Eastern Hancock has already toppled one giant this postseason. The Royals will get the chance to take down another heavyweight Friday night.
In the Sectional 37 championship game at the University of Indianapolis’ Key Stadium, Eastern Hancock (6-5) will look to upend Class A No. 7 Scecina (8-3) — the defending state runner-ups — and capture their first sectional title since 2006.
The Royals shocked Class A No. 5 and previously unbeaten Hagerstown in the sectional quarterfinals before defeating Northeastern 34-6 last Friday.
With a victory, EH would host either Attica (9-3) or No. 6 North Vermillion (12-0) next Friday. Scecina would either travel to Vermillion be home against Attica.
Eastern Hancock coach Pat Echeverria is attempting to funnel that momentum into another Friday night stunner, as his Royals enter as 18-point underdogs against the Crusaders.
“We’re excited about the opportunity to play for a sectional championship,” offered the second-year coach. “I told the kids, ‘It’s not like the NBA or MLB. It’s not a seven-game series. We just have to win on one night.’”
Echeverria compared Scecina to Indian Creek — who defeated EH 42-32 on Aug. 31 — instead of Hagerstown.
“They’re two completely different teams,” he offered. “Scecina is a very physical, nasty team up front. Hagerstown was more of a finesse team.
“(But) beating Hagerstown showed our kids that they can play with anyone.”
The Eastern Hancock defense stands to receive a stiff test versus a run-heavy, multiple-back Scecina offense that ranks 10th in Class A in scoring (33.5 points per game) and has been tested against two formidable teams in 4A No. 3 Roncalli and 2A No. 1 Ritter.
“We’re a running team. We’ve got five or six running backs that we’ll run in and out to try and keep them fresh,” said Ott Hurrle, 138-107 in 21 seasons at Scecina. “We’ve got a 5-9 QB (Robert Rennick), so we’re going to run the ball unless we’re forced to throw.”
Hurrle said injuries have limited the Crusaders’ ability to pass. The team’s top two left tackles will be unavailable Friday.
“We can’t afford to lose any more linemen,” he noted.
Echeverria, whose defense surrendered 25.9 ppg in its first eight games but has yielded 10.7 ppg in its last three contests, would prefer to disrupt Scecina’s offensive scheme rather than zero in on specific runners.
“They’re like a well-oiled machine. We have to focus more on stopping plays more than players because they’re all good,” said Echeverria, now 9-12 at EH. “Them using multiple players to run the football isn’t as important as us being in position to stop them.”
Offensively, the Royals have recently relied on a prolific running game to rack up 66 points in their two playoff games. And in addition to feature back Spencer Gilbert (1,507 yards, 7.7 yards per carry, 18 rushing touchdowns), the blue-and-white’s ground game has been boosted by quarterback Logan Splater.
Partly because of poor weather conditions, the sophomore signal-caller has tossed for only 116 yards in sectional play. However, Splater — who entered the playoffs with 97 rushing yards — has run for a combined 226 yards and four touchdowns while averaging just over nine yards per carry in his team’s two postseason tilts.
“(Splater) getting going on the ground has got his confidence going,” Echeverria said of his QB, who hasn’t turned the ball over in four straight games. “If we’re going to move the ball on offense (Friday), we’re going to have to be balanced and keep them on their toes.
“Logan having a big game is very important. He’s confident and prepared to have a good game.”
Add in sophomore Cooper Henderson’s (143 rushing yards, TD) postseason totals, and Hurrle knows his defense will have much to account for Friday.
“(Gilbert, Splater and Henderson) are the three guys skill-wise we have to worry about,” he added.
The Royals offense has scored 359 points this season, which is not only more than the team tallied in the past two seasons combined (253), but according to available records, doubles as the program’s highest single-season total since 1994.
In 2011, EH notched 20 or more points in a game twice. A year later, with Echeverria’s young team grasping his wide-open offense, the Royal offense has flourished with nine games of 20 or more points, including four games of scoring 40 or more.
“We kept it simple last year, Echeverria noted. “Now, the kids are comfortable with the base offense and we can spread the field to open up running and passing lanes.”
Key Stadium (capacity 5,500) has served as a home field twice this season for Scecina, which does not have a football field on its Indianapolis campus. The stadium’s playing surface is FieldTurf, which should stabilize footing in the event of poor weather.
Eastern Hancock, which practiced on Knightstown’s FieldTurf Wednesday in preparation for Friday’s game, won’t be underestimated by Scecina.
“They’re good, I can tell you that,” Hurrle said. “They’re playing their best football right now and that’s a compliment to their coaching staff.”
Notes: Echeverria said Gilbert as well as linemen Jake Hicks and Mitchell Kramer were named to the Mid-Indiana Football Conference’s all-league team. … Gilbert is 133 yards short of the single-season rushing record Brett Bragdon set in 2006. ... EH has won eight sectional titles, Scecina six. … By going 11-4 in 2011, Scecina finished over .500 for the first time in eight seasons.