DUNLAP — Break it down all you wish, but all the indicators point one way. Friday’s Class 4A semistate will eventually boil down to which of the game’s quarterbacks — Mishawaka’s Sam Schrader or Concord’s Trevor Wilmore — makes more plays.
In each school’s run through the playoffs, Schrader and Wilmore have held the highest cards and have drawn the highest praise from the team’s head coaches.
“The quarterback they have playing now in Wilmore can run and throw it. He’s elusive and he can make you look bad,” said Mishawaka coach Bart Curtis. “Offensively, they are very, very explosive. They can score in bunches.”
Dawson sees the same quality in the Cavemen, but he warns against being lulled into Mishawaka’s patient option run game.
“Yes, they want to nickel-and-dime you with four and five yards, but they’re very capable of hitting the big play in the passing game,” Dawson said. “Their first two scores against Hammond Morton came through the air.”
Yet it’s Mishawaka’s clock-chewing ground attack, led by Schrader, a three-year starter, which lights the fire for the Cavemen, who have rushed for a whopping 4,002 yards in 2012.
Dawson points to Mishawaka’s come-from-behind sectional win over South Bend Washington as evidence of the Cavemen’s prowess.
“There’s no quit in the Cavemen. They’re down 21 points. You think they’re not a quick-strike offense, but that’s not true,” Dawson said. “With Schrader and (Tyler) McDaniel I saw a lot of big runs where you can get back into the game.
“But they want to slow the game and not give us a lot of possessions and we’re the same way. I want to keep our offense on the field. They’re going to eat the clock, we like to eat the clock.”
Good tournament runs often are boosted by regular season adversity. Both schools endured their own bumps in the road.
Mishawaka has reeled off eight consecutive wins after a shaky 2-3 beginning. Curtis isn’t sure what caused his team’s resurgence, but he’s liked the fight he’s seen, especially during two sectional rallies.
The biggest tourney win for MHS was a 36-34 overtime decision against Washington in which the Cavemen trailed 28-7 early.
“I don’t know really. We were playing really good people for one,” said Curtis, whose club lost to Penn, St. Joe and Fort Wayne North, which finished 9-3.
And the cure?
“We just started doing the same things, the same way we’ve always done and being persistent and not panicking,” Curtis said. “Nobody pushed the panic button. The coaches kept coaching the same way because we believe in what we’re doing. The tides get tough and when you jump ship, you never had faith to begin with.”
While the Cavemen stumbled early, the Minutemen ran off to a 5-0 start and were ranked among the top five 4A teams in Indiana.
Then came a two-loss stretch to Jimtown, a humbling road defeat, and at home to Plymouth, a team Concord was trying to stay with atop the Northern Lakes Conference.
Since that hiccup, the Minutemen have beaten Warsaw for the NLC title, turned back East Noble in a wild sectional shootout, endured a tough test from Wawasee, and held Fort Wayne Dwenger to one second-half first down in a rebound regional victory last week.
“Those are great lessons to back and pull from,” Dawson said. “When something happens, you can say, ‘Hey, guys, we’ve been in this situation.’ I think those are character-builders for your team.”