Woodard, Quakers win sectional title in coach’s final season
For 17 years, Brian Woodard has led the Plainfield Quakers as one of the most well-respected coaches in Central Indiana.
They’d had a number of outstanding seasons, but hadn’t been able to claim a sectional title, annually playing in one of the toughest fields in the state. Roncalli, Cathedral, Zionsville or another powerhouse program would often stand in the way.
Until this year.
The Quakers rallied from a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit Friday to beat Decatur Central 13-10 and claim the Class 5A Sectional 13 title, clinching it by driving 80 yards in the final two minutes and scoring on a touchdown pass from Hunter Newell to Noah Hessong in the waning seconds.
Earlier in the fourth quarter, Grant Irwin intercepted a pass and took it back 49 yards to get the Quakers on the board.
Woodard, who had announced his retirement from coaching prior to the season, finally could hold a sectional trophy. The Quakers claimed their first title since 2000, when they were the Class 4A state runner-up.
“I’m so proud of our players and so happy for our program, school, and community. I truly feel like this championship is for us all,” Woodard said. “All the players and coaches that did come up short, this is as much for them as it is this current group. I tell every player that graduates from our program that they are forever a part of this and that certainly applies here.”
Plainfield started the season 0-3. The Quakers got going with back-to-back wins over Perry Meridian, Greenwood and an overtime victory over Decatur Central midway through the regular season. They finished strong, beating a ranked Martinsville squad 21-17 in the regular season finale, then avenging a loss to an 8-win Harrison squad by a 35-28 score in the sectional semifinal.
“I just kept talking to them about how there would be better days. Stay committed to the process of preparing each week, sticking together, and working hard, eventually we would come through it, if that is what they wanted. If they wanted to truly have better days and that is the character component that is so vital,” Woodard said of rallying from the 0-3 start. “They were willing to delay immediate gratification for what hopefully would be something even more special down the line by trusting in each other and their coaching.”
Newell leads a very multiple Quakers offense, throwing for 1,794 yards and 15 touchdowns. He threw for 222 yards in the victory over Harrison before completing 14-of-24 against Decatur Central. Hessong is a versatile running back, leading the Quakers in rushing (793 yards) and is second in receiving (365 yards). Irwin is a solid two-way player, with 590 yards and seven TDs receiving.
The Quakers travel to No. 2 Whiteland for this week’s regional contest. The Warriors are seeking their first trip to the semistate since 1999. Whiteland won the regular season matchup 45-14 in Week 8. Newell threw for 147 yards for Plainfield in that contest, but Whiteland’s multiple-back “fly” offense accounted for 340 yards on the ground, led by Maalik Perkins’ 91 yards and Peyton Emberton’s 66.
“They’re really good and have very few weaknesses,” Woodard said. “They were and still are the favorite to come out of the South and rightfully so. Tons of experience and really good players. We’re going to have to play as close to error-free football as possible and eliminate any of the self-inflicted issues that we put on ourselves in the first game.”
Whiteland (10-1) – the Mid-State Conference champion – is led by a defense that is allowing 13.5 points per game, led by Brady Stanifer (95 tackles). The Warriors shut out Franklin 24-0 last week in the Sectional 14 final, clinching their second sectional championship in three years.
Offensively, Emberton leads a multiple-back attack with 1,168 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Coach Darrin Fisher said a key to Whiteland’s success has been a 30-player senior class that has taken turns in leadership and has been unselfish, caring about each other and their school and community.
“The courage to hit is the key to our football team,” Fisher said. “We have had few teams as physical as this one. We have played our best this season when our mindset is attack in all three phases.”
Yorktown rallies into regional
When the Yorktown Tigers trailed No. 7 Norwell by 21 points, coach Mike Wilhelm relied on the motto of his college alma mater – Wabash Always Fights.
The Tigers rallied to tie the game at halftime, took the lead in the third quarter, then survived a late two-point conversion attempt to beat the Knights 42-41 in the Sectional 27 championship game.
“That’s something this Yorktown team has shown throughout the season and especially in the sectional championship game against Norwell,” Wilhelm said. “Down 21-0 at the start of the 2nd quarter, we certainly could have packed it in and gone home. But Yorktown continued to fight, and we had a significant stretch in the second quarter that got us back on track.”
The victory was also Wilhelm’s 100th in 18 years at Yorktown.
Yorktown got on the board with a 19-play drive in the second quarter, then forced a fumble and blocked a punt on successive Norwell possessions to tie the game before taking the lead in the third quarter.
