Gilbert understands it fully.
“I have so much respect for Snider and coach (Kurt) Tippmann and coach (Russ) Isaacs before him,” Gilbert said. “I played for Ben Davis in 1992 when they beat us, I recruited their kids when I was a college coach. I know this program and have loads of respect for it.
“It went way better than I thought. I thought we could beat them, but I didn't come here expecting we could get after them like we did.”
Westfield finished the regular season ranked No.1 in the state. The Shamrocks' play against Snider indicates that ranking has plenty of validity.
From the first possession of the game, when Westfield marched 82 yards in 13 plays for a score, the Shamrocks looked like the more fine-tuned offense and the more aggressive team.
Westfield used a battering-ram running game with Elvin Caldwell (24 carries, 125 yards) and a precision passing game with quarterback Nick Ferrer (20-of-27 passing for 287 yards and four touchdowns).
Ferrer completed 10 passes for 143 yards and a touchdown to junior wide receiver Ben Lotfalian and five passes for 57 yards and three touchdowns to 6-foot-3 Ball State recruit Devin Reece.
“The quarterback, we couldn't get him off rhythm,” Tippmann said. “If we were giving him too much space, he'd shread us, so we had to man-up. But No.6 (Reece) is a hard matchup to man-up. When things are not going right, there's not a lot of answers. To their credit, they executed things very well. They're very precise in their routes and their throws. Then they'd hit a run and that just makes it hard to defend.”
Westfield (11-1) will play Concord (10-2) for a Class 5A semistate title next Friday. Snider finished the season 9-3.
Westfield doesn't have nearly the football tradition that Snider possess. This is the school's third regional title, with the previous ones coming in 1992 and 1993 when Westfield was in Class 2A.
Gilbert, who came to Westfield after five years as an assistant coach at Wabash College, has built a state contender in three years. Westfield was 5-6 in 2011 and 3-7 last season.
“My first meeting with them I talked about a state championship and they were like, 'Here?' “ Gilbert said. But they have stuck it out and the resolve they've shown is incredible. This is an awesome group of seniors, very blue collar, humble and hungry and that's a good combination.”
Snider's best chance to make a game of it came late in the second quarter. The Panthers trailed 22-0, but had a third-and-goal at the Westfield 3 when Snider quarterback Colton Painter tried to stretch the ball across the goal line on a run and fumbled.
Later in the game, Westfield stopped Snider running back Jabri Bramley on 4th-and-goal at the 1-yard line.
“We just came up short in those situations when we had great field position,” Tippmann said. “Down at the goal line, that was huge at the end of the first half. They made plays and we didn't.”
Snider prevented a shutout in the fourth quarter when Painter hit Alec Reuille for a four-yard touchdown pass.
Tippmann said the Panthers will look back and take some pride in a season that included their 13th sectional title in the last 14 seasons, and seventh in a row.
“Our goal every year is for each senior class to leave a championship legacy in the history of the program,” Tippmann said. “They certainly did that. The season ended earlier than we wanted it to, but the senior class can be proud of what they did.”Westfield*7*15*14*0*—*36
W-Ben Lotfailian 4 pass from Nick Ferrer (Nick Dowd kick)
W-Ferrer 2 run (Dowd pass to Nick Krieg)
W-Devin Reece 11 pass from Ferrer (Dowd kick)
W-Reece 6 pass from Ferrer (Dowd kick)
W-Reece 13 pass from Ferrer (Dowd kick)
S-Alec Reuille 4 pass from Colton Painter (Shane Leonard kick)
Rushing: W/Elvin Caldwell 24-125, Brandon Karsnick 5-10, Ferrer 5-(-5); S/Neandre Billingsley 13-23, Reuille 4-13, Andreas Gomez-Espino 4-4, Painter 4-(-5), Money Woods 3-19, Jibri Bramley 2-2.
Passing: W/Ferrer 20-27-287-1; S/Painter 9-17-137-0.
Receiving: W/Lotfailian 10-143, Reece 5-57, Milo Bean 4-63, Nick Henderson 1-24; S/Isaiah Newton 3-41, Reuille 2-14, Anthony Wilkes 2-9, Gomez-Espino 1-68, Logan Godfrey 1-5.