The Lawrence Central football program is ready to take its place at the table next to the other large-school high school football powers in the state. Up there with names like Carmel, Warren Central, Ben Davis.
The difference is, those schools have won multiple state championships. Lawrence Central hasn't won one. But the Class 5A top-ranked Bears (14-0) will take another crack at it Saturday at 7:05 p.m. at Lucas Oil Stadium, this time against fourth-ranked Fort Wayne Snider (14-0).
Lawrence Central got here two years ago, losing 38-19 to Fishers. Since then, fifth-year coach Jayson West (51-12 at the school) said he's not ashamed to admit he continues to model his program after those local powers.
"We did our best to (copy) them," West said. "As far as what they did in the offseason and how they set up their programs. And we increased our expectations of our student-athletes and that has really paid off for us."
The Bears also have plenty of talent, on both sides of the ball. This is probably a more complete team than two years ago, averaging 37.2 points a game and allowing just 10.3, good for seventh in the state.
"We've been kind of spotty on offense at times in the playoffs, for a variety of reasons," West said. "But defense has carried us at times and that's what you have to have. If you look at the history of 5A football, the best teams have great defenses. If you look at the last 20 years, what got those teams championships were great defenses."
The Bears will be tested by a Snider offense that features two running backs with more than 1,000 rushing yards in Je'Norie Smith (1,231 yards) and Tyrell Swain (1,053), and averages 37 points a game.
But Snider has allowed a combined 74 points the last two weeks. Look for Lawrence Central to put up some numbers. Lawrence Central 35, Fort Wayne Snider 20.
For the record, I was 6-1 (85.7 percent) last week in the Let it Rip predictions to improve to 377-87 (81.3 percent) for the season. All state finals games are at Lucas Oil Stadium:
Cathedral (9-5) vs. Mishawaka (11-3), 3:30 p.m. Saturday
Mishawaka didn't have a single vote in the final 4A Associated Press regular season poll. The Cavemen have been living on the edge in the postseason. Meanwhile, the Irish are playing for a third consecutive 4A championship. Cathedral 42, Mishawaka 21.
Hamilton Heights (13-1) vs. Bishop Chatard (12-2), noon Saturday
Bishop Chatard is playing for its third consecutive 3A title, while Hamilton Heights is playing for a state title for the first time. The Huskies are explosive and balanced on offense. Chatard allows just 12.6 points per game against a tough schedule. Bishop Chatard 28, Hamilton Heights 21.
Fort Wayne Bishop Luers (10-4) vs. Cardinal Ritter (14-0), 7 p.m. Friday
This 2A title game is potentially the best matchup of the weekend. Ritter's Jake Purichia (2,717 passing yards, 42 TDs) could be a Mr. Football candidate next year. Bishop Luers' running back/linebacker Jaylon Smith (1,115 yards, 15 TDs; 68 tackles, 18 for loss) might be Mr. Football this year. Cardinal Ritter 35, Bishop Luers 28.
Lafayette Central Catholic (13-1) vs. Scecina (11-3), 3:30 p.m. Friday
Both teams will move up to 2A next year. Lafayette Central Catholic is playing for a fourth consecutive title. Lafayette Central Catholic 27, Scecina 19.