“It felt like we had momentum the entire final 24 minutes, even though the game kept going back-and-forth,” Wilhelm said. “Our Monday team meeting goal was to give ourselves a chance to win it in the 4th quarter, and our players certainly met that goal, and that came to fruition with the final sack on Norwell’s 2-point conversion attempt.”
Yorktown is 9-3, but has flown under the radar this season as the smallest school in the Hoosier Heritage Conference, a league that has produced state championship teams in three consecutive seasons. The Tigers face larger schools each week in the regular season, whose schedule includes only one other 3A squad in county rival Delta.
Junior quarterback Mason Moulton commands the offense. A three-year starter, he is throwing for 1,863 yards and 17 touchdowns. He was 14-of-23 for 179 yards and three scores – all three to wideout Kolton Nanko, who has been a big-play player on both sides of the ball. He has 940 receiving yards and 12 TDs on offense, four interceptions on defense and a kickoff return for a score on special teams. He’s also the team’s kicker. Junior running back Jalen Thomas is fully recovered from a leg injury suffered his freshman year and ran for 165 yards and three scores against Norwell.
“In the offseason, we took steps to significantly change our playbook to become a more balanced offense, and that focus was on improving the running game,” Wilhelm said, noting Thomas was a key part of that change. “Last season, Mason Moulton had an outstanding sophomore season getting the ball to our playmaker wide receiver Kolton Nanko. This season, we wanted to get the ball to Thomas and Nanko in a variety of ways. And we believe that becomes a game-planning challenge for teams to have to account for those two whether they be in the backfield or lined up as wideouts.”
This week, the Tigers – celebrating their first sectional title since 2014 – travel to No. 3 Indianapolis Chatard (8-4) for the regional. The Trojans won state championships in 2019 and 2020 before spending one year in Class 4A.
“Coach (Rob) Doyle and his staff have done a great job with this team and program,” Wilhelm said. “It is obvious that they continuously work on fundamentals and the fine details at each position, and it is challenging to find any weaknesses in the Trojans. In this playoff run, we have to continue to play Yorktown football. First and foremost, we have to block to the whistle on offense and run to the ball on defense. We must establish efficiency with our run and pass game, and our defense must cause turnovers and get Chatard off the field on third and fourth downs.”
Dragons, Royals meet in 1 vs. 2 matchup
Only 14 miles separate New Palestine and Roncalli, but the two schools ooze football tradition. The Dragons have won three state championships and advanced to four State Finals since 2014 – all but one in Class 5A. Roncalli has 10 titles, most recently in 2016 and 2020.
The two programs have been ranked No. 1 and 2 all season in Class 4A and finally meet on the gridiron for the regional at Roncalli.
“I think we’d be lying if we said our boys weren’t looking forward to this,” New Palestine coach Kyle Ralph said. “We’ve got a good football team and you want to find out how good you really are. You want to play the best. Roncalli has a great team again this year. They have for a long time. This is a great measuring stick for where you are. No. 1 vs. No. 2 doesn’t happen too often. We’ve been fortunate to be ranked really high, but even we haven’t been in a lot of these games.. When you get to this point and you’re in the final eight, no one is overmatched. Everybody is good. Everybody has strengths and weaknesses. Everybody is good, everybody is well-coached, disciplined, physical and playing at their peak. You have to play your absolute best at this point or you’re going to be watching people play. While that’s tough, it’s really exciting.:
The visiting Dragons are 12-0, the host Royals 11-1 – the lone blemish a 24-23 defeat to Cincinnati Elder in Week 7. New Palestine opened the season with a 42-28 victory over eventual 6A champion Westfield and has two wins over defending 4A champion Mt. Vernon, including a come-from-behind 35-24 victory in the sectional opener.
Both programs feature mammoth offensive lines – New Palestine’s bookended by Louisville commit Luke Burgess and Ohio State commit Ian Moore, the latter a junior. Roncalli features Trevor Lauck (Iowa), Luke Skartvedt (Northern Illinois) and Brady Neu (Central Michigan).
“It’s one of the very few games you’ll ever watch as a fan where I think almost all the eyes are going to be watching people block each other and not the people running, throwing or catching the ball. As a fan of football and a lineman myself, I really appreciate it when you have these uniquely epic battles out there,” Ralph said. “When you look at the quality and the size and the ability level of the line on both sides of the ball from these two teams, you’re looking at the potential of double-digit kids who are going to college for free to play offensive or defensive line. That’s incredible. It’s something unique that, even in 6A, you’re probably not going to see something like this in the trenches ever again.”
