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Year in review: Top Fort Wayne, state sports stories

More Information

What you said

Here's how you ranked the sports stories of the year in our online polls, from most to least important.

Bob Chase earns hockey's highest honor, 13

Manning, Colts part ways, 10

Longtime Luers coach fired, 8

IU basketball returns to No. 1, 7

ND plays for BCS title, 4

Komets win ninth championship in team history, 4

Tuesday, January 1, 2013 - 4:42 pm

HOOSIERS BACK IN HOOPS SPOTLIGHT

It wasn't that long ago that an emotional men's basketball coach stormed up and down courtside at Indiana University's Assembly Hall and coached his team to the top of the national polls. In fact, it was this season. Tom Crean is following in the footsteps of former Hoosier coach Bobby Knight and has tried to coax every ounce of ability out of his players in pursuit of a championship.

No one better

Many publications had Indiana ranked No. 1 in their preseason polls this fall and so far, the Hoosiers haven't disappointed.

“Starting No. 1 is good," junior guard Victor Oladipo said, "but we'd rather finish No. 1. Don't get me wrong. We love the accolades. We love the recognition. At the same time we realize it's not where you start, but where you finish.”

Entering this season, IU returned most of its firepower from last year's 27-win Sweet 16 team that stirred visions of the program's national title-winning glory days.

Add one of the nation's best freshman classes and you have are off-the-chart expectations.

What you don't have, Oladipo said, is a group of guys so full of themselves that they forget the misery of recent seasons and the reason for the turnaround.

"We'll continue to keep working hard, listen to this coaching staff and playing for each other. We'll take it one game at a time. We're not looking ahead to what we can't affect. We can only affect the here and now.

Everybody's energized. It could be a really special year, and everybody is anxious for the year to start. It's what you dream about – winning a national championship, a Big Ten championship. We're trying to make our dreams come true.”

NOTRE DAME EARNS NATIONAL TITLE SPOT

Notre Dame entered the 2012 football season with little expectations – except from itself. The Fighting Irish weren't even ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 to start the season, but when the regular season concluded, no team was rated higher. In a story that stunned the college football world, Notre Dame won every single game this season and will now play for the BCS National Championship (Monday on ESPN vs. Alabama).

Irish get defensive

Notre Dame utilized the best defense in the nation (in points allowed) throughout this season to fuel its run to the top of the polls.

"Well, that's who we are," Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. "It's been our defense all year. Our offense is able to manage enough points."

The Irish shut down an explosive Oklahoma offense on the road to show everyone that the program was back, then got great performances – and a little luck too – in wins against Pittsburgh and Stanford.

Notre Dame closed its season with an awe-inspiring goal line stand to seal its championship game fate at USC.

"They've had a great goal-line defense all year," USC coach Lane Kiffin said. "They've done that to everybody down on the goal line. ... It's just so hard to score touchdowns versus them.”

Eifert proves elite

As great as the Notre Dame defense was, the Fighting Irish had some weapons offensively, as well.

None were as potent as former Bishop Dwenger High School standout Tyler Eifert.

“… To also play at the level that he's played,” Kelly said of Eifert, “to break the kind of records with the great tight ends that have been here at Notre Dame is an amazing feat. I think he epitomizes in terms of what we look for as a Notre Dame football player.”

Eifert earned the 2012 John Mackey Award, which is given to the nation's best tight end.

"Sometimes at the tight end position you get labeled as either a pass catcher or a run blocker, and (Eifert) has broken that mold," Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said.

"He lines up as a wide receiver. He's lined up attached as a run blocker and a pass protector, because we all knew one thing that he had: He could catch the football."

Eifert recorded 44 receptions for 624 yards and four touchdowns this season, while leading Notre Dame to the national championship game.

During his career, Eifert has totaled 134 receptions, 1,779 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns, which makes him the all-time career leader in receptions and receiving yards by a Notre Dame tight end.

HIGHS AND LOWS FOR BISHOP LUERS

This fall proved to be a season of shock for the Bishop Luers High School football program. No, the Knights did not fail to win an IHSAA Class 2A State Championship, which would have been stunning. However, who guided the team to its fourth consecutive state title did prove to be a sad surprise to many of the Bishop Luers family.

Longtime coach fired

After 33 years of service to his alma mater, Bishop Luers athletic director and football coach Matt Lindsay was fired when the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend learned "inappropriate video clips, none involving nudity," were discovered on Lindsay's computer Sept. 12.

"I know that this matter has been the subject of much speculation in the media and in the community," Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades said in a release. "Because of the concerns of all involved, we have tried to proceed carefully and honestly, though under intense public pressure."

The next day Lindsay was placed on administrative leave by Bishop Luers principal Mary Keefer and he was fired a few days later.

