But despite all the offensive fireworks, a berth in the state championship still came down to the fundamentals, including controlling the line of scrimmage.
Snider won that battle in the second half by a wide margin on the way to a 42-39 victory over the Pirates to secure the program's first championship berth since 2004.
After rushing for more than 100 yards in the first half, Merrillville senior Dylon Collins did not find much room to maneuver over the final two quarters. While the Pirates did have to pass the ball more due to being behind, particularly in the fourth quarter, Collins was held in check in the third when he struggled for just 8 yards.
For the game, Collins rushed for 115 yards for the Pirates.
“We told our guys at halftime, this is going to be the toughest second half you have ever played, and that came to fruition,” Snider coach Kurt Tippmann said. “Good teams aren't going to lay down and (Merrillville) certainly didn't.”
Effectively written off in the middle of the week, senior lineman Weston Painter battled through a knee injury to see significant action for the Panthers. He was an integral part of the Snider defense rising to the challenge in the second half.
“Weston is the heart and soul of our team,” Tippmann said.
The Pirates surely did not go away on Friday night, but Snider not only stopped the run but also ran the ball when it needed to. As time was winding down and Merrillville needing a defensive stop, the Panthers pounded the ball between the tackles like they did all night.
While Snider needed a pass completion for a first down to effectively end the game with just over a minute left, it was the running game that milked the clock after coming up big time and again earlier in the contest.
The Snider running back trio of Je'Norie Smith, Nick Reese and Tyrell Swain that has been so effective all year amassed 208 yards rushing.
“Our offensive line stepped up and we made plays,” Smith said. “We like to run the ball. When someone gets tired we have another guy who can come in that is fresh.”
Smith did not score a touchdown, but he carried the load with 79 yards on 22 carries.
Swain carried 15 times for 112 yards and scored twice.
“Tyrell probably played our best game for us,” Tippmann said. “The poor kid has been battling colds and sickness for most of the playoffs. He is finally starting to feel a little healthy and he had a burst tonight.”
There were some struggles for the Panthers on Friday, particularly in the defensive backfield in giving up more than 320 yards passing to Jake Raspopovich. But Tippmann said earlier in the week that there was no way that his team was going to shut Merrillville's offense completely down. It simply needed to make enough plays to win.
Snider did that Friday night.