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An improbable repeat

November 7, 2018

For Craig Koehler, Oct. 12 seems like ages ago.

His Concord team was just thrashed 45-3 by Warsaw to finish the regular season 4-5, the first losing record for the tradition-rich program since 2003.

“We had a transition with some players,” the Minutemen coach said Monday. “Some guys are no longer with the team. We strayed from what we’ve been program-wise. We had to get back to being us, doing things the way we did before.”

While it was largely a foregone conclusion that Michigan City would be playing in Friday’s Class 5A regional, the likelihood of Concord providing the competition seemed remote. A win over Elkhart Memorial and an upset of Elkhart Central later, and here they are, en route to Ames Field on Friday for a rematch of last year’s meeting.

“We’ve won 10 (sectionals) here and I’ve been around for most of them,” Koehler said. “This one’s probably a little more rewarding. We’ve been so up and down. On paper, Elkhart Central was probably better, more talented. There weren’t a lot of people outside our locker room who thought we could win the game, but the kids showed up. We played our best game of the year.”

Concord was senior-heavy last year, when it went 10-2, falling to City 21-7 in a physical battle on a frozen field. Koehler had eight players from that team go to college for football and returned only six or seven starters, including quarterback Ethan Cain, who was lost to a torn ACL during the 2017 season. Cain threw for 192 yards in the 17-14 win over Elkhart Central with Carter Neveraski contributing 81 yards rushing and receiving with both touchdowns.

“It’s been a process,” Koehler said. “The kids just have a belief right now. There’s a lot to be said for that. The longer I do this, the more I realize how undervalued that is. This team believes. It makes a big difference.”

All that said, Koehler knows that will carry the Minutemen only so far against Michigan City.

“Overall, I think they’re a better outfit top to bottom, all three phases,” he said. “They’re better defensively. They obviously don’t have the length at quarterback, but (Bryce Hayman) is efficient, he’s accurate and he can run. They’re just as skilled in the backfield, especially with (Lyric McFarrin). He’s a downhill guy. They’ve got quality talent.”

While last year’s game was largely a coin flip, Koehler realizes this one is not.

“We’re smart enough to know what we’re up against, the task that’s in front of us,” he said. “It’s going to take our best game, but we look forward to the challenge. I like the fact that we’re playing our best football of the year. We’re going to show up, play the game the right way, give our best effort and let the chips fall where they may. It’s going to require us to play a near flawless game and have some breaks go our way. We’re going to come over on the bus with the intent to win the game.”

Class 5A Regional

Friday

Concord (6-5) at Michigan City (9-2), 6:30 p.m.

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