When Whiteland coach Darrin Fisher watched a film about his team’s opponent in the IHSAA Class 5A football state championship this week, he saw many similarities to his own team.
“Honestly, it’s like looking in a mirror,” Fisher said. “Their formula for winning a football game is the same as ours. It will be a battle of willpower.”
Second-place Whiteland (12-1) reached the state championship for the first time with a formula similar to Fisher’s 17 previous teams at the school. The Warriors are blasting an average of 304 yards per game on their fly-sweep run-based offense, wearing down defenses and then hitting them on the edges with big plays.
Indiana High School Soccer: What you need to know for this weekend’s IHSAA State Finals
Ninth place Valparaiso (10-3) makes it a little different from the spread, but also wants to play. The Vikings have gotten 6-foot, 220-pound junior Travis Davis back from injury and have relied heavily on him in the region and semi-state. Davis rushed for 111 yards and 23 carries in a 15-14 win over Merrillville in the regional league, then rushed for 277 yards and two touchdowns on 43 carries in a 22-21 overtime win over Fort Wayne Snider.
In the win over Snider, quarterback Justin Clark made a sensational 8-yard run in fourth overtime, crossing the field and almost falling to the turf before diving over two defenders into the end zone. Valparaiso coach Bill Marshall called for the 2-point conversion that ran Davis into the end zone and sent the Vikings to the state championship.
Marshall said the decision to convert the 2-point was made after a discussion with assistant Don Clark before overtime began.
“They probably would have hated me if it didn’t work out that way,” said Marshall, who also led the Vikings to the 2019 state championship game. “But I think in that kind of game the way we’ve had it, running the football the way we’ve done and the confidence we’ve had in our group so far has been a testament to the fact that they’re capable are to keep going and making it.
While Valparaiso have won their last three tournament games by a total of nine points, Whiteland have been a bit more dominant. The Warriors defeated Franklin 24-0 in the Sectional Championship before beating Plainfield 49-14 in the Regionals and overtaking Castle in the semi-state en route to a 21-7 win.
Marshall said Clark’s run in overtime suited Valpo’s season.
“We’ve been underdog history all year and I think we’re still coming into the state championship game at this point,” Marshall said. “I think that’s kind of a (Clark’s) mentality too. To really put it on the line in that last game and throughout the season is huge, not just for his confidence but for the confidence of our team.
Here’s a closer look at the Class 5A title game:
Valparaiso (10-3) vs. Whiteland (12-1)
Valparaiso No. 9; Whiteland No. 2
Saturday, 7 p.m. at Lucas Oil Stadium
Bally Sports Indiana and IHSAAtv.org
Valparaiso won its only state football championship in Class 3A in 1975. The Vikings have 28 state titles in all sports, led by 13 from gymnastics and another 11 between the cross-country programs. Whiteland has never won a state championship in any sport.
Valparaiso coach Bill Marshall, 40, is in his fifth season and took the Vikings to the 5A State Finals in 2019. Marshall graduated from Valparaiso University in 2005 where he coached for a season before transferring to high school in 2006 and worked as a coaching assistant for 12 years before being hired in 2018. Marshall has a record of 51-11 in Valparaiso.
Whiteland coach Darrin Fisher, 55, graduated from Mooresville in 1985 and Ball State in 1989. He had stints at Muncie Central and Avon as an assistant before coaching Cascade from 1991-95. He moved to Iowa in 1996 for his wife’s job and coached at two different schools for nine seasons. He’s in his 18th yearth season at Whiteland and posted a 130-72 record. He’s 191-144 overall.
A closer look at Valparaiso
Valparaiso is playing in its fifth soccer state championship game and second in four years. The Vikings secured their spot in the State Finals by converting a 2-point conversion in overtime for a 22-21 win over top-ranked Fort Wayne Snider. Valpo also defeated fifth-placed Merrillville 15-14 to win the regional championship.
The Valparaiso offense is led by a spread attack that wants to run. The Vikings average 243 yards on the ground and 330 overall. Justin Clark, the junior quarterback, leads Valpo with 950 rushing yards and has eight TD runs. Clark has thrown for 885 yards and four TDs. Other top rushers include junior Thomas Davis (863 yards and 11 TDs in eight games) and sophomore Thomas Burda (769 yards, 11 TDs). The top receiver is senior Rocco Micciche (20 catches, 273 yards, one TD).
The defense only allows 100 yards rushing per game. This group consists of senior linebacker Alex Rodriguez (82 tackles, four tackles in a loss), junior defensive backers Tyler VerSchure (35 tackles, seven interceptions) and Sammy Ampeliotis (75 tackles, three tackles in a loss), senior linebacker Peter Crossin (70 tackles, seven tackles for loss) and junior linebacker Ty Veen (63 tackles, 10 tackles for loss).
A closer look at Whiteland
Whiteland is fourth in 5A with 35.5 points per game. The defensive third in 5A allows 13.1 points per game. The Warriors have played only one top-10 opponent in the tournament in No. 8 Franklin, winning 24-0 in the section championship.
The Whites offense averages 304 rushing yards per game and 383 overall. The ground attack is led by senior Peyton Emberton (1,297 yards, 11 TDs), senior Jonathan Crowley (862 yards, 10 TDs) and sophomore Nyrius Moore-Smith (583 yards, five TDs). Senior quarterback Kevin Denham has thrown for 1,027 yards and 13 TDs. Cameron Cooper (20 catches, 407 yards, five TDs) and Gunnar Hicks (17 catches, 368 yards, four TDs) are the top receivers.
The Whiteland defense allows 109 yards per game on the ground and 223 overall per game. The best players on defense are senior linebackers Brady Stanifer (115 tackles, nine tackles for losses) and Dalton Hughes (81 tackles, four tackles for losses, two sacks), freshman linebacker Jordan Palmer (72 tackles), on senior defense Back Kayden Milligan (64 tackles) and senior lineman Mason Darlington (62 tackles, five sacks).
How Valparaiso can win
Both teams want to let the ball run, which makes winning at the line of scrimmage imperative. For Valpo, a winning formula begins with handing the ball off to Jones, who rushed for 277 yards and two TDs on 43 carries against Snider. Jones’ numbers are likely to directly correlate to Valparaiso’s success on the scoreboard.
How Whiteland can win
let the ball go Stop the run. It’s pretty easy. Whiteland is diverse in the running game but has also done a good job of stopping the run against top-flight opponents all season.
Whiteland 24, Valparaiso 23.
Call Star Reporter Kyle Neddenriep at (317) 444-6649.