TERRE HAUTE —
In his first two seasons as head football coach at Terre Haute North High School, Chris Barrett’s Patriots drew Terre Haute South in the first round of the sectional both years and the first day of pregame preparation was fairly routine, he indicated this week.
“You compare what you did in the first game, you try to fix any problems you had and you study the film to look for any new things [the Braves] are doing,” he said this week.
“Then you spend the next five days telling [the players] that just because we won the first time doesn’t mean we’ll win the second time.”
Barrett has been doing the same thing this week, because today the two Terre Haute schools will meet in postseason play for the seventh time.
“I knew we were due [to draw North],” said South’s Mark Raetz, who will be coaching a Class 5A sectional game against the Patriots for the first time.
The 7 p.m. game at North might be the first time South has ever played there. Barrett’s two sectional games against the Braves both were on South’s field and some of the postseason meetings were at Memorial Stadium.
It’s also a tiebreaker of sorts. In the previous six seasons with two North-South games, each team has won six times — two sweeps for each and two splits.
Although Raetz will be coaching a sectional rematch for the first time, it’s not the first he’s experienced. In 1996, when he was a senior at South, the Braves and Patriots met twice — and Raetz is hoping 2012 has a better outcome.
“It didn’t go well either time back then,” Raetz recalled. “North [which won 30-7 in the regular season and 40-9 in the sectional game] had a really strong team back then, guys like Steve Englehart, Jamar Cottee and Garry Handlin.”
Both games were more competitive than those scores indicate — South fumbled away a scoring opportunity each time when the score was still close — and Raetz remembers appreciating the second chance for a couple of reasons.
“The second time around, there’s a lot less extracurricular hype,” he explained. “As a player, I felt [the sectional] game was more important than the first one, and it was nice to be able to focus exclusively on the game.”
Billy Blundell, currently the quarterback coach for the Patriots, played that position for both the rematches that Barrett coached. Each time, like this year, North entered the sectional with a Victory Bell win and a better record, but South won in 2002 and almost did in 2003.
“It doesn’t matter what the records are,” Blundell said. “My senior year, [the Braves] hadn’t won a game all year, but we go to South and they’re putting up a fight.
“When you’re a player, you kind of just assume [a victory] is going to happen again … you’ve got to stay focused and take care of business.”
The second chance was important to North back in the fall of 1986, the first sectional pairing of the two schools and, as it turned out, the biggest turnaround. South won 20-3 for the Victory Bell, but the Patriots won 27-0 in the sectional game as Ernie Thompson rushed for 137 yards and a touchdown.
“I remember going into that week thinking it might be my last chance [to beat South],” Thompson reflected this week. “We never won a Bell game [my three years on the varsity].”
That 1986 sectional game was the beginning of a trivia question too. Two of North’s other touchdowns were scored that night by Otha Scott and Randy Davies, both of whom played for the Braves the next season. Davies — who is Thompson’s half-brother — also scored in a South win during the 1987 season, making him the only player so far to score for both teams. “That was really bittersweet,” Thompson noted.
Thompson is now an attendance officer with the Vigo County School Corp. — not to mention being a stay-in-school mentor who also supervises workouts for athletes throughout the community — and he’ll probably be at the game tonight, but not rooting for either team.
“I usually sit by myself, try to guess what the coaches are doing,” he said.
From his playing days, he added, “I just remember, No. 1, that I always had great respect for Terre Haute South and the competition.”
He mentioned North’s A.J. Grady and South’s Dylan and Danny Banks among the athletes he’s worked with during previous summers and appreciates both sides of town — something he learned at a young age.
“All my coaches when I was growing up — Landis Fairrow, Virgil Morris, Mr. [Danny] Tanoos at the Boys Club — they always taught me respect, no matter who was wearing the other jersey, and that never leaves you,” Thompson said.
“I enjoy the competition for both sides with respect to the [Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference]. I’ve seen both teams and I know how hard they work.”
And while he tries to match guesses with Barrett and Raetz, there are no second guesses.
“I have great respect for both men,” Thompson said. “I think we have something special in them.”