NAPPANEE — Nate Andrews wouldn't mind if his NorthWood football players already owned a bit more acclimation to Lucas Oil Stadium — like, say, maybe as much as his 7-year-old daughter, Viviana — but he's hopeful they won't be too in awe of the venue and the circumstances for Friday's Class 4A state championship against No. 1-ranked Indianapolis Roncalli in the Rebels' hometown.
"I lived in the Indianapolis area for eight years, and now that I'm back (in Nappanee), it's so different," Andrews said this week of northern exposure to the State Finals. "It's such a community event here to make it to the state championship. It is a much, much bigger deal. For eight years, I was able to go to any state championship, buzz there and buzz home. You can take the family any time."
On Monday, Andrews was joined by NorthWood administrators for a State Finals organizational meeting at Lucas Oil.
"They're looking around and I didn't realize it's their first time," Andrews said with a chuckle.
"My daughter's 7 years old and she's been to countless Colts game and every state final since she's been born. She went to a Colts game at 3 months old. My family knows the concourse, they know everything there. A game comes on TV, it's 'Hey, Dad, look, that's Lucas Oil.'
"Now the Panthers get to play there, so that will be different for my kids," said Andrews, who has already coached at the facility at least three times in regular-season events while at other schools.
NorthWood players practiced at Lucas Oil on Wednesday, so they won't be going in completely cold on Friday.
"We're going to hopefully get all the kinks out," said Andrews, who played in the 1993 state championship with his brother, Trevor, at the since-imploded Hoosier Dome.
"I remember Trevor on TV," Nate said of earlier that week in '93, "saying something like, 'I hope when our teams walks in, they don't look around and go whoa.'
"I know we will on Wednesday, I guarantee it," Andrews predicted Monday of his players. "I mean, I saw Norm (Sellers, NorthWood athletic director) doing it today."
The matchup of 14-0 teams features two of the top linebackers in the state in Panther senior Drew Minnich and Rebel junior Cade Morgan.
Minnich has recorded a team-high 118 tackles on the season – including 15 for loss – while also recording four sacks. The 5-11, 193-pound Minnich has intercepted four passes and recovered a fumble as well.
He has signed to play baseball at Cedarville University.
Meanwhile, the 6-2, 180-pound Morgan leads Roncalli with 140 tackles, including 4.5 sacks and four tackles for loss. He has forced two fumbles. In addition, Rebel middle linebacker Christian Brueggemann has100 tackles.
In No. 2 NorthWood and No. 1 Roncalli, two of the historically top programs in the state will be on display.
Although it's in a state title game for the first time in 11 years, Roncalli is one of only five schools in the state to appear in at least 12 state championships. The Rebels are 8-3 in title games, which includes their 14-12 victory over NorthWood in 1993 for the Class 3A crown. They won three straight 4A titles from 2002-04.
Roncalli head coach Bruce Scifres has led the Rebels for 27 years and has a record of 247-88. He's been the coach for six of Roncalli's titles.
Meanwhile, NorthWood will be playing in its seventh state title game. This is the Panthers' first appearance since winning the school's only state title in 2005 with a 7-0 win in 3A over Indianapolis Chatard, that after finishing the regular season with a 3-6 record.
In an age of high-scoring offenses, five of the teams playing for IHSAA state championships this weekend are ranked among the top 12 offenses in the state.
Class 1A finalist Linton-Stockton averages 51.7 points, which ranks second behind a New Palestine team that lost the first Friday of the tournament. Pioneer (1A) and Lawrenceburg (3A) are tied for fifth at 47.3, Columbus East (5A) is ninth at 46.9 and NorthWood is 12th at 44.9.
Roncalli is outside the top 50 offensively with an average of 28.8, but the Rebels' defense is ranked 26th, giving up an average of just 14.1 points against a top-tier schedule. In addition, Roncalli has held opponents to less than 100 yards rushing eight times and less than 200 total yards nine times.
Roncalli reached the Class 4A semistate in 2015, losing to East Central 21-0, a team they beat 24-21 last Friday to reach the title game.
So if the Rebels beat NorthWood, they will move up to 5A for at least the next two seasons due to the IHSAA's Tournament Success Factor.
Like NorthWood, this will be Roncalli's first state title game in Lucas Oil Stadium, though it will be the Rebels' second appearance there this year.
They played Franklin Central there during the regular season on Aug. 26, winning 22-14.
Ken Fox contributed to this report.
4A STATE CHAMPIONSHIP
Who: No. 2 NorthWood (14-0) vs. No. 1 Indianapolis Roncalli (14-0).
When: 3:30 p.m. Friday.
Where: Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis.
TV: WHME-TV (will show all six class finals live, Friday and Saturday).
Radio: 102.7 FM, 103.1 FM.