"The only thing I can say is that the 33 years I spent at Luers have been awesome," Lindsay told The News-Sentinel shortly after being fired. "I love the people and I wish them all the best. It's been a great ride."

In the statement, Bishop Rhoades said that in accord with diocesan policy, the matter was reported to law enforcement officials in the Fort Wayne area for their investigation and evaluation.

At this time, no charges have been filed against the longtime educator.

Same old, same old

The Knights had new leadership through the second half of their football season, as former coach Steve Keefer was named as the interim coach in wake of Lindsay's termination. However, the results were the same.

In November, Bishop Luers withstood a rallying Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter squad and came away with a 40-28 win in the IHSAA Class 2A State Championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

"This is what Luers football is all about," senior defensive back Kendrick Mullen said, "digging deep down and playing for the `Luers' on our chests."

A game that looked to be over when Luers went up 27-0 in the second quarter turned into a wild finish where the Knights needed two gut-check drives to claim their fourth straight Class 2A title.

"Our hearts dropped a little," Mullen said when the lead evaporated. "We had a little adversity. But we've been battling adversity all year. We know how to bounce back from tough times like that."

Luers staged two essential final drives, the first one 63 yards, the second one 60 yards. Fifteen of the 16 plays in the drive were running plays. Senior Tyvel Jemison finished off the first drive with a 1-yard touchdown run, while senior Jaylon Smith capped the last drive with a 16-yard scoring run.

Smith, who is headed to Notre Dame as a linebacker, finished with 150 yards rushing and three touchdowns.

The final two drives came from deep within, that reserve of energy that champions seem to possess.

Smith is the best

At no point in the 21-year history of the Indiana Mr. Football Award had any of the many great players from Fort Wayne been recognized as the state's best.

That changed earlier this month.

Bishop Luers senior Jaylon Smith was named as Indiana's 2012 Mr. Football.

The 6-foot-4, 220-pound Notre Dame commit receiving 23 votes, 11 more than runner-up Tim Kimbrough of Warren Central.

“He is very gratified," Bishop Luers coach Steve Keefer said about Smith. "He tries to stay very humble and is focused on moving to Notre Dame and is working towards that."

Smith culminated his senior season with Bishop Luers' fourth consecutive state championship. He rushed for 150 yards and three touchdowns in that game, in addition to his usual dominant performance at linebacker.

For the season, Smith finished with 75 tackles, 20 tackles for loss and eight sacks. After not seeing the ball a lot offensively to begin the season, Smith came on in the second half to finish with more than 1,200 yards rushing and 18 scores.

Smith was also named as the recipient of the Dick Butkus Award, which is given to the nation's best linebacker.

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS ON A WILD RIDE

If a Hollywood screenwriter wrote a story mirroring that of the 2012 Indianapolis Colts, movie studios would laugh and probably even chastise the writer for being too farfetched. The Colts allowed the greatest player in team history – heck, arguably the greatest player in history – to walk away following a disastrous 2011 campaign. And the team actually got better.

No more Manning

After 13 seasons of being the most beloved athlete in city history, Colts quarterback Peyton Manning and team owner Jim Irsay stood in front of the media in early March at the Colts practice facility and talked about the Colts'/Irsay's decision to release Manning. Irsay thanked him profusely, wished him well, vowed to retire his jersey and choked up.

"It's a difficult day here, with shared pain between Peyton and myself," Irsay said.

Manning told Colts fans and the city he loved them and said he understood the circumstances that produced this breakup. Then he choked up.

“I sure have loved playing football for the Indianapolis Colts," Manning said.

Later that month, Manning signed with Denver and is a candidate for the 2012 Most Valuable Player Award.

Colts are in 'Luck'

With the first pick in the NFL Draft, the Colts took Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck. He merely stepped into a situation where he had the biggest shoes to fill of any rookie in the league.

While Luck wasn't Manning, he showed more than a little potential to be the perfect quarterback for the next decade of Colts football. He set NFL records for most yards passing by a rookie in a single game (433), most 300-yard games (six through Dec.9) and broke Manning's record for most passing yardage in a single season.

Most importantly, Luck recorded more rookie wins than any No.1 quarterback pick in history.

He also showed a knack for late-game heroics, setting a new rookie mark for most fourth-quarter or overtime game-winning drives.

“Show me a guy who has the most resilience in the NFL, and I'll introduce you to my quarterback Andrew Luck,” Colts tight end Dwayne Allen said.

Wins accumulate despite changes, coach's illness

With Manning injured all through the 2011 season, the Colts went from being a perennial Super Bowl contender to 2-14 and the worst team in football.

Improbably, they flipped it around again in 2012. Despite getting rid of several big-name players (Manning, Dallas Clark, Gary Brackett, Jeff Saturday, Joseph Addai), the Colts made run at a playoff spot.

