The 2017 football season has been one of unprecedented gridiron success for the Eastern Greene Thunderbirds.
In fact each of the last three years in succession has brought “the best season in program history” for the once-fledgling Eastern Greene football program.
The Thunderbird gridders are now poised to record even more history in the coming weeks.
The quest begins Friday when the Eastern Greene Thunderbirds entertain the Fountain Central Mustangs in the Class A regional. A win Friday would give Eastern Greene its first-ever regional title.
It has been a gradual building process at Eastern Greene. The varsity program which began in 2003 had never had a winning season prior to coach Joey Paridaen’s arrival.
I first met Coach Paridaen in August 2014 when he took over head coaching duties at Eastern Greene. I immediately sensed the first-year coach intended to instill a level of discipline and work ethic which perhaps hadn’t been present before.
Paridaen’s record speaks for itself. From 5-5 his first year to 8-3 the next followed by last year’s 10-3 mark. Those three losses came at the hands of two of the top three Class A teams in the state.
And this year? The Thunderbirds are 12-0 - and counting - on the field.
Yes, we know about the three forfeits. I’ll call it 9-3 “with an asterisk.”
In my opinion it was an inconsequential “non-event” with unfortunate consequences where the “official” record is concerned. But there’s no denying the Thunderbirds won those games on the field - by huge margins.
This is without a doubt the best team the Thunderbirds have fielded. I say that without reservation and with no disrespect toward the previous teams.
This year’s team has more depth, more weapons - and a much-improved defense.
But to get to this level, Paridaen first had to find some more players.
There were athletes roaming the halls at Eastern Greene who could help the football team. But they weren’t playing football.
One of the coach’s early recruits was Isaac Hamilton who became a standout player.
Isaac then convinced his younger brother Caleb to come out for football the next year. We all know how that turned out!
Caleb in turn talked some of his friends - Joel Weimer, Blayne Campbell, Jaden Evans, Brady Anderson and Ethan Helton to name a few - into giving football a try.
Interestingly, several players have mentioned - the Hamilton brothers and Campbell among them - they gave up football after eighth grade. They became burned out and lost interest. It’s safe to assume their interest in the sport has been rekindled.
I remember an Eastern Greene baseball game at North Central last spring - if you can call it spring. It was cold and rainy, similar to the weather we had two weeks ago for the sectional semifinals.
I was in the first-base dugout and heard Isaac Hamilton telling his teammates about the positive impact football has had at Eastern Greene. Isaac spoke of the pride, the school spirit and the effect success on the football field has had on Eastern’s athletic program as a whole.
One of the things Isaac said was, “We’ve got guys lifting weights for the first time.”
The Eastern Greene football program surely owes Isaac Hamilton some debt of gratitude for its recent success.
Fountain Central has been a historically strong program and is no stranger to postseason success.
The Mustangs have won 11 sectional championships - two straight and three of the last five. Fountain Central enjoyed its greatest success in 2009 and 2010 with back-to-back trips to Lucas Oil Stadium. Also, the Mustangs won a Class A state title back in 1983.
Fountain Central is seeking its fifth regional title.
In 2009 the Mustangs defeated the Linton Miners 21-7 in the regional a week before thrashing Clinton Central 42-14 in the semistate.
Fountain Central enters Friday’s contest 11-1, its lone blemish a 44-14 loss at 3A 7-3 South Vermillion.
Normally I don’t like to use comparative scores to illustrate the relative strength of teams. But I will point out South Vermillion lost at Sullivan 42-28. Also North Vermillion handed the Wildcats a 42-21 setback in Week Two.
John Harrell’s website has Eastern Greene favored 35-28.
NOTE: This information is not to be used for gambling purposes!
Fountain Central runs a spread offense featuring a nice run/pass balance.
The Mustangs average 231 yards through the air, 204 on the ground. The offense averages nearly 40 points a game while the defense allows an average of 12.
Junior quarterback Nathaniel Butts has completed 60 percent of his passes (151 of 251) for 2,765 yards and 33 touchdowns. Butts is also the leading rusher with 804 yards and 13 scores on 153 keepers.
Running back Tim Ellis is the second-leading rusher with 730 yards on 113 carries.
Butts’ favorite targets have been Brandon Howell (45 catches, 899 yards and 13 touchdowns) and Aaron Barnett (39/699/11). Barnett is a big receiver at 6-3, 210.
The Mustangs have good size up front. But they aren’t as big as Eastern’s massive line. This game may be won in the trenches.
If Eastern Greene’s pass defense is up to the task it may be a long night for Fountain Central.
I’m not sure if the Mustangs have the horses - if you’ll pardon the pun - to trample the Thunderbirds this Friday.
Terry Schwinghammer is a sports writer for the Greene County Daily World. He can be reached by telephone at (812) 847-4487, ext. 27. He can also be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.