MERRILLVILLE – Four straight times they had been on this particular doorstep, so of course Jaylon Smith knew just what to do.
Second quarter. Second snap of the quarter. And here Smith was, football in the crook of one elbow, 18 yards and a whole determined bunch of Andrean gold helmets and red jerseys between him and the end zone.
The doorstep to Lucas Oil Stadium and the state finals had never looked more crowded. And so, of course, Smith simply lifted a foot and kicked in the door.
One Andrean jersey hit him and bounced off. Another. Another. And finally, 18 yards later, Smith was stomping into the end zone to help launch the Knights to a 35-21 Class 2A semistate victory that sent Luers (10-4) stampeding to its fourth straight state championship game against Indianapolis Ritter (14-0) at 7 p.m. Friday in Lucas Oil Stadium.
Stampeding being exactly the operative word.
Our game plan was to come out here and play nice physical football, said defensive back Kendrick Mullen, his Wolverine muttonchops framing a wall-to-wall smile. Just play 48 minutes of Luers football.
Luers football is all about being physical out there and making plays on the ball and just playing together as a team, Mullen replied.
They did do that. Led by Smith’s 166 yards on 14 carries, the Knights battered Andrean for 334 rushing yards; five different players scored for Luers. And on defense, Smith and Co. limited a team that came in averaging 43 points, and had topped 60 three times in the playoffs, to three touchdowns and 251 total yards.
That’s what we do, Luers coach Steve Keefer said. Offensive line did a great job, of course, and we’ve got four good running backs. And Jaylon, he’s been coming on real strong in the playoffs.
The Knights scored on three of their four possessions of the first half to take a 21-7 lead at halftime, scoring first by going to the last place Andrean likely suspected: Over the top. After Tyvel Jemison cracked off a 14-yard run and Smith barged for 16 more to the Andrean 30, Michael Rogers slipped behind the Andrean defense, Quinn Cook reared back and threw, and the Knights had a 7-0 lead with 35 seconds left in the first quarter.
On Luers’ next possession, the Knights went back to pounding away at Andrean’s midsection. First, Smith made it 14-0 on his jolting 18-yarder, a score set up by Mullen’s interception. And after Andrean (11-3) retaliated with a 13-play drive that ate up almost six minutes of the second quarter, Jemison broke a 46-yarder to the Andrean 18 to set up his own 3-yard score.
This has been a really tough year for us, you know, Mullen said. We’ve had a lot of things thrown our way just to get down (to state). Now all we have to do is just fill out our goal. That’s all we’re waiting on.