What we learned from the IHSAA football sectional championships in SW Indiana

Kyle Sokeland
Evansville Courier & Press

Only five high school football teams from Southwestern Indiana remain in the state tournament.

The sectional round is complete following Friday night with five between the Southern Indiana Athletic Conference and Pocket Athletic Conference earning the right to be champions. A solid representation for the second weekend in November.

How it went down wasn't exactly anticipated. A look at what we learned from the sectional championship round.

More:Evansville-area high school football scores for sectional championships

Gibson Southern’s Tanner Boyd (10) runs the ball as the Gibson Southern Titans play the Southridge Raiders in Fort Branch, Ind., Friday, Sept. 15, 2023.
PAC has its best tournament start in 20 years

If the research is correct, the PAC matched its best sectional showing in the IHSAA football state tournament era.

Gibson Southern (3A), Heritage Hills (3A) and North Posey (2A) all advanced to the regional. The last time the conference sent three teams past the first stage was 2003 with Heritage Hills, South Spencer and Tecumseh. For the sake of clarity, we're only counting programs who were PAC members at the time and the state tournament didn't begin until 1973.

The Titans had the toughest test in the championship with a 27-13 win over Vincennes Lincoln. Tanner Boyd had nearly 300 total yards and three touchdowns, while the defense forced two turnovers including a fumble with four minutes remaining.

Heritage Hills had a running clock in a 51-10 victory at Scottsburg – Jett Goldsberry had four rushing scores – and North Posey took care of Paoli 35-14. I thought the latter would be closer, but the Vikings' defense had a solid showing. Jed Galvin scored all five touchdowns.

Credit where its due for Memorial

John Hurley has now won 10 sectional championship in 16 seasons at his alma mater. This one is as impressive, perhaps more than others, based on where the team was a month ago.

Memorial won its first six games but struggled on offense to close the regular season. The major reason was instability at quarterback once Matthew Fisher went down against Mater Dei on Sept. 8. The Tigers are on their fourth starter after moving Luke Ellspermann from wide receiver.

More:Memorial gets revenge on Reitz in sectional championship

All they've done is win three straight including an impressive 21-16 win against previously unbeaten Reitz. The Memorial defense will get deserved credit with four takeaways, but 21 points was the most the Panthers surrendered this year.

Opponents note the difficultly in beating Hurley and Memorial in the November, especially at Enlow Field. Count this as another example.

North’s Sam McKinney (5) hands off to North’s Cainen Northington (22) as the North Huskies play the Castle Knights during the IHSAA Class 5A Sectional 16 championship game in Newburgh, Ind., Friday, Nov. 3, 2023.
Don't count out North next week

I'm not saying the Huskies will be favored nor guaranteeing a win happens next week. Just keep an eye on them.

Following an impressive and absurd 60-50 win over Castle – yes, the score is correct – North again showed it has an offensive identity capable of success in the postseason. The numbers, specifically 506 rushing yards, may not be sustainable week to week but happened for a reason.

The Huskies' offensive line is one of the best in the area. It also blocks for two capable backs in Jason Rucker and Cainen Northington. The duo had a combined four rushing scores of at least 50 yards. North now has three, including quarterback Sam McKinney, with more than 500 yards on the season. No true featured runner like recent years.

The obvious areas of concerns are the turnovers – the Huskies had four yet still scored 60 – and all the yards itself allowed ahead of a trip to Bloomington South.

"We've prided ourselves on being able to have multiple guys this year," said North coach Joey Paridaen. "We feel like we can put anybody back there behind our offensive line. The deal is moving forward we have to get a lot better eliminating penalties and turnovers."

Heritage Hills' Jett Goldsberry (3) passes the ball as the Heritage Hills Patriots play the Boonville Pioneers Friday, Sept. 1, 2023.
The tournament path gets tougher from here

A couple of items stand out when looking ahead to the regional.

There's going to be a lot of travel with Memorial as the only local team staying home. The regional host is the sectional final non-host if applicable. If both were at home or both on the road – for example, North and Bloomington South in 5A – then home game goes to the even or odd sectional number.

The other takeaway is the tough path for SW Indiana teams. Only Gibson Southern and Heritage Hills are slight favorites in their matchups per John Harrell's computer prediction. Four upcoming opponents were ranked in the top 10 of the final poll: No. 3 Bloomington South (5A), No. 1 East Central (4A), No. 8 Tri-West (3A) and No. 1 Triton Central (2A).

Winning a state championship isn't supposed to be easy. But as we saw on Friday, anything can happen.