MONTICELLO — Opportunity awaits the Twin Lakes Indians.
That’s how they view a brutal back end of their schedule against four teams with a combined 16-4 record.
“You have to have the right attitude,” junior receiver and defensive back Bryce Bennington said. “If you have the winner’s attitude that you can do it, then I think you can go in and beat anybody. That’s how you have to play it.”
Of course, Twin Lakes is no slouch itself, coming off four straight victories after suffering its only loss in the season opener to Class 5A Lafayette Jeff by a single touchdown.
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The Indians welcome Central Catholic on Friday, a program that is a benchmark to test how much they’ve improved in the last couple months.
“I think this is the best start we’ve had since 2006, but we still have a lot of things we need to work on,” senior Dane Holmes said. “This second half of our season is really tough. We have CC, Hamilton Heights and West Lafayette and we have to fix some things that we’ve done wrong.”
That’s how they got to this point.
Mistakes proved crucial in their lone loss.
Coach Justin Gardiner has seen improvement in all phases since that day, something he attests to playing challenging competition each week within the Hoosier Conference.
“Our goal from day one was to each year, and really each day if you want to break it down to that, was to get better than the one before,” said Gardiner, now in his fourth season with a 21-17 record. “We’ve really done some things that have helped us improve each year. The group of athletes that are here right now we knew would do some good things.”
Right now, Twin Lakes stands atop the Hoosier Conference West Division with a 3-0 record.
The gauntlet of league games has been a proving ground for success in the state tournament. The Hoosier Conference has been represented in the state finals the last four years and in nine of the last 10. Current members Hamilton Heights and Central Catholic also have played in the state finals in that period while in another conference.
“Our sectional is very tough,” Bennington said. “CC is a good game here in the middle of our season to say, ‘Hey, are you for real? Can you contend for a sectional?’ “
The sectional is every bit as tough as the final four games with North Montgomery and Western Boone (both 4-1) thrown into the mix.
Twin Lakes is averaging 39 points and allowing 12 during its four-game winning streak against Northwestern, Delphi, Rensselaer and Benton Central.
“Week 1 we saw great competition and from there, it did get a little easier,” senior lineman Erick Espinosa said. “Coming in this year, I saw we lost a couple seniors, but the athletes we have right now and the way we worked in the offseason this past summer, I thought we could be really good. Now it’s time to see what we’re made of.”
Gardiner expects his team will embrace the challenges ahead, starting with the Knights.
Last season, CC steamrolled the Indians 50-6, but Twin Lakes had been as competitive as anyone against the Knights during Gardiner’s first two seasons, nearly pulling the upset in a 17-12 loss in 2012 and competing before a 30-14 loss in 2013.
Those teams were less resilient than the current squad.
Even through the bad times this season, Gardiner has seen his team respond rather than hang their heads. Now there’s an overall excitement to see how far they’ve come.
“You want to measure yourself against the best competition possible and this is a good place to do that,” Gardiner said. “We can’t look at it as we have some really tough games coming up. We have to look at it as we have some opportunities to do something really great in the next couple of weeks and some things that this program hasn’t done in a long time.”