Before they were high school football coaches, Mt. Vernon’s Doug Armstrong and Cathedral’s Rick Streiff were collegiate rivals.
When the two shake hands on Tech High School’s football field Friday night (7 p.m.) before their regional final tilt, they’ll add another chapter to their connection on the gridiron.
In the early 1980s, Streiff was a wide receiver for Butler, while Armstrong was a defensive back for Indiana Central (now known as the University of Indianapolis).
When the two teams faced off at Central in 1983, Streiff caught a touchdown pass. Armstrong believes Streiff may have beaten him on the scoring play.
“I think they got the better of us that day,” Armstrong admitted (Butler won 26-6).
Streiff and Armstrong wouldn’t cross paths again for almost another decade.
In 1991, Streiff was heading into his third season as Cathedral’s head coach and found himself with a vacancy at defensive coordinator. In need of a recommendation, Streiff phoned Bill Sylvester, one of his good friends and the head coach at Roncalli.
Sylvester suggested that Armstrong, one of his assistant coaches, would be a good fit for the job.
“It seemed like something that we could work together at and be successful,” Armstrong said. “Rick gave me a shot and I have a lot of gratitude to him for that.
“To coach at place like Cathedral is a thing all coaches should experience.”
Armstrong coordinated Streiff’s defense for 10 seasons, and the Fighting Irish made five trips to the state finals, winning titles in 1992, 1996, 1998 and 1999.
Asked what he remembers about Armstrong’s coaching style, Streiff submitted a one-word answer before elaborating on his former lieutenant.
“Intense,” said Streiff, 175-42 in his 18th season at Cathedral. “He is all about intensity. He always brought that intensity.
“And I know for a fact his kids will be prepared as well as they can be, and that there will be a few wrinkles Doug will have thought up that we won’t be prepared for.”
Few Hoosier State football programs have compiled the run of success Class 4A No. 7 Cathedral (7-5) is enjoying.
The Irish are the two-time defending state champions, beating Ft. Wayne Bishop Dwenger and South Bend Washington a combined 73-27 in the past two championship games.
Cathedral clinched its seventh straight sectional title last weekend with a win over No. 3 Roncalli 34-7, and with a victory over No. 4 Mt. Vernon (11-1), the Irish can claim their seventh consecutive regional crown.
The MV-Cathedral victor faces the winner of No. 1 Columbus East (12-0) and Evansville Reitz (9-3) in semistate next Friday.
“There’s an expectation when you come here. You come here to maintain a legacy,” added Streiff, whose squad has won 15 postseason games in a row. “That’s one of the things our kids really feed on, that we’re taking care of our business, and that we add to that mystique.”
Streiff’s unit, ranked first in the 4A Sagarin ratings and fifth overall in Indiana, doesn’t belong to a conference. However, the Irsh routinely play a schedule against not just the best schools in Indiana, but the Midwest.
This season, Cathedral lined up against two ranked 5A squads, Ben Davis (No. 2) and Warren Central (No. 12), as well as two-time reigning 3A state champ Chatard. The Irish took on Cincinnati Catholic school powers St. Xavier and Moeller, and played Louisville Trinity (Ky.), who is ranked No. 18 in the USA Today Super 25.
Of those games, the Irish only prevailed against Warren Central, but Streiff said he sees the regular season in a different light than most.
“The thought process is, ‘If we can compete with those guys, it’ll prepare us for the tournament,’” he explained.
Offensively, Cathedral is powered by quarterback Conner Rice, a dual-threat signal-caller, and running back Gino Gillum, a three-year starter who Streiff said lacks “oh my God” speed, but nonetheless has rushed for over 3,000 yards in his career.
The spread-oriented Irish average just over 30 points per game and are partial to running behind lineman Colin Sandor, an Air Force recruit.
Armstrong emphasized the pace of his former team’s offense.
“They’re as fast as fast gets,” offered Armstrong, 16-6 in his second year at MV. “They’re not particularly huge, but they’re quick and very fast.”
The story is similar on the defensive side of the ball, as Cathedral operates a 3-3 stack scheme headlined by outside linebacker Stu Stanley, a Ball State recruit.
That unit has surrendered only 26 total points in its three sectional victories, and is known for for being quick and disciplined.
Streiff is aware of the problems Mt. Vernon’s modified Wing-T offense could pose to his defense, as the Marauders rank first in 4A in scoring (44.1 ppg) and rush for nearly 371 yards a game, notching 7.5 yards per carry.
In particular, Streiff referenced MV’s top three rushers: Tyler Dicks (1,701 yards, 22 TDs), Anthony Burnett (1,550 yards, 23 TDs) and Andy Spears (485 yards, 20 TDs).
“All three are really good football players. The offensive line does a nice job hammering away for them,” Streiff said. “When they try to split seams, tackling will be really important for us.”
The Irish appear to have the depth advantage; no player pulls double duty on offense and defense. The Marauders have multiple players — Dicks, Burnett and Spears included — that play both ways.
“I know they’ll be ready to play and in shape,” Streiff explained. “That’s just coach Armstrong.”
The Marauders have never won a regional title, and are coming off a 28-13 triumph over Delta in the Sectional 13 championship game, the first time the black-and-gold have been challenged late into the second half since its opening-week overtime loss to Kokomo.
Armstrong hinted that the close game might’ve been good for this team, but said he his experience on the state champion Cathedral squads didn’t delegate him with a magic formula in regards to getting back to high school football’s biggest stage.
“You come to practice, you work hard, you study your reports and you get ready to play. There are no secrets, no shortcuts to being good and winning games,” he said. “Our guys understand the workman-like mentality, they display it every day. That’s what we gotta do.”
Notes: With a win, Mt. Vernon would host Columbus East or Evansville Reitz. Cathedral would visit Columbus East or host Evansville Reitz. … MV safety Ross Houk (head injury) is questionable. … Radio broadcasts will be available on 1260-AM and HancockCountySports.com. ... rlmsports.com will broadcast a live video stream. …Because of the IHSAA’s ‘tradition’ rule, Cathedral would be bumped up to 5A for at least the next two seasons with a win.
Hammond Morton [7-5] at Mishawaka [9-3], 7:30 p.m. Friday
Concord [10-2] at Ft. Wayne Dwenger [6-6], 7:30, 7:30 p.m. Friday
Mt. Vernon [11-1] at Indianapolis Cathedral [7-5], 7 p.m. Friday
Columbus East [12-0] at Evansville Reitz [9-3], 6 p.m. Saturday