Merrillville faces tough Snider team that boasts 37 seniors
By Dave Melton Post-Tribune correspondent November 14, 2012 11:22PM
Snider High School's Je'Norie Smith during the second quarter of Saturday night's game against Cathedral.
Updated: December 19, 2012 12:20PM
FORT WAYNE — After riding more than 120 miles across the state on Friday, Merrillville’s reward for making the trip will be facing its fiercest competition yet: Fort Wayne Snider.
Boasting a perfect 13-0 record, worthy of the No. 2 ranking in the final coaches’ poll, Snider possesses one of the best football squads in the state. The Panthers are led by a mammoth senior class that features 37 players.
“After losing to Penn in semi-state last year, this class took over. They set the tone for our practice and our entire offseason,” said Snider coach Kurt Tippmann, who has a 41-11 record in his fourth year at the program’s helm. “On the field, a lot of our positions are dominated by guys who have been in the program for four years, learning the same techniques and skills.”
That class faced its biggest test last Friday, as the Panthers trailed Fishers 28-14 with only minutes remaining in their regional matchup. Brandon Phelps scored on a quarterback sneak to cut the deficit to seven with 1:20 left. After a quick three-and-out, the Panthers then blocked a Fishers punt and recovered it 28 yards from the end zone and 56 seconds on the clock.
Phelps then hit Quinton Daniels on a 4-yard touchdown pass to tie the game. After Fishers scored on its overtime possession, Je’Norie Smith countered with a 5-yard score of his own. It was Smith again who scored on the ensuing two-point conversion to finish the comeback.
Said Tippmann: “At the beginning, it was a disappointment because we weren’t playing like we were capable and that had a lot to do with Fishers. But we finally got things rolling. To our kids’ credit, they did enough to get the job done.”
Phelps, Smith and Daniels all contributed on offense to the Snider comeback, and those are three important, but not the only, cogs in an offensive machine.
“We have weapons at all of our positions,” Tippman explained. “If defenses take away one thing then there’s another thing that we’re able to exploit.”
“On defense, we have guys that have made plays each week: from the guys up front, to our speed at linebacker that creates plays and the guys in the secondary that have been able to get the ball when it’s up in the air. That carries over to special teams where a lot of those guys have been able to contribute greatly.”
But Tippmann and the Panthers are expecting the Pirates to bring another worthy challenge on Friday night.
“First of all, they pose a huge challenge for our defense,” said Tippmann. “They’re as explosive as any team in the state on offense, a lot of that starts with (QB Jake Raspopovich). He’s pretty good both running and throwing the ball. And those other athletes, when they get the ball, they have breakaway speed.”
He was equally complimentary of the Pirates’ defense.
“It’s probably one of the fastest defenses that we’ll face. They fly around, their linebackers are around the ball all the time and the safeties come down and support the run quickly. A lot of that is their athleticism but a lot of that is also being well-coached.”