EVANSVILLE, Ind. -- The Cardinal Ritter High School football team got off to a rough start Friday at Reitz Bowl in the Class 2A semistate, but it didn't last.
The Raiders' bus showed up late and to the wrong parking lot, and junior quarterback Jake Purichia missed his first three passes. Then everything turned.
Purichia got the ball back and began to dazzle as Ritter took a dominating 49-14 win over third-ranked Evansville Mater Dei, which was playing in its third consecutive semistate.
The win put the Raiders (14-0) in the 2A title game against defending state champion and fifth-ranked Fort Wayne Luers (10-4) at Lucas Oil Stadium at 7 p.m. Friday.
"We had to shake the rust off," Ritter coach Ty Hunt said. "We got off to a little bit of a slow start but we were able to regroup and refocus and make some plays."
After the initial three-and-out for Ritter, the Raiders scored on defense when Jalen Chandler intercepted the Wildcats' Jace Hartz and returned it 65 yards for a touchdown. Mater Dei (11-3) answered with an 88-yard scoring drive capped by Alex Springers 62-yard catch-and-run from Hartz, but that would be it for the Wildcats in the first half.
Purichia would throw for two scores and junior running back Logan Beaman would run for two as the Raider built a 35-7 lead at intermission.
"That (first) interception got us going," said Purichia. "We got off the bus with a few nerves and then we had a couple drops and I made a couple bad throws. But then we went to the short stuff passing and it opened up some things down the field."
Purichia's first look down the field was a perfect 37-yard fade to Jake Hagan that set up Beaman's 1-yard touchdown run to put the Raiders ahead to stay with 3:55 to play in the first quarter. Then Ritter got the ball right back and Purichia stretched the lead with another perfect fade to Hagan of 22 yards. Mater Dei turned the ball right back one play later when Alex Parrett intercepted Hartz to set up a short field and Beaman scored one play after that on a 5-yard blast.
Beaman added an improbable 24-yard touchdown run on a lateral late in the third quarter to complete the Raiders' scoring.
"If it were a closer game I probably wouldn't liked that one," said Hunt. "But players make plays and we made plays on both sides of the ball tonight. (Purichia) got us organized and when he got going he showed what kind of quarterback he is."
After missing his first three passes, Purichia came back to finish 14-for-20 for 238 yards and touchdowns without an interception.
The only downside for the Raiders came in the second quarter when Parrett,limped off the field and didn't return for the second half. His status for next week is uncertain.