Veteran Cathedral coach Rick Streiff has a theory as to why his Irish team is so good every year.
The longer they play in the tournament, the more practice time underclassmen get for the next season. It’s success breeding more success.
Class 4A No. 7 Cathedral is two wins from winning its third consecutive state title, its fourth in five years and its fifth in seven years. But Class 4A No. 1 Columbus East (13-0) will try to deny the Irish (8-5) in Friday’s 8 p.m. semi-state battle.
“When you go deep into the tournament every year, you get five or six weeks more practice time with your young guys,” Streiff said. “We brought 25 freshmen up. I told them the chances of you playing or even dressing are slim to none, but you look at the teams that go deep into the playoffs and get that many more weeks of practice, I think it makes a huge difference.”
About the Irish
EAST’S OPPONENT: Cathedral Irish
WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday
RECORD: 8-5 after Friday’s 41-7 win over Mount Vernon
MOST RECENT MEETING: Defeated East 62-7 in last year’s semi-state
KEY PLAYERS: QB Connor Rice, RB Gino Gillum, WR Sampson Levingtson, C Colin Sandor, S Stu Stanley
CATHEDRAL COACH: Rick Streiff
By virtue of winning a state title last year and a regional championship last week, Cathedral has already earned enough points to move up a class next year under the IHSAA’s new “success factor.”
The Irish had more regular-season losses this season than any Cathedral team since 2003. But the five defeats were all to perennial powers — Ben Davis, Cincinnati St. Xavier, Chatard, Louisville Trinity and Cincinnati Moeller.
“This year, we had a few more setbacks than what we were used to,” Streiff said. “We have a lot of seniors, but quite a few of them coming into the season had not played varsity or been starters. We had to replace 10 of 11 on defense and five on offense. The defense has been kind of a start-over process.”
The Irish have been on a roll in the state tournament, routing four opponents by a combined 186-33. Much of that has to do with the improvement of senior quarterback Connor Rice (6-foot-2, 210 pounds), who has completed 149 of 254 passes with 24 touchdowns and 11 interceptions for the season.
“He has steadily gotten better each week, especially in the tournament,” Strieff said.
Senior Gino Gillum (5-8, 170) is a three-year starter at running back and just went over the 3,000-yard mark for his career. This year, he’s carried 197 times for 1,246 yards and 14 scores.
“He’s our quiet leader,” Streiff said.
Cathedral features a trio of fast receivers: seniors Sampson Levingston (6-0, 200) and Wyatt Wood (5-8, 165), and junior Terry McLaurin (5-11, 175). Levingston has 43 catches for 624 yards and five touchdowns; McLaurin has 27 catches for 603 yards and 10 scores; Wood has 30 catches for 323 yards and four touchdowns; and senior tight end Zach Saum (6-4, 205) has 21 catches for 314 yards and a score.
Senior center Colin Sandor (6-2, 270), who has committed to Air Force, leads a big offensive line.
“They’ve played extremely well, especially once we’ve got into the tournament,” Streiff said. “Sandor is kind of the ring-leader of that group. He’s a captain and makes all the calls for us.”
Senior free safety Stu Stanley (6-1, 210), a Ball State recruit and the only returning starter on defense, leads the Irish with 80 tackles. Junior Raja Burt (6-0, 210) has 3 1/2 sacks and seven tackles for losses, and senior Cooper Riddle (5-11, 185) has five interceptions.
“We’re not a real big (defensive) group, but we run pretty well,” Streiff said.
“They’re big, fast and strong, and they’re the defending state champions,” East coach Bob Gaddis said. “They’re a great football team.”