Tri runner

A Tri running back gains short yardage against the visiting North Decatur defense during last Friday night’s championship game of football Class A Sectional 47 at Dennis Gipe Field. The host Titans won 20-13, but will be on the road this Friday at Farmersburg to play North Central for the Regional 24 title and a berth in the southern semi-state championship game.

It will be a trip almost to the Illinois border for the Tri High School football team Friday night, as it will be the guest of North Central (Farmersburg) in a game that will decide the winner of Regional 24 and who will move on to the Class A Final Four in the southern semi-state championship game on Nov. 19.

The Titans come into the game boasting a 10-2 record while the Thunderbirds enter the regional showdown with a 6-5 ledger.

But don’t let that disparity in records automatically make Tri the favorite in the contest. The Titans certainly aren’t thinking they are a shoo-in to win, as they had a major struggle against 6-4 North Decatur during last Friday’s championship game of Sectional 47 before scoring a touchdown in the final minute to capture the title.

And there’s this: North Central received votes in the final Class A poll despite a 3-5 regular season record going into the tournament, while the Titans weren’t mentioned in the poll.

The Thunderbirds started the season with four consecutive losses, one in overtime to North Vermillion, one to a team from Illinois, another to 3A Princeton, and the last one a Southwest Conference Game at 2A North Knox.

Since then, North Central has won six of seven with its lone loss 22-26 to private school Traders Point Christian.

One of the Thunderbirds’ eye-opening wins during the regular season was its first one, which was over visiting Park Tudor 28-20. Park Tudor gave Class A No. 1 Indianapolis Lutheran a scare in the semifinals of Sectional 46 before losing to the Saints 25-13.

During Sectional 48 play, North Central had a pair of close home wins against Perry Central and Tecumseh in the first two rounds, and then went on the road and stunned No. 6 and 9-1 Springs Valley 30-14 last Friday for the sectional championship.

Through 11 games, the Thunderbirds are almost even-steven, as they have averaged 22.5 ppg while yielding 22.6 ppg to opponents.

North Central’s individual player parameters have been updated through only the first eight games. But from them, one can get an idea what the Thunderbirds bring to the table.

Like Tri, North Central appears to be primarily a running team, as it had rushed the ball 362 times in those eight games for 1,703 yards and 20 touchdowns.

The big horse in the stable appears to be 5-10, 207 lb. fullback Jeremiah Swalls, who had 144 carries for 700 yards and five TDs. Senior 6-4 quarterback Jacob Adams had 81 carries for 387 yards and nine TDs, and senior Tyler Vaughn had toted the pigskin 69 times for 332 yards and a trio of TDs. Also, senior Rowdy Pierson had 31 carries for 157 yards and two TDs.

Adams is 24-55-3 throwing the football for 388 yards and five touchdowns. His top targets appear to be Vaughn (10 catches, 191 yards, one TD), junior Wyatt Ison (three catches, 81 yards, three TDs), and senior Deshawn Clark (six catches, 103 yards, two TDs).

On defense, North Central had 16 takeaways in its first eight games – 10 pass interceptions and six fumble recoveries. Sophomore Lane Hargis had four of those pass thefts, and sophomore Javier Gutierrez recovered two of the bobbled balls.

Swalls led the Thunderbirds in tackles with 45 (30 solo), followed by senior Jayce Norman with 28 (19 solo).

North Central last won a sectional title in 2018. The three seasons prior to that (2015-17), the Thunderbirds finished as sectional runner-up. Other than those years, North Central has not had a lot of postseason success on the gridiron going back to 1994.

Friday’s Regional 24 winner will face the victor of Friday’s No. 1 Indianapolis Lutheran at No. 5 Parke Heritage game in Regional 23.

Tri would host a semi-state game Friday, Nov. 19 only if it and Parke Heritage both win this Friday. If the Titans and Saints both win this Friday, that semi-state game would be played on Lutheran’s field in Indianapolis.

Prediction: Expect a close game Friday at Farmersburg. It appears obvious that North Central is better than its 6-5 record might indicate and it doesn’t have to travel across the state to play, which might be a slight advantage. This will be its ninth home game of the season.

However, the Thunderbirds have to find a way to stop the Titans’ five-headed rushing attack led by Parker Burk, which has churned out more than 4,000 yards through 12 games. Tri quarterback Mason Wilson has proven he can throw the ball successfully when necessary.

The Titans will edge the Thunderbirds this Friday and will play at Indianapolis Lutheran for the Class A southern semi-state title on Nov. 19.

Sports editor’s note: Since The Courier-Times will not publish a newspaper Thursday (Veterans’ Day), the preview story of this Friday’s Tri at North Central (Farmersburg) Regional 24 football game is in today’s edition and will focus primarily on the Thunderbirds, the Titans’ opponent.