Championship football returns to South Putnam

Monday, November 14, 2011

An old feeling returned to South Putnam football on Friday, Nov. 4 at North Putnam. It was the feeling of a championship.

The program with a proud history had not played in a November football game since 2005. They had not won in November since their 2002 run to the Hoosier Dome.

But the program with a proud history on the gridiron -- eight sectional titles, six regionals, two semi-states and the 1986 Class A state title -- had a simple goal in 2011: Play in November.

"You feel like if you're playing in November, you're playing for championships," Eagle coach Troy Burgess said. "And we accomplished that. We played for two championships -- we were fortunate enough to get one of the two."

So while the Eagles' 41-27 loss at Guerin Catholic on Friday certainly stung, Burgess reminded his team of how far they've come. They added a ninth sectional title to the program and played an amazing eight-game stretch that saw them outscore opponents 362-85.

"You played your butts off," Burgess told them. "(Guerin) made some plays when they needed to. Hats off to them."

The coach said his team would have jumped at the chance for a 10-3 season and a regional appearance in June. It also might have come as a surprise to the mid-September Eagles.

Following a crushing week-four loss to North Putnam (48-6), the 2-2 Eagles faced another undefeated county rival when they played Greencastle at Indiana State on Sept. 17 in an afternoon affair.

It was a back-and-forth contest, but the Eagles sealed the 28-24 victory with a late interception. From there, they were on their way.

South Putnam breezed through the rest of the regular season and two rounds of sectional, allowing the opponent to score in double figures only once and never scoring fewer than 35 points.

And then came the Nov. 4 rematch at North Putnam. Going by the regular season score, playing the game seemed like a formality.

South had other plans, though, controlling the ball for most of the second half on its way to a 40-22 upset victory. It was a 60-point swing from the regular season outcome.

The Eagles had accomplished their November goal and won a championship in the process.

Even with the regional loss a week later, it was quite a finish for the 14 Eagle seniors.

"It hasn't set in yet, but we're going to miss this group of seniors an awful lot," Burgess said.

Departing for the Eagles are Zach Smith, Seth Hammond, Sam Gould, Cody Heller, Rob Gibson, Andy Waters, Josh Wilson, Jesse Gardner, Wade Custis, Jacob Girton, Ty Hewitt, Mitchell Johnson, Michael James and Jermane Wells.

In three years playing varsity, the senior class is 24-10. Even adding in their freshman year gives them an impressive 27-17 record.

"They were able to do something that nobody's ever done at South Putnam. We won a 2A football sectional," Burgess said. South Putnam's other sectionals were all Class A.

"That starts with the seniors," he added. "A year ago today (Friday) almost, they started working in the weight room, getting themselves ready, getting our young guys in the weight room. That starts with them in the offseason and they've done their job."

With a good group taking the lead, the coach felt his entire roster followed suit, playing hard and with class.

"I wouldn't trade this group for any team in the state. They're a very good group of football players, but they're a great group of young men. At the end of the day that's what it's all about," Burgess said.

"We want good football players. That's our job as coaches, to try to make them as good of football players as we can," he continued. "They're very good football players, but more importantly they're great young men. They play with class. They represent our school and our community. They're first-class individuals and I'm very proud of them."

With the departures, the torch passes to next year's Eagles, especially the new group of seniors.

"We've got a great nucleus of young kids," Burgess said. "But with that, we have a bunch of guys who are going to have to step up. It's (up to) next year's group of seniors. Are they going to be able to step up and lead us like this year's group did? I have all the confidence in the world that they will.

"We've put together some consecutive years of very good senior classes. This year's group was no exception and I expect next year's group to do the same."