MISHAWAKA — It's becoming so regular that it has almost become a part of each team's schedule.
Penn vs. Carmel.
For the fourth straight season, two of the state's powers will do battle with a berth in the Class 6A state title game on the line as Penn (12-0) travels to Carmel (8-4) for a 7:30 p.m. matchup Friday. On the other side of the bracket, defending champion Center Grove (11-1) faces Ben Davis (9-3).
"These are two similar schools in what we try to do with our programs,'' Penn coach Cory Yeoman said. "Obviously, high school football is important to both schools and the expectations for success is also high.
"Carmel is a really good football team with Division I kids all over the place, and as always, they're very well-coached. They are athletic at nearly every position on the field, but especially at the receiver and quarterback positions. It will be the biggest challenge our defense has faced this season.''
The Greyhounds' top two wide receivers, Ethan Merriweather (Ball State) and Jalen Walker (Cincinnatti) are each burners, while 6-foot-7, 230-pound tight end Kurt Rafield (Indiana) adds another top threat to a Carmel offense led by quarterback Jake McDonald. Halfback Jerome Halsell is another strong option for coach John Hebert.
But don't look for that Penn defense to be intimidated. The Kingsmen have allowed just 104 points this season and are coming off a shutout of Crown Point in last week's regional.
In addition, seven defensive starters are back from a Penn team that beat Carmel 16-10 at Freed Field last November, avenging the Greyhounds' 14-13 win a year before at the same venue.
"Obviously at this time of year, you're not going to make a lot of changes defensively,'' Yeoman said. "We know they have a lot of weapons, so it will be important for us to play good team defense and really tackle well."
One of the keys to Penn's defense against Carmel will be the play of free safety Paula Moala, a 6-1, 190-pound junior. Moala, a Division I prospect in his own right, has seven interceptions this season and has returned four of them for touchdowns.
Junior defensive tackle James Morris has 14 sacks this season, while senior end Connor Schneider has double-digit tackles for loss. Nate Boone, a Dartmouth recruit, has six sacks and five tackles for loss.
"We can only control what we can control,'' Yeoman said. "Carmel has a very good offensive line, so it should be a great matchup along the line of scrimmage and we'll obviously need to win those battles.''
The Penn offense has continued to get better this season behind the steady hand of senior quarterback James Iapalucci, who caught a touchdown pass in the state title game as a receiver last season.
Iapalucci has completed 71-of-122 passes for 1,106 yards and 12 TDs. But the key, especially as a first-year starter, is he's thrown just two interceptions.
"James has done a great job of taking care of the football and that's been so important for us, especially early in the year when we were still finding ourselves offensively,'' Yeoman said. "But as he's grown as a quarterback, our offense has continued to get better.''
Another Indiana University recruit, 6-foot-6, 250-pound defensive end Britt Berry, plays defensive end for Carmel.
One of the real keys for the Kingsmen this year has been outstanding special-teams play. Led by senior Matt Kominkiewicz, Penn has 10 special-teams touchdowns this season, including seven punts returned for scores.
"That could be a real advantage for us if we can get a score on special team or from our defense,'' Yeoman said. "But don't forget, Carmel has so many good athletes that they'll have great athletes playing special teams, too.''
4A: NorthWood (13-0) at Lowell (9-4)
6A: Penn (12-0) at Carmel (8-4)
Both games 7:30 p.m. ET