REGGIE HAYES: Has SAC competition prepared Snider for Carmel’s impact?

Snider running back Christian Covington  runs for yardage against Bishop Luers in the regular-season finale. Snider takes on Carmel in the regional championship game at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Spuller Stadium. (Photo by Josh Gales for News-Sentinel.com)

Snider running back Christian Covington runs for yardage against Bishop Luers in the regular-season finale. Snider takes on Carmel in the regional championship game at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Spuller Stadium. (Photo by Josh Gales for News-Sentinel.com)

The very thing that makes the Summit Athletic Conference the perfect regular-season high school football league sometimes works against its teams in the playoffs. It’s all provincial.

Snider is about to be broadsided by something new Friday.

Now don’t get me wrong. The Panthers might adjust quickly to that broadside and slam defending Class 6A champion Carmel right back. Snider is playing well right now and has an experienced coaching staff and some great players. The Panthers can definitely win this regional championship game at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Spuller Stadium.

But Snider hasn’t faced a Carmel yet, unless you count practice, which Snider coach Kurt Tippmann does.

“We go against ourselves, and I have to say that has to be the best preparation for it,” Tippmann said.

Snider had one regular-season scare in its nine SAC games – a 34-31 win over Bishop Dwenger in Week 8 – and a bunch of blowouts en route to an undefeated regular season. The No. 2 Panthers (11-0) then doubled down and beat SAC foes Homestead and Carroll a second time to win the Class 6A sectional.

No. 10 Carmel (7-4) doesn’t have the unblemished record, but there’s little doubt it has played a tougher schedule. The Greyhounds played all 6A schools, including five that finished in the Top 15 in the polls, and also played a team from Louisville, Ky.

Tippmann has coached against Carmel over the years, and Snider has had success against Carmel, but the current players have never played the Greyhounds since Snider was previously in Class 5A.

“They’re the defending 6A state champions, the biggest school in the state and probably the biggest program in the state,” Tippmann said. “They’re deep at every position. You watch them on offense, defense, they don’t put a guy on the field that isn’t a good player. They’re deep, they’re good, they’re extremely well-coached and they’re physical.”

Looking for stars, Carmel has plenty, led by returning quarterback Jake McDonald, who returned from injury and was 12-of-15 passing for 171 yards and three touchdowns in Carmel’s 41-20 sectional title win over No. 6 Lafayette Jefferson. Running back Camari Hunt (96 yards vs. Lafayette Jeff), wide receivers Atticus Clouse (113 yards vs. Lafayette Jeff) and Aidan Ellison and defensive end Beau Robbins are big-time playmakers.

“No. 41 (Robbins) – he’s an elite player,” Tippmann said.

In other words, Carmel is unlike any team the Panthers have faced this season.

“Yes, it’s a huge challenge, but it’s also a privilege,” Tippmann said. “This is what Snider football is all about, too. The history and tradition of the program has been against the Carmels and the Penns and the Ben Davises. It’s something we look forward to.”

Tippmann said he feels the SAC schedule has prepared Snider well for the postseason in past seasons.

The close call against Dwenger this season was the wake-up call to the necessary physicality Snider will need to deal with Carmel, Tippmann said.

“Carmel is big, they’re strong and they’ll hit you,” Tippmann said. “That’s one of the things that helped us in the Bishop Dwenger game. You can always count on that against a Bishop Dwenger team. We did not, at first, respond very well.”

Dwenger jumped to 21-0 lead in that game, handing Snider adversity that it had not faced all season. It took a strong comeback, and a late-game field goal from Jack James to snare the victory.

Since that game, Snider has been dominant, beating Luers 48-7, Homestead 37-0 and Carroll 52-14.

“We knew, as a staff, coming down the road this was the kind of physical play we were going to face in 6A, and that’s why it was good for us to face that kind of challenge,” Tippmann said.

Snider can beat Carmel, but it will need a full team effort, and perhaps some unheralded players to step up, particularly in light of the loss of safety and kick returner Ethan Hoover to a knee injury.

Offensively, Snider will continue to rely on its running game with Christian Covington (128.8 yards per game) and A’Nyis Lockett (57.6 yards per game). The passing attack of Michael Haupert (1,553 yards, 18 touchdowns, four interceptions) has improved steadily, and he has a bevy of receivers, led by David Nakasen (29 catches, 508 yards, six touchdowns).

The defense is loaded with playmakers in Brandon Kocks, Austin France, Justin Kopke, Johnell Hogue, Zach McDowell, Lawrence Johnson and Kerry Perry. Listing the entire defense would be required to name all the important defenders.

“The physical part (of playing Carmel), we will adjust to,” Tippmann said. “Most importantly, we have to put a premium on being fundamentally good.”

Forget size of school, forget reputations and forget comparing the type of schedules each team played.

“It comes down to fundamental things,” Tippmann said. “Whenever we’ve played Carmel, they’ve all been great, classic games. They’re the defending 6A state champ. We all need to be ready.”

Snider will find out sooner rather than later whether it is, indeed, prepared.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Reggie Hayes at rhayes@news-sentinel.com.

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