Irish to battle Castle for Semistate title

Fotball team will travel to Newburgh for 5A game


Grace Straley

Varsity football players show off the Sectional championship trophy.

Will Mayer, Reporter

After easily handling Class 5A second-ranked Whiteland in the Regional championship on Nov. 13 in a dominant 39-6 win, the Irish now head south on Nov. 20 to attempt to punch their ticket for the State championship game.

Head Coach Mr. Bill Peebles ’88 earned the 100th win of his career in the Regional. This will be Peebles’ first time going to Semistate as the Irish head coach.

The top-ranked Irish have outscored their State tournament opponents 138-31, with all games incorporating running clocks in the second half. The Irish have worked hard all season for this chance to go to the State championship and they’ve shown that they can do just that.

Peebles said, “Based on practice, (the team has) been very workmanlike this week. I think that they’ve been really focused all year. We’ve played two good opponents in the past two weeks. But we’ve come out and taken care of business and we’ve been pretty businesslike in practice. Obviously, the trip down to Evansville, when you drive three hours, get off the bus and play a game, it does affect you. So I hope our guys are ready to overcome that obstacle.”

The Irish had the chance to play on Saturday afternoon, but they chose not to. Peebles explained why. “As the visiting team, we had the option to move the game to Saturday. We would’ve preferred to play on Saturday for many different reasons. But I’m a huge believer in routine. So we’re going to get down there Friday at 3 p.m.

“From that point on, we’re going to have Mass and a meal at Evansville Memorial, a Catholic high school down there. We’re going have the normal routine that we normally do on the Hill, but down in Evansville. Hopefully, it gives our guys the chance to wake up, shake off the cobwebs and get into our normal Friday routine that we have throughout the year.”

We’re going have the normal routine that we normally do on the Hill, but down in Evansville.”

— Head Coach Mr. Bill Peebles '88

The biggest challenge for the Irish this week is Castle itself, Peebles said.

“Castle is a good football team sitting at a record of 8-3 and they only give up nine points a game. Offensively they’re averaging over 35 points a game in the tournament. So they are a very good football team, they have good players, they have Division I talent, and between playing a really good team. Driving three hours to an unfamiliar place, we have to overcome all those obstacles.”

Castle is a team that likes to run the ball and is led by sophomore running back Peyton Guerzini (15 TDs, 1,526 rushing yards). Guerzini averages 152.6 yards of rushing per game, more than Irish senior running back Jake Langdon. Peebles said, “They run a lot of inside outside zone, pro style attack and they’re going to run the ball probably 80% of the time, a lot like last week.

“It’s all about reading our keys, making sure that our eyes are in the right spots. People don’t realize that football is a lot of where your eyes are. It’s not just going and hitting somebody. We have to read our keys. If we read our keys, that will tell us what they’re doing and then we can diagnose it and go.”

Because Castle runs the ball well, those plays start with their offensive line. If the Irish want to win this game, their defense cannot get pushed back. Peebles said, “They have a big, strong offensive line. They have good size. For our D line, we have to secure our gaps. We’re a gap control defense and we cannot get pushed back. We’re going to have opportunities to make plays but we have to read their blocks, so if their line steps a certain way, we’ve got to step in their hip pocket and go. After they read their key, they have to get off their blocks and make plays.

“Linebackers are always run-first players. DBs are always pass-first players. Our linebackers are going to do their normal run keys. If they do decide to pass, we can then drop them into their zone coverage drops or, depending on what the call is, we can blitz them. The key here is, because they run the ball so much, they do run effective play-action passes and that’s where, again, we have to put our eyes in the right spots, make sure we read high-hat or low-hat of the offensive line or if the tight end releases we have to read our keys and make sure that we can stop their play-action.”

“(Junior) Bryce Llwellyn is a huge part of our run-game plan. He’s that sort of hybrid player. In certain situations, he’s a run player first. In others, he’s a pass-first guy. It all depends on the call, the formation that the other team is in. He has a lot on his plate and all three of our DBs have done a great job.”

Throughout the season the Irish have used all sorts of different kickoffs, squibs and pooches. Some fans may wonder why junior kicker Ben Gomez doesn’t just boot the ball over the plane of the end zone (With IHSAA rules, when the ball crosses the end zone line on a kickoff, it is no longer returnable by the receiving team because it is considered a touchback).

Peebles said, “If we could kick it to a touchback every time, we would be doing that, but we don’t have a touchback every time. It really depends on who we’re playing and what kind of return they have set up. Ben can definitely kick touchbacks, but we have to determine which way the wind is blowing and what the conditions outside are.

“If it’s really cold, the ball becomes a little more dead. It doesn’t travel as far in the cold. If we’re kicking it against the wind, we’re probably not going to get it into the end zone. So we factor all those things in, and if the team we’re playing has a special player back there, we don’t want to put the ball in a dynamic player’s hands on a kickoff return.

“Especially in these playoff games we’ve been leading, the worst thing we can do is give (the opponent) momentum. So sometimes it’s OK to give up a few yards and let them start on the 35 rather than the 20 to eliminate the chance of them having an explosive play and gaining momentum. When you kick those short kicks, pooches and squibs, they are unable to set up a return.”

Peebles said has been impressed with the play of his tight ends. The coach said, “We’re really fortunate in having four really good tight ends in Brendan Wooten, Parker Spellacy, Jake Davis and Kyle Zumdome. We use a bunch of double tight end sets. ‘Tiger’ is the one that we start every game with. Both of our starters, Wooten and Spellacy, are both good players with different skill sets that fit very well into our offense. Wooten is a little more of a plow the road type of blocker. Spellacy is a really good blocker in space. Brendan is a little bit better at catching the ball, but Spellacy is a little bit faster. They are both very effective at what they do.”

Friday’s game will most likely be streamed on the IHSAA Champions TV Network. Peebles said. “If it is broadcasted on the IHSAA Champions Network, you will have to pay to view the game. It’s about $10 or $15 and everybody hates it, but that money is what keeps (the IHSAA) running because they lost a lot of money due to the pandemic with winter and spring sports being canceled. We are offered only 225 tickets to this game.

“And I ask once again like last week, listen to our broadcast team on the radio or watch the game and support our guys and hopefully, if we get through this week, we’ll be playing in Lucas Oil Stadium and hopefully it will be open to a bunch of fans, and we’ll be able to play in front of more people at the State game.”

The Semistate game will kick off at 6:30 p.m. Central time, which is at 7:30 for those fans in Indianapolis viewing or listening at home.