Columbus East’s recent history against Cathedral football hasn’t been all that successful, but as coach Bob Gaddis points out, this group of Olympians have never played the Irish.
Friday night, two of the state’s powerhouse programs will meet at Indianapolis Tech for the right to play for the Class 5A state title. Game time is 7 p.m.
“The best thing about this week is that our kids are excited about going up there to play and looking forward to the opportunity,” Gaddis said. “We have to go up there and get off to a great start and try to hang in there physically with them because they’re an extremely talented group.”
Cathedral owns a 4-0 record against East, with all four wins coming in semistate matchups. The Irish followed their wins in 2006, 2008, 2011 and 2012 with victories in the state finals the following weekend.
After winning three consecutive Class 4A state titles from 2010-12, Cathedral moved up a class because of the tournament success factor and won 5A championships in 2013 and 2014. The Irish moved up to 6A and won sectional titles the past two years, but did not win a regional and moved back down to 5A this season.
Class 5A No. 5 Cathedral (7-5) is undefeated against in-state opponents this year. The Irish went 1-5 against powers from Ohio, Kentucky and Michigan in the regular season and 3-0 against Indiana teams. They followed with sectional wins against Roncalli and Decatur Central and a 35-21 regional triumph at Bloomington South.
Both Cathedral and 5A No. 2 East (12-1) beat Jeffersonville by identical 48-7 scores.
“They’re obviously a good football team, and they’re playing good football at the right time,” Gaddis said. “They’ve played a tough schedule, and they’re playing well in the tournament.”
Cathedral features five Division I recruits. Running back Markese Stepp, who is headed to Notre Dame, has carried 81 times for 682 yards and 13 touchdowns in limited action because of injuries. He runs behind an offensive line let by 6-foot-4, 322-pound center Emil Ekiyor, an Alabama commit.
Wide receiver Daijon Collins, an Indiana State recruit, has 19 catches for 396 yards and six scores. Inside linebackers Jackson Barrow (Toledo) and Hugh Davis (Boston College) lead the defense.
“We like our offensive line,” Cathedral coach Rick Streiff said. “Our offensive line has done a real nice job in the tournament. They’ve come together very well. We’re fortunate that we can plug a running back in there that can be pretty good.”
With Stepp carrying only six times for 30 yards at Bloomington South, a couple of other Irish back stepped to the forefront. Junior Chon’Dre Cissell carried 17 times for 118 yards and a touchddown, and senior Alec Hobson ran 12 times for 88 yards and two scores.
Sophomore quarterback Roman Purcell added eight carries for 50 yards and a touchdown. For the season, Purcell is 63 of 126 passing for 733 yards with 10 touchdowns and two interceptions and has carried 97 times for 394 yards and five scores.
“When we turn on the tape and look at the philosophies of what they do, they’re very similar to us,” Gaddis said. “They want to run first and pass second. They have three good tailbacks, and their quarterback is a good runner. They have a big offensive line, and then defensively, they’re a little bit smaller than their offense, but they have good quickness. They’ve built their team on their offensive line and their defensive quickness.”
East senior Josh Major has completed 67 of 85 passes for 1,164 yards with 12 touchdowns and only one interception and has carried 130 times for 1,266 yards and 19 scores. Senior Jamon Hogan has rushed 192 times for 2,024 yards and 33 touchdowns.
Sophomore Dalton Back leads the receiving corps with 19 catches for 343 yards and three scores. Senior tight end Tyler Thomas is an Indiana State recruit.
“They’re actually a pretty traditional Columbus East, Bob Gaddis-coached team,” Streiff said. “When we played them before, they were a big, strong physical team and ran the ball well. Coach Gaddis is back to running some of the similar stuff that they ran then. They have big tight ends and a good running back and a good running quarterback, and they bang away at people.”
Junior middle linebacker Nash Murphy leads the Olympian defense with 117 tackles, while senior safety Ethan Summa adds 97. Senior defensive lineman Dante Seniours has four sacks, and junior cornerback Jonah Wichman has six interceptions.
Junior kicker Sam Thomasson is 84 of 86 on extra points and has converted his only field goal attempt.
“They’re going to play good special teams,” Streiff said. “They’re not going to do anything to beat themselves. You have to take care of the football and not have penalties at inopportune times because Columbus East will take advantage of it.”
What: Class 5A semistate
Who: Columbus East (12-1) vs. Cathedral (7-5)
When: 7 p.m. Friday
Where: Indianapolis Tech High School