Everywhere you look in the Pirates' spread option offense, there is a player capable of torching you for a big play every time they touch the ball. From senior quarterback Jake Raspopovich, who has set the school's all-time passing mark this season in throwing for over 2,400 yards, to senior running back Dylon Collins and wide receivers Aaron Dye and Cleveland Lomax.
There is no doubt that the Panthers (13-0) will have their hands full in the Class 5A North Semistate game at 8 p.m. Friday at Wayne Stadium.
“Merrillville is similar to teams we have played in that they like to spread the field and get their athletes the ball in space,” Snider coach Kurt Tippmann said. “But I believe they are the deepest offensive unit we have faced all year.”
While the Snider defense must be ready from the opening kickoff on Friday for a team that can points in bunches, it has gotten practice in facing such offenses recently. The Panthers held the dangerous North Side duo of C.J. Jackson and Anthony Linnear 20 points below their season scoring average in the sectional championship game, then slowed Fishers quarterback Connor Christiansen and running back Maurice Campbell late in last week's 36-35 overtime thriller.
“Our schedule, starting in the regular season, has prepared us to play very good offenses,” Tippmann said. “You look at Bishop Luers, you won't play a team with better athletes with the ball in their hands than Luers.”
Snider appeared to struggle at times up front with Fishers a week ago. Some of that could be attributed to the absence of First Team All-SAC lineman Weston Painter, who was out with a leg injury.
Painter has not practiced this week, yet will be a game-time decision on Friday night.
“It is not likely that (Weston) plays, but you never know with him,” Tippmann said. “He constantly has ice on it and is getting treatment, but it will be a game-time issue if he plays or not.”
Tippmann hopes his team does not come out with the same sluggish play that it displayed through three-plus quarters in the victory over Fishers. As players and coaches celebrated the overtime win on the field last week, many were quick to point out how the team underperformed.
“Our film room on Saturday was like a morgue, because we knew we didn't have our best game as players and coaches,” Tippmann said. “In long playoff runs, there always seems to be a game where you are not at your best and you just have to survive that weekend. I think that was our game (last week). We can't replicate it or it will be the last game we play.”
As has been the case throughout the playoff run, the Panthers will be playing within the borders of Allen County this week. Tippmann does admit that it is an advantage in keeping his team's after-school routine the same on Fridays, but perhaps more telling is Snider's road history as a program in semistate games.
“To my knowledge, at least in the time I have been here on the coaching staff, we have not won a semistate game on the road,” Tippmann said. “All the years we have gotten to state, we have won semistate at home.”
While history is on Snider's side in playing in Fort Wayne on Friday, the game will more likely come down to how well the Panthers defend the Merrillville offensive attack.
“We aren't going to shut them out, but we need to be able to tackle their guys,” Tippmann said. “We cannot panic when they get a couple first downs, we just need to line up and play the next down.
“Good things will happen if we stay composed and play good, fundamental football.”