A product of Indiana’s high school football playoff system – like it or not – is that state championship-worthy games often happen before the state championship game. Case in point this season: The Class 6A showdown when No. 1 Warren Central travels to third-ranked and defending champion Center Grove on Friday in a juicy regional matchup.
One of those teams will be sitting home the rest of the tournament and might have a spot on the following list. Here are 10 of the most dominant area high school football teams in the past 15-plus years not to win a state championship:
• New Palestine, 2015: After winning the 2014 Class 4A state championship with a record-breaking offensive performance in a 77-42 win over New Prairie, the Dragons moved up to 5A under the Indiana High School Athletic Association’s tournament success factor. Still, New Palestine was dominant. The Dragons set multiple state records, including points in a season (854) and team offense (7,701 yards) led by senior quarterback Alex Neligh. New Pal was finally upended in a thrilling, back-and-forth 64-61 loss to Fort Wayne Snider. Other than a 24-14 win over Columbus East in the sectional championship, none of its other 12 wins were within four touchdowns.
• Cardinal Ritter, 2012: The Raiders featured a prolific offense led by junior quarterback Jake Purichia and senior receiver Alex Parrett. Ritter averaged 49.7 points per game and weren’t seriously threatened in any game after a 42-41 season-opening win over Heritage Christian. That is, until the Raiders ran into IndyStar Mr. Football Jaylon Smith and Fort Wayne Luers in the 2A state championship game. Luers won 40-28. It set the stage for Ritter’s 2A state title run the following season.
• Warren Central 2011: The Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference rivals met in the sectional championship game. In front of 8,000 fans, 5A No. 2 Carmel defeated No. 1 Warren Central 34-30 with a second-half rally in a game the Warriors led 20-0. Warren Central, ranked No. 7 in the country by Rivals.com, finished 11-1. The Warriors won three regular-season games – over Cathedral, Ben Davis and Carmel – by a touchdown or less but averaged 44 points per game, led by running back Deionte Buckley. Carmel went on to win state.
• Carmel, 2009: After a season-opening 7-3 loss to Cathedral, the Greyhounds ran off 13 consecutive victories. It wasn’t the most dominant team by margin of victory. Carmel defeated Center Grove, Lawrence North and Warren Central by three points or less in the regular season, then won three more games by a touchdown or less in the tournament. The defense, led by Brian East and Adam Davis, allowed just 8.3 points per game going into the state finals. The offense was led by quarterback Adam Shaffer and running back Devin Brinson. All that kept top-ranked Carmel from a state title was a controversial 42-36 double-overtime loss to No. 3 Warren Central in the 5A state championship.
• Carmel, 2008: Led by IndyStar Mr. Football quarterback Morgan Newton, Carmel had a 19-point lead with 8 minutes left in the state championship game against Center Grove. The Greyhounds’ offense didn’t get on the field again until it trailed 36-33 with 50 seconds left after the Trojans cashed in on two onside kick recoveries. Carmel finished 13-2 with its only other loss coming in the regular-season finale to Ben Davis.
• Carmel, 2006: After a 13-7 loss in the season opener to a Cathedral team that would go on to win the 4A state title, Carmel lost just two more games – both against a Warren Central team that is regarded as one of the best in state history. The Greyhounds lost the regular-season meeting 28-0, but dominated in the tournament by allowing just one field goal in five games. A rematch against Warren Central in the state championship didn’t go much better, resulting in a 35-14 loss. It was the first state finals appearance for Carmel since 1989.
• Ben Davis, 2004: Warren Central won four consecutive state championships from 2003-06, but this Ben Davis team nearly kept it from happening. After losing 31-28 to Warren Central during the season (a 40-39 loss to North Central was its other regular-season loss), Ben Davis dominated three sectional opponents to get another shot at the Warriors in the regional for the fifth consecutive year. Ben Davis led by 12 points in the fourth quarter before Warren Central rallied. Demetrice Jefferson rushed for 138 yards in the loss.
• Mooresville, 2004: Mooresville was 12-0 and ranked No. 2 in Class 4A going into a regional matchup against two-time defending state champion Roncalli. The Pioneers had defeated Roncalli 34-31 in overtime during the regular season. Roncalli’s Jason Werner put on a show with four interceptions and the game-winning touchdown with a minute left to give the Rebels a 20-15 win. Roncalli went on to win its third consecutive 4A state title. Mooresville held eight of its opponents to a touchdown or less.
• Danville, 2002: Danville was in the middle of an excellent run under coach Bob Copeland, advancing to the 2A state championship game in 1999 and winning a regional the following year. In 2002, Danville had moved up to 3A and met top-ranked Bishop Chatard in the sectional championship. Danville had a chance with 10 seconds left but missed on a two-point conversion and lost 27-26 to finish 11-1. Chatard went on to win the state championship with a 15-0 record.
• Arlington, 1999: The James Banks-led Ben Davis team in 1999 was the state’s best, winning the Class 5A title with a 15-0 record. The Giants’ lone tournament game within 23 points was an epic 16-15 win over Arlington in the regional. Arlington, coached by Dick Harpold, brought an 11-1 record into the game with its lone loss to Bishop Chatard in the regular-season finale. Arlington running back Derrick Ellis rushed for more than 2,000 yards and quarterback-safety Marcus Jones was a standout on both sides of the ball. A last-second 56-yard field goal by Damon Fine saved Ben Davis and kept Arlington from a potential state-title run.
Call IndyStar reporter Kyle Neddenriep at (317) 444-6649.