A good news, bad news scenario was cast Sunday evening by IHSAA officials in Indianapolis as pairings for the annual IHSAA football sectionals were announced for the five classes via a blind draw.
Bellmont was the only county team to receive a home game (Oct. 22) in the first round but unfortunately for the Braves their opponents will be the class 3A number one ranked Eastbrook Panthers. Eastbrook steamrolled over Bellmont 34-0 last year in the championship game of sectional 19 after Bellmont had opened with a 50-0 whitewash of Blackford and a 30-0 shutout of Heritage.
"On paper we're playing the number one team in 3A but quite honestly, it doesn't bother us to have to play Eastbrook. Actually, we'd rather play them first and then build on the momentum for the rest of the tournament. When we saw the draw Sunday night, we were happy to be at home and look forward to playing Eastbrook. I think our conference this year has prepared us well to play them," said Bellmont head coach Rick Burkhalter.
Eastbrook, coached by veteran Jeff Adamson (who ranks 20th among active coaches in victories with a 189-62 record for a .753 winning percentage), has been ranked at the top of the poll for most of the season.
In class 1A action, there is a possibility of an all-Adams County final, although both Adams Central and South Adams would have to win two games to get to that point.
Both teams hit the road in week one with the Jets renewing a sectional rivalry with a tough Churubusco squad. Adams Central cracked the top 10 of the Indiana High School Football Coaches Association poll this week as Coach Michael Mosser's team pulled off a pulsating 14-12 win over Bluffton last week and handed a highly-ranked Southern Wells team a 28-14 setback the week before.
South Adams will travel to Denver (as in Miami County, not Colorado) to face North Miami.
The Starfires, winners of their last three straight games, are looking forward to playing the 6-2 North Miami team with coach Jason Arnold noting this morning "we've grown up a lot in the last couple of weeks. Early in the season was very frustrating for us but the last couple of weeks we've done a much better job taking care of the football. We were averaging four or five fumbles a game early in the season but haven't had any the last couple of weeks. Football is so much easier when you take care of the ball."
Arnold noted the maturity of his team revolves around the fact that South Adams plays a lot of juniors and many didn't have much experience prior to the season. We've gained experience and cleaned up a lot of our mental mistakes," he pointed out.
The pairings for the sectional Bellmont is in finds two top 10 teams entering into the fray. ACAC champion Leo (5-0 in ACAC and 7-1 overall) will travel to Norwell (1-5 and 2-6 respectively). The Lions feature one of the top running backs in the state this year in Connor Kacsor who has shredded most of the defenses he's seen this year.
The other top bracket 3A game could be an interesting match-up with Blackford (coached by former South Adams assistant Steve Rinker) which is 2-6 on the year going to Monroeville to battle Heritage, a 4-4 team, under first-year head coach (and former long-time assistant coach) Dean Lehrman.
Bellmont and Eastbrook are at the bottom of the bracket with the winner of that game playing the victor of Harding and Concordia, a game in which Harding will be a heavy favorite.
Tradition plays a big factor for Adams Central football and the Jets hope to capitalize on that in their travel to Churubusco. The Jets rank 11th in the state of Indiana in the number of sectional championships having won more crowns than teams like Evansville Mater Dei, Warren Central, Gary Andrean, and Indianapolis Cathedral. The Jets are tied for 15th in the number of regional titles won with 10 and have one state championship title as well.
The Jets have struggled at times, especially in a loss to county rival South Adams three weeks ago at the Ball State University stadium, but Mosser's team still outscores their opponents 27.4 to 20.8 per game. Churubusco was undefeated going into last weekend but suffered a 52-38 offensive struggle to a tough Fairfield team. The Eagles have dominated the offensive side of the game this year with a 42.5 to 15.1 scoring edge.
The loss by Churubusco dropped the Eagles from third to sixth in this week's class 1A coaches poll that finds three of the top 10 teams in the same sectional. In addition to Churubusco and Adams Central, Southern Wells is ranked eighth.
Southern Wells at 7-1 this year will face 1-7 Southwood in the tournament while 0-8 Fremont takes on 4-4 Northfield in the other 1A games.
The South Adams-North Miami match-up brings up old memories as former long-time SA coach Bob Bridge went from directing the Starfires to coach at North Miami.
Arnold said he "doesn't know a whole lot" about the 6-2 North Miami team but intends to rectify that early this week. South Adams averages 20.4 points per game while allowing 27.0 while North Miami sports a 13.5 point advantage at 33.0 to 19.5.
There is still one week of the regular season to play this Friday night prior to sectional action with Adams Central appearing to have the weakest opponent. The Jets will be at Woodlan, a team that is 1-7 (their only victory coming over Monroe Central, a first-year varsity program). Bellmont could be a spoiler in the NHC race as they host 5-1 and 6-2 East Noble, a team the Braves have beaten three of the past four seasons (although the Knights won the 2009 match-up). Bellmont is just 2-4 in the conference and 4-4 overall. South Adams plays at Southern Wells but is playing its best football of the year.