Roncalli also has the state’s second-leading rusher in senior Luke Hansen, a Mr. Football candidate who has rushed for 2,681 yards and 31 touchdowns this season. Hansen has eclipsed the 300-yard mark three times, including 335 yards in the season opener against Southport, and has topped 200 yards on four other occasions.
“All credit to our guys up front,” Roncalli coach Eric Quintana said, adding in the importance of the tight end position. “They have worked really hard throughout the season to master their fundamentals. They get unfavorable matchups weekly and battle their tails off to win the line of scrimmage. Great group and coached well.”
He had 138 yards and a touchdown in the sectional championship game, a 21-14 victory over Brebeuf.
“Luke is a great player,” Roncalli coach Eric Quintana said. “He is extremely tough and takes pride in mastering his craft. Total team player and studies the game.”
The Dragons are unbeaten and romped 43-14 over Connersville in the sectional final. They also have a 1,500-yard rusher in Grayson Thomas, but he was lost to a season-ending injury in the sectional semifinal. Junior Kyler Kropp has stepped in and rushed for 100 yards in back-to-back weeks. Quarterback Daniel Tippit has thrown for 2,437 yards and 32 touchdowns, spreading the ball around to a receiving corps led by Ball State commit Isaiah Thacker (822 yards) and Blaine Nunnally (705 yards, 12 TDs).
“New Palestine is a good football team,” Quintana said. “=They are coached well and have good talent on the field. We will have to be fundamentally sound and be the most physical football team on the field. We need to stop the run and not allow any explosive plays in the air. We need to set up our offense early and often.”
Columbia City won its first sectional since 1993 last week, beating Leo 27-21 to win Class 4A’s Sectional 19. The Eagles host Kokomo this week. … Lafayette Jeff broke a 20-year sectional title drought with a 38-28 victory over previously-unbeaten Crown Point to win Class 6A’s Sectional 1. The Bronchos meet unbeaten Carroll (Fort Wayne) this week. … Class 6A’s regional game between Brownsburg and defending 5A champion Cathedral is a rematch of a Week 2 contest, which Brownsburg won 42-35. Two of the other 6A regionals are rematches, as Hamilton Southeastern hosts Westfield – HSE won 26-21 in Week 5 – and Center Grove meets Warren Central. CG won 17-8 in Week 1. … Monrovia has the fewest wins of any sectional champion. The Bulldogs entered the sectional with a 2-7 mark – and seven straight losses – before beating Purdue Poly, Speedway and Danville to win Sectional 29, a field that featured two ranked teams. They visit unbeaten No. 6 Owen Valley this week.
- No. 5 Carroll (Fort Wayne) (11-0) at Lafayette Jeff (9-2)
- No. 9 Westfield (8-3) at No. 1 Hamilton Southeastern (11-0)
- No. 2 Indianapolis Cathedral (9-1) at No. 4 Brownsburg (10-1)
- Warren Central (6-5) at No. 3 Center Grove (9-2)
- No. 5 Merrillville (9-2) at No. 9 Valparaiso (8-3)
- No. 1 Fort Wayne Snider (10-1) at No. 3 Mishawaka (10-1)
- Plainfield (6-5) at No. 2 Whiteland (10-1)
- No. 4 Bloomington South (9-1) at Castle (7-4)
- Northridge (8-4) at No. 7 New Prairie (11-1)
- No. 6 Kokomo (11-1) at No. 9 Columbia City (11-1)
- No. 1 New Palestine (12-0) at No. 2 Roncalli (11-1)
- No. 4 East Central (10-2) at Evansville Memorial (9-3)
- No. 1 West Lafayette (12-0) at Knox (9-3)
- Yorktown (9-3) at No. 3 Indianapolis Chatard (8-4)
- Monrovia (5-7) at No. 6 Owen Valley (12-0)
- No. 5 Lawrenceburg (11-1) at No. 9 Southridge (11-1)
- No. 9 Lafayette Catholic (9-3) at No. 3 Andrean (8-3)
- Bluffton (8-4) at No. 8 FW Luers (7-5)
- Lapel (7-5) at No. 1 Linton (12-0)
- No. 5 Evansville Mater Dei (9-3) at No. 5 Triton Central (10-2)
- No. 4 North Judson (11-1) at Park Tudor (9-3)
- No. 6 Carroll (Flora) (11-1) at No. 2 Adams Central (12-0)
- No. 3 North Decatur (12-0) at No. 5 Sheridan (11-1)
- Providence (9-2) at No. 1 Indianapolis Lutheran (12-0)