That’s what awaits both the Tippecanoe Valley and Whitko football teams Friday night.
The opportunity arrives for each in the form of a sectional semifinal playoff game with each facing big challenges.
The pair of Three Rivers Conference counterparts, playing in opposite brackets in Class 3-A Sectional 18, are just one win away from playing each other for a sectional championship.
It will be no easy task for either as the short-handed Vikings play host to No. 9 Heritage in a clash of two, high-scoring, 8-2 teams.
The Wildcats must board the bus and head to Baugo to tackle the No. 1 team in 3-A in undefeated Jimtown.
Here is a look at each contest.
Heritage (8-2) at Tippecanoe Valley (8-2), 7:30 p.m.
The Vikings easy win last week at West Noble came with a heavy price.
Valley lost star receiver/defensive back Tanner Andrews to a concussion, offensive lineman Daryl Wright to an ankle injury in pregame warmups and two-way lineman Jaron Kidd to an ejection. Those three, along with lineman Nick Gamble (still out due to a concussion), will all miss Friday night’s game.
Andrews, a 6-3 All-State calibre playmaker, had 37 receptions for over 700 yards and seven touchdowns this season.
“It’s unfortunate, but it’s the hand we’re dealt right now,” said Valley coach Jeff Shriver. “Our intent is to move forward. We’ve told other guys that this is their opportunity. We’re a good football team. We just need guys to step up and make the most of their chance.
“It is what it is. We’re not going to wallow in self-pity. We have a football game to play and to win. The big thing is that our depth has been extremely depleted, especially in our offensive line. At practice Tuesday, we had four new offensive linemen in the mix.”
Heritage boasts a veteran team that likes to throw the ball. The Patriots have won four in a row, including a 42-16 pounding of No. 10 Lakeland last week. Heritage averages 38.2 points-per-game and has scored over 50 three times this season. The Patriots losses came 20-14 to New Haven and 13-10 to Leo in overtime.
Quarterback Conner Sheehan leads Heritage with almost 1,500 yards passing with 19 touchdown tosses and four interceptions. Brenton Lockett is the top rusher with 954 yards and 12 touchdowns, while Wil Knapke has rushed for almost 800 yards and 10 scores and caught 24 passes for over 500 yards and six more touchdowns. All three are seniors for coach Dean Lehrman’s squad, which finished 5-5 a year ago and lost 36-19 to Jimtown in a first-round sectional game.
“They start 21 seniors and will be the fastest team we’ve seen this year,” said Shriver of the Patriots. They have great athletes and like to sling the ball down the field. We need to control the tempo of the game and move the chains.
“We’re probably the underdog, but that’s not a bad place to be. We’re a good team. We’re just a few plays away from being 10-0 this season.”
Valley, whose losses are to Culver Academies and North Miami, averages 34.5 points-per-game. The Vikings are led by standout junior quarterback Ben Shriver, along with tailbacks Justin Gunter and Chris Torpy. The Vikings piled up over 500 yards of total offense in last week’s 44-0 whipping of West Noble as senior Gunter ran for 144 yards and two scores and junior Torpy added 141 and one touchdown.
Gunter has rushed for nearly 700 yards and 10 touchdowns, while Torpy has 540 yards and five scores. Shriver has completed 62 percent of his passes for over 1,500 yards with 15 touchdowns and just five interceptions.
The Vikings, whose win last week was their first tourney victory since 2005, have allowed a total of just 32 points in their last five games.
Valley’s last sectional championship came in 1992.
Whitko (4-6) at Jimtown (10-0), 7:30 p.m.
The Wildcats have a chance to stun the state against the unbeaten, tradition-rich Jimmies.
“We told our kids that not everyone gets a chance to play the No. 1 team in the state and they earned it,” said Whitko coach Wayne Swender.
Whitko earned it by downing Garrett 21-16 in the final minute at home last week.
The Jimmies blasted Fort Wayne Concordia 42-20 last Friday night in typical Jimtown fashion. Coach Mike Campbell’s team rushed for 332 yards and attempted just one pass. Senior quarterback Brody Olson and senior tailback Devan Emerson each scored two touchdowns and were two of five Jimmies to rush for more than 40 yards in the blowout.
“They are fast and physical,” said Swender of Jimtown. “They just come right at you like they always do and say try to stop us. They are so fundamentally strong.
“We’re trying to get ready for the speed of the game. That’s going to be the big thing Friday night and that’s hard to simulate in practice. We just want to go in and play fast. We have to be mentally tough and not be intimidated.”
The Jimmies average 39.6 points-per-game and allow just under six. They have posted five shutouts this season and the 20 points allowed last week, most of it coming against their reserves, is their largest total of the season. Jimtown, which has won four state championships, has scored 40 or more points in six of their last seven games.
Emerson and Tanner Adams, both seniors, give Jimtown an incredible 1-2 punch in its deep backfield. Emerson has 830 yards on just 97 carries, while Adams had gained 632 yards on 90 rushes. Each have scored 12 touchdowns. Jimtown averages 278 yards per game rushing and has only attempted a total of 55 passes all season.
The Jimmies, who lost in the regional to South Bend St. Joseph in 2011, have outscored their 10 opponents 396-59. Included in their 10-0 season are dominating wins over both NorthWood (27-0) and Concord (48-0), both of whom play on Friday night in sectional semifinals of their own.
Whitko is led by its strong sophomore tailback tandem of Devin Gerding and Tanner Hughes and senior quarterback Alex Stoddard. Hughes’ one-yard touchdown run with just 45 seconds to play in the game lifted the Wildcats past Garrett last week. Gerding has rushed for 752 yards on just 88 carries with seven touchdowns and Hughes has amassed almost 700 yards on the ground in 147 attempts with six scores.
Whitko’ lone sectional championship came in 1986. The Wildcats went on to win the Class 2-A state championship that season.