It may be Thanksgiving week, however it must feel like Groundhog Day for the Mater Dei football team, as they travel to Indianapolis for the third straight week. However, this time it's for the grandest prize of all, a state crown.
"It's a good thing that none of our kids get motion sickness," says Mater Dei head coach Mike Goebel, "because we've been driving through the hills and all over the place to try to get to Indianapolis by different methods."
Head coach Mike Goebel's Mater Dei Wildcats have piled up some serious frequent flyer miles, going back and forth to Indianapolis the last two weeks. However, this third and final trip to the Circle City will be a dream ride to the promised land, the 2-A State Title Game at Lucas Oil Stadium.
"For three years I've been wanting it," says Mater Dei senior offensive/defensive lineman Nick Boots. "I've been wanting to be here, but I could never picture it. Been working on it for four years now, so. But I'm glad it is here."
"It was nothing but a dream," says Mater Dei senior wide receiver Eli McDurmon. "We knew we had plenty of work to put in and we knew it was possible, but we knew we were going to have to put a lot of work in and here we are."
"About as exciting as it gets," says Goebel. "It's something we worked for from Day 1. Every team has this dream and goal and we're achieving so far. We've got to this point."
However, it was hard to see the path after dropping back-to-back games to heavyweights Memorial and Jasper ... leaving the Wildcats mid-season record a mediocre 3-and-2.
"When we got those two losses," says Mater Dei junior quarterback Mason Wunderlich, "we really came together and it was like "we have to pick our season up and keep it going", because we wanted to play where we are this weekend."
"We knew those games were winnable games that we lost," says McDurmon, "so we had to bounce back and fix those mistakes that we made during practice that week and mistakes that we made in the game. And each week we've been able to point out what we need to do better and we've been able to do that."
One of the keys all season has been on offense. The rushing game, paced by junior Joey Pierre, has kept the Wildcat offense on the field. However, it's been the passing attack, spearheaded by junior quarterback Mason Wunderlich, and his top pass catcher Eli McDurmon that has elevated it to State Title status.
"Coming into this season", says Wunderlich, "I lost all my really good receivers last year, besides Eli. He's a guy I always trust to come up with the ball any time I throw it to him. He kept working hard and kept all the other receivers keep going too. He's just been a leader for the whole team."
"It helped being able to play together last year," says McDurmon. "Getting plenty of reps in last year, as well as this off-season. That all came together this year and just got better and better."
But as impressive as the offense has been at times, the Mater Dei defense has been the unit to set the table. The Wildcats have shutdown some of the most high octane offenses in the state, allowing an average of just two touchdowns a game.
"That's team chemistry," says Boots, "has really boosted us these last playoffs. Everybody's coming out here and realizing we're having fun with it. During the season, we weren't having as much fun with it. But now, with the playoffs here, we've come together as a team. We're playing together, playing for each other. And we're going to play for a state title."
"Against Scecina," says Goebel, "our offense looked good at times, then we sputtered a bit. But the defense held steady throughout the game. Really propped us up. Our entire defense knew what we had to do. The coaches did a great job putting them into position. Now we've got one more opportunity. This is it for this year. We know this is our last game and this is our stiffest challenge."
And that is not hyperbole. Mater Dei's state championship opponents from Andrean come in at 11-and-3, led by super sophomore quarterback Scott Ballentine and junior running back Drayk Bowen.
"They turn mediocre plays into touchdowns," says Goebel. "They can score at any time, any touch, any number athletes. They've got a great quarterback. A Notre Dame commit is also their tailback. Watching him on film, he breaks it a will. Their quarterback has three very good, capable, fast receivers. They're wide open. We have to be ready for just about everything. Hopefully our discipline will try to neutralize some of their athleticism."
"They're very fast," says Boots. "They're very, very strong. They've got a lot of physical players. They've really put it together this year and hopefully we're ready for them, because they're ready for us."