The team returned only a few veteran players (Reggie Wayne, Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis) and hired a new coaching staff led by first-year head coach Chuck Pagano.

After the Colts started off 1-2, the team was hit by devastating news that Pagano had been diagnosed with a form of leukemia. He went on a leave of absence and offensive coordinator Bruce Arians became the interim coach. Arians maintained contact with Pagano and build on his foundation.

“We have a group of young men and older men who have a cause,” Arians said. “When you play for a cause, you play together. It's all 53 guys for one common cause and that's to extend this season for Chuck.”

Pagano attended some games while undergoing treatment with the hope of joining the team for a playoff run.

Mr. Irrelevant

One of the players along for the ride is quarterback Chandler Harnish, who had record-setting careers at Norwell High School and Northern Illinois University. Harnish was taken in the draft by the Colts with the No.253 and last pick of the draft, a spot affectionately called “Mr. Irrelevant.”

The selection was huge for Harnish, who grew up a Colts fan, attending many games.

“He is relevant, because otherwise you wouldn't burn a pick on somebody," Colts general manager Ryan Grigson said after the draft. "He is very smart and mobile. He is a really good leader and you don't get a bad word about this guy. He's got ability and we are happy with the pick. He was up there on our board higher than when we took him, believe me.”

Harnish made the Colts' initial 53-man roster but was later released and signed to the team's practice squad. He hopes to compete for a roster spot with the team again next season, perhaps as the No.2 quarterback behind Luck.

CHAMPIONSHIP – AND BIG CHANGES – FOR KOMETS

This past year brought some changes to Fort Wayne's storied hockey club. The Komets again found themselves moving to a new league, moving from the Central Hockey League to the East Coast Hockey League, which brought an increase in the level – and the amount – of competition. Throw in the fact that the National Hockey League remains in the midst of a lockout, and the 23-team ECHL rosters have been impacted as well. However, the one constant for Fort Wayne is that this team continues to thrive.

Nine is fine

Prior to the fifth game of the CHL Presidents' Cup Finals in mid-May, the legendary Bob Chase boldly – and accurately – stated that when the Fort Wayne Komets decide to play to their potential, they are unbeatable at this level. Nearly six decades of announcing Komets games has obviously paid dividends in Chase's bank of knowledge.

Fort Wayne played spectacularly at both ends of the ice and left no doubt among the 9,560 fans in attendance at Memorial Coliseum as to who is the best team in the Central Hockey League with a 6-3 win over Wichita.

"It's big, it's big," Komets forward Kaleigh Schrock repeated for emphasis. "I used to watch (the Komets) win cups when I was a little boy, and now I've got two as a player. It's just the same as it was when I was watching it as a little boy. It feels just like that."

The victory gave the Komets a 4-1 series win and the franchise's ninth championship.

How dominating were the Komets?

Facing the most successful team in the league during the regular season, Fort Wayne went off on Thunder goaltender Bryan Hogan almost immediately. The Komets got five goals in the first period; including a stretch of four goals (Colin Chaulk, Schrock, Frankie DeAngelis and Bobby Chaumont) over a span of 3:26 as they took a 5-2 lead into the second period.

New league brings new faces, competition

After playing their first 47 seasons in one hockey league, the Fort Wayne Komets joined their fourth league in the past 14 seasons just days after winning the Ray Miron Presidents' Cup in the Central Hockey League in May, as the club affiliated with the East Coast Hockey League.

"With the CHL ... one of the things we have been looking at very closely is where are our geographic rivals going," Franke said. "What's going to happen with Dayton, what's going to happen with Evansville, what's going to happen with Quad City and what's going to happen with Bloomington? Those four pieces are very, very important to the puzzle. If two or three of those teams go away, then all of a sudden Fort Wayne up in northeast Indiana becomes almost the Rapid City of the northeast in the CHL.

"The ECHL, on the other hand, has Toledo, Kalamazoo and Cincinnati. Those are old-time Fort Wayne rivals. When we moved to the CHL a couple of years ago, Toledo was in a mothball situation because they tore down the old Sports Arena. and they hadn't played for a couple of years. There was a question what was going to happen with Toledo, and there was a question with Kalamazoo where they were going to be. Everything was way up in the air two years ago, and that's why we made the decision to do the two-year deal in the CHL."

A Fort Wayne legend goes national

Everyone in northeastern Indiana and northwestern Ohio knows of the greatness that Bob Chase has brought to the sport of hockey. Now the rest of the hockey world knows, as well.

In October, the 86-year-old Komets broadcaster received the Lester Patrick Trophy for service to hockey in the United States at the USA Hockey Hall of Fame banquet in Dallas.

"It had to be one of the most memorable moments in my life," Chase said. "You don't move to those heights very often when you spend your life in a sport like this. I'm glad I'll have pictures to help me remember it all. This was top-of-the-mountain stuff."