a season-high 32 carries and Central Catholic’s defense stymied the Miners’ high-powered rushing attack to pave the way to another title.
“We had two heartbreaking seasons, and to get back to your senior year with your brothers and this senior group, it’s phenomenal,” Anthrop said. “We worked hard all summer and to do it at the end was great.”
The Knights lost to Rensselaer and Tipton the last two seasons in the Class 2A tournament but moved back to Class A prior to this season. Facing a difficult regular season schedule, including Guerin Catholic and Hoosier Conference opponents, Central Catholic was more than prepared for a state championship run.
“We have a great conference, we had tough opponents in the tournament,” said senior Adam Lovell, whose interception set up the Knights’ final touchdown. “All these hard conference games and out of conference like Guerin and Pioneer, they all lead to this moment.”
It was a moment worth waiting for.
The Knights started fast, building a 17-0 lead on Avery Denhart’s 63-yard touchdown pass to Luke Fusiek on the team’s fifth offensive play. Yeagy added a 1-yard TD run and Sam Milazzo’s 25-yard field goal forced Linton out of its comfortable zone.
The Miners cut the lead to 17-7 at the end of the first half and Denhart was picked off by Pierce Jackson early in the third quarter, giving them a chance to cut into the margin. But CC’s defense held, stopping Tyler Meurer on a fourth-and-1 quarterback draw with 8:11 on the clock.
From there, the Knights scored 17 consecutive points as Yeagy added TD runs of 1 and 4 yards and Milazzo converted a 23-yard field goal.
“All the hard work from the summer time paid off,” said Fusiek, who finished with four receptions for 130 yards. “It’s great to be here and win. Getting through the year was tough but we managed to keep winning.”
The defensive front and linebackers were too quick and strong for Linton’s offensive line. The Miners featured four 1,000-yard rushers, but managed only 114 yards and averaged 2.9 yards per carry.
“Our defense has been our catalyst all year long,” CC coach Kevin O’Shea said. “You can’t do the things that we do without a great defense. When the defense is giving you short fields, it’s a great momentum shift.”
Meurer, Mitch Eberhardt, Jackson and Garrett Mason entered Friday with a combined 4,585 rushing yards and were averaging 9.9 yards per carry through the first 14 games. The group rushed for 108 yards and didn’t produce a run longer than 13 yards.
“We couldn’t establish our run,” Linton coach Brian Oliver said. “That’s what we’ve been able to do all year, but we couldn’t do it because of their size and inside linebackers.”
That’s been the story most of the year for Central Catholic, which imposed its will on every team on the schedule and the Miners experienced a similar fate Friday.
The 2015 championship, though, began to form three years ago when this year’s senior class experienced first-hand what was required to win a title.
“That big group of seniors taught us when we were young the routines that we need to go through here at Central Catholic,” Lovell said. “Learning from them, we knew we had to bring the trophy back to Central Catholic.”