“If you’re not having fun coaching this team, this year, why even do it?” Mannigel said. “We’re winning a lot. The kids we’ve got are great kids. If you can’t have fun doing this, you might want to call it a career. This is pretty close to the ultimate, I think.”
Concordia (12-2) has indeed had a season for the ages. The Cadets tied for the second-best record in the Summit Athletic Conference, won Class 3A sectional, regional and semistate titles and will play in their first state-championship game.
Concordia faces Lawrenceburg (13-1) at 3:30 p.m. Saturday in Lucas Oil Stadium.
Mannigel and Concordia athletic director Dean Doerffler made the trip to Lucas Oil Stadium on Monday for the state coaches meeting. Concordia is the only school of the 12 state qualifiers in six classes that has never played in a football state championship.
That new experience will include practice at the stadium on Wednesday.
“You try to maintain some normalcy this week because, ultimately, you have to play a football game and you don’t want to get caught up in the hoopla,” Mannigel said. “At the same time, you want to enjoy it and the kids need to enjoy it. The seniors will never do this again and there’s no guarantee we’re ever going to make it back. We’ll come down Wednesday and practice, let them soak in Lucas Oil Stadium and, hopefully, Saturday won’t be so stunning.”
The Cadets have reeled off 11 straight wins since a 41-21 loss to Class 5A power Snider in Week 3.
They kept surprising outsiders not only with their wins, but with the decisiveness of their wins.
The Cadets gained more confidence each week. The offensive numbers skyrocketed. Senior quarterback Peter Morrison ranks second in the state in passing yards, having completed 227 of 341 (66.5 percent) of his passes for 3,604 yards, 46 touchdowns and only four interceptions.
Senior running back Peterson Kerlegrand rushed for 1,187 yards and 23 touchdowns. Senior receiver Mark Mallers (1,117 yards, 24 touchdowns) and junior receiver Colton Grahovac (1,055 yards, nine touchdowns) broke the 1,000-yard mark. Senior linebackers Drew Bordner and Gabe Vohs led the team in tackles and Bordner picked off seven passes, including an interception-return touchdown in the semistae win over Garrett. Mallers, a safety, picked off six passes this season.
“We dared them to be great and they embraced that, and that does build confidence,” Mannigel said. “It’s one thing for a coach to stand up and say it. But when you do it against the teams we play – most notably, beating Bishop Luers twice, beating Dwenger for the first time in a long time, defeating Carroll the way we did (by 30 points) and taking care of the teams we were supposed to beat - that makes them believe.
“They believe they’re a good team now and they feel like it would take a good team to beat us.”
Lawrenceburg has won nine in a row and rides the power running of senior Austin Bowling, who has rushed for 3,003 yards and 52 touchdowns. Their quarterback, Reid Strobl is no slouch, having thrown for 2,157 yards and 28 touchdowns.
Concordia’s players didn’t consider their semistate win as a destination result. The celebration was modest. Some of that was due to the cold and rainy weather, and the fact Garrett scored 16 points in the last three minutes to make things more uncomfortable.
At least part of the reason is because dynamic teams understand there’s one last step to make things even sweeter.
“If we play well, we feel we’re hard to beat,” Mannigel said. “If we don’t play well, we’re beatable. We walk a fine line. It’s not like we’re a juggernaut. This week will be difficult, with a lot of stuff going on, coming down to practice, pep assembly, Thanksgiving, this being our first time ever (at state).
“If there was ever a time to lose focus, this would be it. Hopefully, with this senior-dominated team, we won’t lose focus."