With rain pelting down, fingers cold and football slick, Concordia Lutheran’s receivers kept hauling in the catches.
There was Colton Grahovac diving or a first-down reception and Mark Mallers hauling in a back-of-the-end-zone pass. There was Kamari Anderson-Drew and Tysen Chambers using their hands to put an exclamation mark on their speed and route-running to get open. There was Peter Morrison placing the ball in just the right spot.
“Every single time, you get more surprised,” injured receiver Keaton Koehlinger said. “You think they can’t one-up it and they do.”
The weather was horrendous in the semistate game at Garrett last Friday. Didn’t matter. Concordia won 56-42.
“The field was OK but there was wind and rain and a lot of people say you can’t run the spread offense in Indiana because it’ll catch up to you,” Concordia coach Tim Mannigel said. “We did OK. We were able to score 56 points, with the aid of two defensive touchdowns. That’s not bad. If you score 56, I like your chances.”
Concordia (12-2) will play Lawrenceburg (13-1) for the Class 3A high school state title at 3:30 p.m. Saturday in Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis. It’ll be Concordia’ first state finals appearance. Much to the Concordia offense's advantage, it'll be a climate-controlled 72 degrees indoors.
The dynamic offense that has catapulted Concordia to a speical season started 15 years ago.
“Way back in 2001, when coach (Dean) Doerffler took over, we decided to go with the spread offense,” Mannigel said. “That tends to be the kind of athlete we have at Concordia. It tends to be a thing at Concordia where we don’t have that many linemen types and we have more skill-position types, for whatever reason. Those type of kids are at school. Getting them out for football is not always easy.”
Nowhere is the skill-position bounty more evident than in the receiving corps.
The Cadets have two 1,000-yard receivers in senior Mallers (61 catches, 1,117 yards, 23 touchdowns) and junior Grahovac (64 catches, 1,055 yards, nine touchdowns). Sophomore Kamari Anderson-Drew has 30 catches for 472 yards and seven scores. Koehlinger, a junior, had 24 catches for 294 yards before suffering a broken tibia. In his absence, classmate Tysen Chambers stepped in with 11 catches for 177 yards and two scores. Senior Drew Bordner, the team’s leading tackler at linebacker, can also step into the mix when needed.
“We’ve always had a good receiving corps, but every week it’s gotten better and better,” Mallers said. “Everyone has stepped up and had a big game. Any one of us can have a huge game receiving. It’s awesome.”
Anderson-Drew transferred from Snider to Concordia before the school year started, and was walking the halls as practices began.
A Concordia parent who knew Anderson-Drew through youth baseball urged him to talk to Mannigel about joining the team.
“The night of our (preseason) scrimmage, this parent brought Kamari up and introduced him to me,” Mannigel said. “He needed 10 practices, plus he didn’t know anything about our offense at all. About Week 5 or 6, he exploded on the scene and he’s just made plays.”
Morrison’s skills as a quarterback keys the passing attack, as he has thrown for 3,604 yards and 46 touchdowns to only four interceptions. The fact Concordia running back Peterson Kerlegrand is so dynamic (1,187 yards, 23 touchdowns) also helps the passing game by forcing teams to respect the run.
Morrison has the perspective of having played receiver last season.
“He was my quarterback my eighth-grade year and in practice he has always thrown the ball, so it was nothing new to us at all,” Mallers said. “He’s unbelievable. He’s something else.”
Mallers has six interceptions as a safety, where he serves as the “quarterback” of the secondary. Bordner leads the team with seven interceptions.
Mallers points to Morrison’s ability to spread the ball around is a huge key on offense.
“Someone has to be open,” Mallers said. “We have four great receivers and others off the bench, too. Peter throws a perfect ball and he can throw it to all of us. It’s a lot of fun.”
The camaraderie that exists among the receivers and their quarterback is obvious. Mannigel said he overheard Morrison apologize to Anderson-Drew after the Garrett game for not getting him the ball on one play when Anderson-Drew was wide open.
“All throughout the summer, we knew (this season) was going to be something special,” Koehlinger said. “With me being hurt and seeing the next guy come up and do equally good was great to see. We’ve gotten this far, making school history. Even from the sidelines, it’s something to be proud of.”
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