If you’ve never played at the semistate level of an IHSAA tournament, you don’t know the feeling.
Those who have competed — no matter the sport — know the story.
This deep into November, you’re either playing at home against an unfamiliar opponent or you’re hitting an Indiana highway to find a school you likely know by name only.
Oddly enough, one year ago, Concord played a school located about 20 minutes away — Mishawaka — for the right to line up for a state championship. This season, the Minutemen are back and packing for a trip to Westfield, a program which hasn’t played for a semistate title in 20 seasons.
The parallels between the Minutemen and Shamrocks run true to a certain level.
After Concord went to the dome in 1998, coach Tim Dawson’s teams weaved seasons of success — 9-3, 9-4, 7-3 with some so-so years like 6-5, 5-6, 4-8 and 4-6. Then came a memorable, breakout 14-1 season and another berth in Indianapolis.
The Minutemen of 2006 were one of the best teams — offensively, if nothing else — in modern-day Elkhart County football. Since then, Concord has won eight games or more in each season and six Northern Lakes Conference titles. Prior to ’06, there was a cavernous 23-year gap between NLC trophies.
Concord competed for state championships in 1984, ’98 and 2006. From ’84 to ’06, the Minutemen won nine games or more just four times.
Those were teams which broke the mold in green and white football.
When Dawson looks at Westfield, he’ll likely reflect and note a program which has caught the kind of lightning in a bottle which produces special seasons like he’s seen in the last 10 years.
The top-ranked Shamrocks, prior to this year’s sparking 11-1 campaign, experienced only two winning seasons since 1999. The Rocks have won 10 or more games twice — 1974 and 1992 — in school history.
Since ’92, there have been six winning seasons at Westfield, which has been forced to bang heads with the elite big-school programs of the Indianapolis area.
With the IHSAA breaking up 5A into two classes — 6A and 5A — the Rocks now avoid the heavy-hitters of Marion County in Carmel, Warren Central, Ben Davis and Center Grove.
Westfield has no pushovers on its hefty schedule — Hamilton Southeastern, Fishers, Zionsville, etc. — but 2013 has been a perfect storm of football.
Jake Gilbert, who is in his third year at Westfield, has a class he honestly did not see coming as stellar. Good, yes. Stellar? No.
Senior-filled teams do this in sports.
As tonight’s semistate unfolds, you have two different types of championship hunger — Concord’s, which tasted a chance to make at the state finals last November to Westfield’s, which rarely gets a sniff.
All you want is a chance.
“We’re humble and hungry,” Gilbert said. “This is big. This is different. Shoot, you win, you’re in the show. We’ve not had a hard time staying focused on what’s at hand.”
Dawson and Gilbert each see striking similarities in their respective teams. They also should recognize where each school has come from to reach this point.
Gilbert said last year’s Westfield team stunk. Prior to 2006, Concord had a number of seasons where it didn’t measure up.
The Minutemen — players and coaches — are smart enough to know what Westfield is going through, that the semistate game is a brutal one to play and an even more brutal contest to lose.
But it’s one every athlete wants to suit up for on a mid-November Friday night.
A wobbly, fading Mishawaka field goal crawled over the goalposts and ended a tremendous 2012 Concord season.
Some of today’s Minutemen played big minutes last year’s semistate. Others watched.
All should know the score.
“These kids have bought into our blueprint, which is all-in,” Dawson said. “We can watch film, give them scouting reports, but it’s up to them. Not many schools get this opportunity and because of people before you, you get this opportunity. That’s why I love going deep in the tournament because you see that attitude change even from Week 8 and Week 9. “Westfield’s a great group. They are playing hard. They’re the real deal. This is why you play. You want to get the best challenge, but we know we’re the underdog.”
Tonight, we find out whether Concord can carve a notch in another special season or become a footnote in one for Westfield.
Bill Beck is the Elkhart Truth sports editor. Contact him on Twitter @BillBeckTruth or email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Friday, Nov. 22
Concord (10-2) at Westfield (11-1)
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m., Westfield High School field, corner of U.S. 31 and S.R. 32.
Series: First meeting.
Radio/Web: WAOR 95.7, www.thefanmichiana.com.
TV: WHME TV-46, tape delay, Saturday, 9 a.m.