In November of 2006, Lincoln held off host Jasper to claim its sixth sectional championship. Before the next season, the school’s winningest coach Mike Hidde retired and the Alices’ enrollment dropped them from Class 4A to 3A, into the same sectional with nearby rival Princeton.
Since then, the Big Eight Conference foes have never met in the postseason despite being in the same field for a dozen years. That comes to an end Friday, and Lincoln also hopes its sectional drought comes to an end as the Alices visit the Tigers in a 7:30 p.m. start for the Sectional 30 championship.
Lincoln (7-4) carries a six-game winning streak with it into Princeton (3-8), including a 34-10 margin at the Tigers’ field three weeks ago. Among teams still playing, Princeton has the fewest regular-season wins with just one, but the Tigers were impressive a week ago in upsetting eight-win Edgewood, 35-6.
“There’s no need for us to overlook them,” Lincoln coach Levi Salters said. “One of the important things is that we have to match their intensity early. They’re going to be pretty excited. We can’t overreact to anything, and if we do get down (on the scoreboard), we can’t press or anything. We just have to play our game and make them play all four quarters.”
The Alices’ game recently has involved a prominent passing attack and a strong defense. Junior quarterback Eric Vickers has led the charge, but he’s received plenty of help from his receiving group, specifically seniors Brody Ruggles, Torrence Gillis and Favian Hernandez.
In two postseason games, Vickers is 39-of-60 (65 percent) for 533 yards and eight touchdowns. Ruggles has six receptions for 149 yards and four scores in those two games, but Hernandez has been the primary target recently as 22 of his area-high 38 receptions have come in the last three weeks.
Hernandez also highlighted the defense last week with a 68-yard interception returned for a touchdown. Lincoln’s pass rush, paced by juniors Julius Hardiman and Andrew Brown, who also snared an interception last week, has also wreaked havoc on opponents.
“Vickers has been throwing it well for us. He’s been very accurate, and the receivers have done a good job of understanding that when teams give us zones
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they need to settle into areas and take what the defense gives us,” Salters said. “The defense has been playing well, and we want to continue to make things difficult for (Princeton). We need to limit big plays and create turnovers, and when you do those things you usually find yourself in a good position.
“We want to make them have to put together long drives. A lot of high school teams, the longer the drive is extended, the better chance that the offense is going to make a mistake.”
Salters added that both the offense and defense would be aided by a better rushing attack, which has been an area of focus this week.
The Alices have managed just 60 yards combined on the ground over the last two games. Not helping matters is that center Logan Vonderheide went down with a knee injury last week, and though MRI results have yet to come back, Salters didn’t think the senior would play. Junior Parker Howder, who started on the line at the start of the season, steps in at center. Senior running back Rae Haislip has been limited by an ankle injury the last few weeks, but Salters said he’s getting healthier every day. The coach also hinted that Hardiman could be in line for more touches.
The Tigers’ offense poses a threat due to the unknown. Princeton ran a three-wide receiver set through seven weeks before going with a flexbone triple-option prior to the regular season meeting against Lincoln. The Alices saw the flexbone, but the Tigers ran a hybrid of both offenses in a sectional-opening win against Owen Valley. In last week’s 35-6 pasting of Edgewood, Salters said the triple-option was scrapped.
“They’ve kind of flip-flopped what they’ve done the last three weeks,” Salters said. “We’ll be ready for everything, but with the success they had last week, I’d expect to see the three-wide set.”
Either way, Princeton primarily wants to run the ball. Senior Darrion Madison, who’s missed some time with an injury, led the way against the Mustangs with 179 yards on 17 carries, but junior Ben Heidenreich carried the load against Lincoln with 62 yards. Senior southpaw quarterback Gerit Bock was 7-of-8 for 77 yards last week, and 6-4 senior receiver Dominic Hardiman flashed his skills last week by completing a pair of passes, including the opening score.
“Bock is an accurate thrower when he has time. Madison is a little smaller, but he has great speed and he runs hard. If we can limit their running game, that’ll make things tough for them,” Salter said. “Hardiman is a big-play receiver for sure, and he was involved in some trick plays last week. The defense has to be aware of where he is.”
Salters is seeking to become just the third Lincoln coach to win a sectional crown, joining Joe Purichia (one) and Hidde (five), though it’ll be the first that doesn’t involve Hidde, as he played for Purichia on the 1978 sectional team. A victory also gives the Alices eight wins in three straight seasons for the first time since 1995-97.
The Tigers are gunning for their second sectional title, their first since 1986.
If Lincoln wins, it hosts the Sectional 29 winner for the regional next week, either Indianapolis Ritter (7-4) or Danville (6-5), which haven’t played each other since the 1987 sectional.
Class 3A, Sectional 30
Semifinals - Last Friday results
Lincoln 42, Brown County 19
Princeton 35, Edgewood 6
Final - Friday's game, 7:30 p.m.
Lincoln (7-4) at Princeton (3-8)