November 2, 2011

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Dallas Jackson is the Senior Analyst for RivalsHigh. Email him your question, comment or story ideas to and follow him on Twitter.

It could only happen in Indiana - and that is not a good thing.

The irrational all-in random-draw playoff format, which is harkening back to the single classification basketball tournament but now forced on football, produces some of the worst playoff paths in the country.

Because of it, the state's two best teams - nationally ranked Indianapolis (Ind.) Warren Central and Carmel (Ind.) High - will meet in a third-round playoff game at a home site instead of a state final meeting at LucasOil Stadium.

The matchup is good enough to be the RivalsHigh national Game of the Week. It's just a wonder as to why it is being played now.

And it isn't just the outsiders questioning how this can be the best way to determine the best team in the state. The coaches are equally confounded.

"This can not be the best way," Carmel coach Kevin Wright said. "It isn't going to change so we do not really complain about it.

"What the real problem isn't that we will have to play a tough Warren Central team at this level of the playoffs it's that the way each of got here isn't equal."

It is another part of the Indiana playoff problem.

Warren Central, No. 7 in this week's RivalsHigh 100, advanced to the third round of the playoffs by beating two teams with a combined record of 10-10 - and both had allowed more points than it had scored on the season.

Neither opponent put up much of a fight and the Indians should be well rested.

Carmel, No. 32, had to defeat a nine-win Indianapolis (Ind.) Lawrence Central team that was ranked in the state.

"We have four starters banged up because of who we played," Wright said. "It isn't something we can dwell on, but it is something that is tough."

But each team is focused on the task at hand.

"This has all the best pieces of a rivalry game," Warren Central coach John Hart said. "It is too bad that it isn't later in the playoffs because I don't think that either of these teams will deserve to be done playing this early."

The two have already met this season in a game that was won by Warren Central on a field goal as time expired, 22-20.

The teams have met 11 times in the last six seasons and familiarity has bred contempt. For more than one reason.

"Coach Wright was the coach here before I came," Hart said. "The last two times we beat them have been exciting finishes on the last play of the game. Our communities are different cultured - we are more diverse and they are more of a bedroom community.

"It is easy to get everyone ready to play this game."

It is also easy to look at past results and know this game will come down to a few critical plays.

"We feel like we beat ourselves last time," Wright said. "We gave them a fumble recovery for a touchdown and then we fumbled again and they scored a touchdown off of it. Now you have to account for them having a great defense to make those plays, but we do not need to go too far away from what we have done all season, we just need to eliminate turnovers and this should be a fantastic game."

Eliminating mistakes is a key to the game that Hart can agree on.

"They made some adjustments against us last time that got the game back going in the second half," he said. "I think we made some mistakes that kept them in the game that we need to clean up."

What they do not see eye-to-eye on is the talent on the field.

"They have Division I football players all over the field," Hart said.

Wright appreciated the thought, but disagreed.

"Let's count," he said. "We have three kids with Division I offers they have nine just on their defense and I think 14 or 15 altogether.

"Hopefully we can make this game about technique because they certainly have the size."

Across the offensive and defensive lines, Warren Central is easily the bully.

The Carmel offensive line averages 240 pounds while the Warren Central defensive line has four Division I players averaging 277 points.

The Warren Central offensive line average is nearing 286 while the Carmel defensive line, even with two of its three Division I players, is still around 245.

Size, however, isn't everything. Hart, in fact, says that the defensive line of Carmel is one of his biggest concerns.

"They are as active as any defensive front you will find," he said. "You can block them, they are human, but they do not stay blocked long because they are so fast."

Being able to open running lanes will be key for each team as they both prefer to be balanced and with a pro-style run-first philosophy.

Wright says coaching this week of the season is easy.

"The kids are ready," he said. "And everyone knows what is at stake. I certainly don't need to be ready for a motivational speech before the game."

For whichever coach that wins, the motivational speech can probably wait another week, too.

The potential reward for winning this game is a fourth-round matchup with the state's No. 3 team, No. 79 Indianapolis (Ind.) Ben Davis.

Only in Indiana.

National GOTW
No. 7 Warren Central v No. 32 Carmel

RB Deionte Buckley (5-9/195, Sr.)
DL Sheldon Day (6-2/285, Sr.)
DL Jonathan Burt (6-2/248, Sr.)
QB Kyle Faunce (6-0/197, Jr.)
DL Langston Newton (6-5/240, Sr.)
S Jimmy Herman (6-3/189, Sr.)
RB Jalen Duncan (5-1/206, Sr.)

When: Friday Nov. 4, 7:00 p.m.
Last Meeting: Sept. 30, 2011 - Warren Central won, 22-20.
Rankings: Warren Central (11-0), No. 1 in Indiana
Carmel (10-1), No. 2 in Indiana

Warren Central wins if: The team can stay emotionally high for four quarters. The game tape from the September game looked like Warren Central was ready to bust the game open before halftime and then it came out lifeless in the second half. This game is being played at Carmel high school instead of the cavernous Lucas Oil Stadium. If the emotional swing hits Carmel's side it will become a raucous crowd that will be hard to get momentum back from. Warren Central is the more talented team on paper but as in all rivalry games paper gets wadded up quickly. It will need to play four full quarters to win a state title.

Carmel wins if: It can get up early and make a big play on defense or special teams. The offense of Carmel could have a tough time sledding against Warren Central and if the team gets behind and Warren Central starts to play downhill it will only get harder. Carmel will need to use its fullback effectively to move the ball and the chains and then force a fumble, interception or poor punt to turn the momentum in its direction.

Prediction: Warren Central was eliminated in the first round last year; Carmel in the second. Both want to prove that its loss was a fluke and make a run to a state title. The home field advantage could be negated as the teams are 12 miles apart and the stands will be packed. The quarterback play of Warren Central will be paramount in this game as the pressure from the Carmel ends could force a turnover that changes the tide. Warren Central gets the win, late, and close.
- Warren Central 24, Carmel 20.

Game of the Week Predictions: 8-3 (10-5 in '10, '09, and '08)

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