North Knox's football team showed off its offense to defeat South Spencer in the opening round of the sectional, 55-21, then became defensive to oust Forest Park in the semifinal last Friday, 25-0.
The Warriors (8-3) are probably going to need both sides of the ball clicking if they want to knock off No. 4 Evansville Mater Dei (9-2) in today's Class 2A, Sectional 40 championship game.
North Knox gets the benefit of hosting the 7:30 p.m. kickoff tilt, but with the high state ranking among them, the Wildcats have plenty of advantages pointing in their favor.
Mater Dei, which has played four 4A schools and two 5A schools in the regular season, ripped through No. 5 Linton in last week's semifinal, 44-20. The game wasn't as close as the final score, as the Wildcats took advantage of the error-prone Miners to forge a 30-0 lead in the second quarter.
Linton is the only team to defeat North Knox by more than a touchdown this season, taking a 28-13 triumph at Warrior Field last month.
Warriors coach Josh Chambers said his team's mindset is going to be a big factor tonight.
"Obviously this is a big game, but it's a game we've been planning on being in all year. We can't let the moment get here and then decide it's too big for us," Chambers said. "I don't want us wound too tight. I just want us focused on playing good football. I like our size matchup with them, and I like that it's at home.
"I doubt if they have played one game on grass this year, and they're used to playing in the middle of the city. We're used to playing where we're surrounded by cornfields."
Both teams rely on their running games and their 1,000-yard rushers.
North Knox depends heavily on senior Cole Richter, who has amassed 1,133 yards running and 17 touchdowns. Richter has been slowed by a shoulder injury and an ankle injury last Friday, but Chambers said the tailback is healthy.
The Warriors also count on sophomore Holtman Doades and junior quarterback Reece Hammelman. Doades has 784 yards rushing, 279 yards receiving and 16 touchdowns. Hammelman has completed 57-of-113 passes for 863 yards and 10 TDs to go with 412 yards rushing and seven scores. Richter, Doades and Hammelman all cleared 100 yards rushing in their sectional-opening win at South Spencer.
The Wildcats count on senior John McGrew, who has run for 1,110 yards and has 18 touchdowns. The next-leading ball carrier is senior quarterback Cole Happe with 378 yards and three scores.
Mater Dei has been a passing team in the past under veteran coach Mike Goebel, who is 226-70 in his 23rd year with the Wildcats. Happe has been proficient throwing the ball, completing 93-of-152 for 1,199 yards and 12 TDs. The top receiver is senior Luke Kassenbrock with 14 catches for 259 yards and four TDs.
Chambers said he expected more run than pass tonight from their spread offense.
"I know they've had years where they've thrown it all over the place. This year they run it quite a bit," he said. "McGrew has good numbers. He's a physical runner, not the fastest, but a talented runner who finishes the play."
Chambers said Mater Dei is a high-school version of the New England Patriots.
"They're not going to kill you with size or top-notch speed. But they're well-built, athletic and do their job on every down," Chambers said. "They play good defense, they tackle well, they block well and do it well all of the time. It's impressive to watch on film. I don't see a lot of mistakes or penalties, just good football.
"Even in their down years, they're good, and this isn't a down year for them."
North Knox is capable of playing good football too. The Warriors have posted a pair of four-game winning streaks, have cleared 50 points four times and recorded their fourth shutout last week against the Rangers.
The defense sparkled last week, led by senior Troy Noland. The linebacker, who has a team-best 94 tackles, returned an interception 62 yards for a touchdown in the sectional semifinal win. Sophomore brother Beau Noland is next with 74 tackles on the season as the duo are tied for the team lead with 16 tackles for loss. Senior 320-pound lineman Dylan Wolfe has 69 tackles, 15 for loss.
North Knox was a Class A state runner-up in 1974, but has not won a sectional under the current format. Mater Dei has collected 20 sectionals, was the Class 2A state champion in 2000 and the state runner-up in 2001, 2011 and 2014.
Chambers said he made it a point to his team to not get caught up in the Wildcats' tournament runs in the past.
"We're not playing against their history," he said. "We're playing against them (tonight)."
The winner takes on the Sectional 39 winner between Triton Central (8-3) and Providence (5-6) in the regional next Friday.
Class 2A, Sectional 40
Semifinals - Last Friday's results
Evansville Mater Dei 44, Linton 20
North Knox 25, Forest Park 0
Final - Today's game, 7:30 p.m.
Mater Dei (9-2) at North Knox (8-3)