“We were a little rowdy in the locker room, honestly, and that kind of worried me going into the game,” Concordia quarterback Peter Morrison said. “When it got toward the end, the lights were turned off, getting everyone thinking about what they were going to do in the game, and I think that really helped us.”
Once unleashed with the opening kickoff a little after 9 p.m. Friday, the Cadets went out and secured something the school has never seen: A spot in the state finals.
Concordia beat Garrett 56-42 at Garrett to advance to the Class 3A state championship game. The Cadets (12-2) will play Lawrenceburg (13-1) at 3:30 p.m. next Saturday in Lucas Oil Stadium.
After hard-fought losses to 6A Homestead and 5A Snider in Weeks 2 and 3, Concordia’s coaches and players knew this had team had the makings of something special.
“It was kind of an unstated goal for us,” Coach Tim Mannigel said. “We didn’t really mention it, but we always thought we were capable of it, particularly as the SAC season went along. It’s tremendous for these kids.”
Garrett coach Chris DePew considers his team a special one, and the fight the Railroaders displayed after falling behind by 28 points proved him right. But as he reflected on Concordia's performance after the game, he saw a legitimate state-championship caliber team.
“Those guys on carpet (turf in Lucas Oil Stadium) are going to be tough,” DePew said. “They have big, athletic receivers, a running back with speed and a quarterback who’s very sharp. He’s well-coached. I don’t know if he’s putting them in the plays or the coach is calling them, but he’s very savvy. They’re pretty good.”
Garrett’s game plan was to use its offense to possess the football for long periods of time, ending in scores. The more it could keep Morrison on the Cadets’ offense off the field, the better its chances. The strategy was apparent on the opening drive as Garrett used nearly seven minutes in taking a 7-0 lead on a touchdown run by Cam Smith, who finished with 191 rushing yards and four pounding touchdowns.
Concordia answered quickly with a drive just over two minutes, capped by Morrison hitting Kamari Anderson-Drew for a 15-yard touchdown to tie the score. Peterson Kerlegrand’s three-yard touchdown put Concordia ahead 14-7 early in the second quarter.
Three big plays gave Concordia a three-score cushion by halftime.
First play: Concordia’s defense stopped Garrett on 4th-and-one at the Garrett 47 by the slimmest of margins requiring a measurement. The ball was no more than an inch or two short.
Second play: Morrison dropped back on the first snap after that defensive stop and threw a 48-yard strike to Tysen Chambers for a touchdown and a 21-7 lead.
“We knew Garrett was good in close games and we needed to make sure that it wasn’t a close game,” Morrison said. “With that big-fourth down stop, we had a chance to take a shot and maybe extend it and that really gave us a nice gap, gave us confidence and kind of slowed their momentum down.”
Third play: Concordia linebacker Drew Bordner jumped Garrett quarterback Tanner Burns’ pass at midfield and returned it for a touchdown to make it 28-7 with 29 seconds left in the half.
The Cadets’ defense would add another interception-return touchdown by Peterson Kerlegrand to make it 42-14 with 3:47 to go in the third quarter.
Morrison completed 15 of 22 passes for 279 yards and five touchdowns, to five receivers: Anderson-Drew, Chambers, Kerlegrand, Colton Grahovac and Mark Mallers. Kerlegrand rushed for 86 yards, Anderson-Drew had four catches for 91 yards and Grahovac four catches for 79 yards.
But DePew kept looking back at the interception-return scores.
“When a team scores a lot of points and you give them 14 with your own offense, it’s a tough way to beat them,” DePew said. “Turns out, 14 is the difference.”
Concordia went up 56-26 with 5:07 left, but Garrett scored 16 points in a furious finish, first on a Smith run and Burns two-point conversion. Then, after an onside-kick recovery, the Railroaders scored on a Burns to Ben Purdy pass, and a Burns to Garrett Sutton two-point conversion. "There's no quit in these guys," DePew said.
Concordia moves on for its first taste of the state finals.
“In past years, we had good teams that couldn’t end up finishing,” Morrison said. “Collectively, as a group, we didn’t say it, but our actions show we wanted to get this.”
Good things obviously come to those who wait, especially when they can roll up points like the Cadets.