The schools are located just 2.4 miles from one another along East 56th Street. But the football programs at Cathedral and Lawrence Central are even more closely intertwined.
Bill Peebles, the first-year Lawrence Central coach, is a Cathedral graduate. He won a state championship there as a player in 1986 and was on the coaching staff there for 10 years. His father, Julian, was the Cathedral president from 1990-2000. Tim Barthel, the Cathedral quarterbacks’ coach, is a former Lawrence Central coach and still teaches in the building. Lawrence Central defensive coordinator Justin Sharp started his coaching career at Cathedral. Donyell Meredith II, now Lawrence Central’s starting quarterback, transferred from Cathedral over the summer.
On and on it goes. Stephanie Keller is the girls basketball coach and physical education department chair at Lawrence Central. Her son, Quincy Keller, is Cathedral’s starting quarterback.
“Our conversation is a little shorter than usual this week,” Quincy said with a laugh. “But we’re still talking.”
Class 6A No. 10 Cathedral (6-4) will meet neighbor Lawrence Central (6-4) on Friday for the Sectional 6 championship at Tech. The Irish, after rising to as high as No. 2 in the state rankings, lost four of five games to close a regular season undercut by injuries to key players, including junior running back and Notre Dame recruit Markese Stepp.
But there is a feeling around Cathedral’s program that it’s poised for a deep tournament run after surviving a 41-38 overtime win over Lawrence North last week. Cathedral coach Rick Streiff said this week that he’s still uncertain of Stepp’s status for Friday’s game.
“But we’re probably about as healthy as we’ve been,” he said. “We’re still missing a guy or two, but if we can hang in there a little bit, maybe we’ll get everybody back in a couple weeks if we’re still around.”
This is Cathedral’s second season of playing in the 6A tournament. The program, with an enrollment of 1,292 at the beginning of the most-recent classification, would be 4A based on size. After winning 4A state titles in 2010, ’11 and ’12, Cathedral moved up to 5A under the Indiana High School Athletic Association’s tournament success factor. The Irish bumped up again after taking 5A state titles in 2013 and ’14.
In its first foray into 6A last year, Cathedral won a sectional title with wins over Lawrence Central and Lawrence North before losing a 37-34 double-overtime heartbreaker to Avon in the regional.
“As far as getting more satisfaction from the competition, I love being in 6A,” said Cathedral senior safety Ben Stewart. “I was glad we were given an opportunity to present ourselves and show we’re not just winning state titles at the smaller levels, but good enough to compete on a statewide level.”
Cathedral traditionally plays one of the toughest regular-season schedules in the state. After surprising losses to Fishers (27-17) and Brebeuf Jesuit (24-17), it may have been a 44-41 overtime loss to Center Grove in the final regular-season game that provided a necessary shot of confidence.
“The big thing that week was effort,” said senior linebacker Pete Werner, a Notre Dame recruit. “We had a tough game the week before against Brebeuf but that Center Grove game gave us a boost that we knew we could hang with one of the best teams in the state. I like playing in the best division, against the best players, the best schools.”
To beat the best, Cathedral will need Keller to continue his steady play. The 5-9, 165-pound senior waited his turn on the junior varsity team, backing up Max Bortenschlager, now a freshman at Maryland. Keller, who doesn’t fit the prototype of a pocket passer like the 6-3 Bortenschlager, has completed 61 percent of his passes for 2,049 yards and 28 touchdowns (eight interceptions) through 10 games.
“He’s had a great year,” Streiff said. “He’s been what we thought he would be. He’s not the big, pure passer but he makes plays. He did that on the JV team, too. He makes things happen and he has a good, live arm.”
It’s no surprise to his teammates. Keller has a reputation as a blue-collar worker who has prepared himself to be the starting quarterback. “He’s always out there working when nobody is watching,” Werner said. “He put the extra work in.”
Keller admits he didn’t know for sure if the opportunity would ever come his way. He soaked up as much as possible from Bortenschlager.
“It’s been a blessing and a curse,” he said. “I got to sit back and watch, but it makes you want it even more. It helps to learn from kids in front of you who are obviously good at what they do. That’s a good thing.”
Keller was, at one time, competing with his counterpart on Friday for playing time. Meredith, a junior, has sparked the Bears’ spread offense by completing 62 percent of his passes for 1,959 yards and 24 touchdowns (12 interceptions).
Early in the week, Streiff talked to his team and staff about shutting down interaction with Lawrence Central’s side until after Friday’s game. Cathedral assistant coach Emil Ekiyor, the father of standout junior lineman Emil Ekiyor Jr., smiled and said Meredith had been at his house on Saturday.
“I’m sure the switch will get flipped off until Friday night about 10:30 and then they’ll all be friends again,” Streiff said.
The Lawrence Central staff, jokingly, told Stephanie Keller this week that they were icing her out of conversations. It’s hardly a house divided, but the matchup has made for some interesting conversations this week at the Keller house.
“It’s all in good spirits,” Quincy Keller said. “I know she’s supporting me.”
Call IndyStar reporter Kyle Neddenriep at (317) 444-6649.