By JOSH SIGLER KOKOMO TRIBUNE
---- — With the IHSAA’s all-in tournament formats, sectional time is typically heralded as an opportunity for teams that didn’t have the regular seasons they’d hoped for to wipe the slate clean and start anew.
For the Class 3A Sectional 26 football squads, however, the regular season success will be hard to ignore.
Every team but one, Peru, enters the playoffs with a winning record, including a pair of conference champions in Three Rivers Conference co-champ Rochester and Northeast Corner Conference crown-sharer Fairfield. Perennial power Jimtown (7-2) also looms, as does a Culver Academy (5-4) squad that owns a win over Lafayette Central Catholic this season.
“There’re obviously good teams in there that play in strong conferences,” Maconaquah coach Mark Hartman said. “I think the sectional is strong with a large number of wins. The teams are very spread out, too, so there will be teams who haven’t seen each other. It should make for a very interesting sectional.”
The following are looks at the first-round matchups for Maconaquah and Peru.
FAIRFIELD (8-1) at MACONAQUAH (6-3)
The Braves enter the postseason having reached the six-win plateau for the first time since 2004. They’re now looking to pick up their first postseason victory since 2002.
“I think we’re in such a better place mentally and the guys are much more focused,” Hartman said. “They truly care about what’s going on with our football team and how we play. We can’t say that’s happened in year’s past. We have great leadership, and the guys have done a great job the last three years of getting themselves ready for this opportunity.”
Fairfield will make the trek from Goshen to Bunker Hill Friday looking for its eighth straight win. The Falcons are seeking their first sectional title since 2009.
Running back Cameron Kitson leads Fairfield’s I-formation option attack with 130 carries for 1,268 yards and 20 touchdowns. He’s also the team’s leading receiver with 19 catches for 226 yards and two TDs. Quarterback Kyle Mast is 63 of 118 through the air for 873 yards, 11 TDs and three interceptions. Lucas Miller (63 carries, 431 yards, eight TDs) and Tony Zook (80 carries, 407 yards, seven TDs) also add formidable options in the running game.
“They were a 2A team that moved up to 3A this last year, and they’ve had some success,” Hartman said. “They kind of remind us of ourselves. They’ve played young guys for a few years and gotten them valuable game experience and allowed them to develop. That experience has shown in that way they’ve played. They run the ball well and play aggressive defense. They don’t make a lot of mistakes, so you have to play a complete game when you play them.”
Tailback Cody Hicks leads the Braves’ offense with 178 carries for 1,460 yards and 19 TDs. QB Kyle Dinn has completed 70 of 109 passes for 795 yards, seven TDs and 10 interceptions. K.J. Walton has been Dinn’s favorite target with 30 grabs for 272 yards and five TDs. Trevor Hagan adds 19 catches for 238 yards and a TD to the foray.
“We have to be able to throw the ball,” Hartman said. “We can’t rely on our run game the entire time. We have to play good run defense, which can be said for about every team in the state of Indiana. This year we’ve gotten gashed at times, and we’re doing everything we can to shore that up.”
ROCHESTER (7-2) at PERU (4-5)
The Bengal Tigers have lost five in a row after a 4-0 start, but coach Bob Prescott believes the competition seen in the last five weeks have been good preparation for the postseason.
“We’re working hard this week and looking forward to getting to compete and have a chance to get a win against Rochester,” he said. “I’ve seen teams lose five in a row that look ready to pack it in and move into winter sports with it getting cold. Our kids aren’t there yet. You can’t really wipe the slate clean as far as coming in with confidence. After losing a few in a row we’re starting to forget what a win feels like, and we’re looking forward to competing.”
The Zebras, who shared the TRC crown with Whitko, run a pro-formation based offense, but employ a number of different formations to disguise their plays.
Running back Jacob Howdeshell leads the Rochester rushing attack with 158 carries for 1,136 yards and 14 TDs. He’s also the team’s leading receiver with 11 grabs for 134 yards and three TDs. Runningmate Carter Screeton has added 84 carries for 488 yards and six TDs.
“They’ll obviously have a lot of confidence coming in,” Prescott said. “We feel that playing in the MIC, from a competition standpoint, gives us an opportunity even though on paper their record is better than ours. For us, the big things are starting fast, playing fast and trying to play physical football. They’re not as physically big, size-wise, as we’ve had to face of late, and we’re looking at that as an advantage. We’re looking at is as a challenge to say you have an opportunity to knock off a conference champ that has an outstanding record. We like the fact that we are playing a team that has had that kind of success.”
Steven McBride leads the Tigers’ offense with 166 carries for 916 yards and 14 TDs. Michael Richardson has been a dual threat with 69 carries for 739 yards and 11 scores and 13 catches for 262 yards and two more TDs. Quarterback Nolan Brimbury has completed 32 of 84 passes for 551 yards, four TDs and seven interceptions.
Larry Nice is among the area’s leading defensive players with 147 tackles, including 109 solos, and takes a 16.3 tackles-per-game average into the postseason.
Class 3A Sectional 26 Friday's games; 7:30 p.m. kickoffs • Twin Lakes (5-4) at Culver Academy (5-4) • Fairfield (8-1) at Maconaquah (6-3) • Jimtown (7-2) at Tippecanoe Valley (5-4) • Rochester (7-2) at Peru (4-5)