Hands on training: Linton defensive end Dustin Turpin collides with a teammate as he runs through a drill while defensive coordinator, Mike Hayden, right, background, looks on during the Miners' team practice Wednesday in Linton.

“It’s a game we’ve been looking forward to all year.”

“It’ll be a battle, like it is every year. Everybody’s been looking forward to it.”

Those quotes didn’t come from the Indianapolis Colts or the New England Patriots earlier this week. The first speaker was Nate Padgett, the second his Linton High School teammate Dustin Turpin, and the game they’ll be playing tonight against Perry Central is a lot more important to a couple of small southern Indiana communities than some meaningless regular-season National Football League matchup.

Tonight’s game, kickoff 8 o’clock at Linton, is — as it almost always is — for supremacy of Class A’s Sectional 40. The hitting will be every bit the equal of that provided by the mercenaries a couple of days later, the intensity probably more so. And there’ll be no second chance for the team that loses for the first time this season.

The visiting Commodores, 11-0, are ranked second in the state. The host Miners, also 11-0, are ranked fourth. It’s the seventh sectional meeting in 10 years between two teams that have become rivals because of excellence and not because of proximity, and if history is a guide its winner could very well play its final game of the 2007 season in the RCA Dome.

The fact that Perry Central has won four of the first six meetings, including the last two, is definitely not lost on the Miners.

“It’ll be a well fought game by both teams, and it will come down to who wants it more,” Padgett predicted this week. “We owe ‘em. We owe ‘em a lot, and they’re going to get a lot too.”

Padgett and Turpin are two of several standouts on the Linton defense, and it’s that aspect of the Miners that could set the tone this evening.

Linton has allowed an average of just 7.6 points per game this season and has allowed just two of 11 opponents to reach double figures in scoring. The Miners beat Springs Valley 28-21 (and again 22-6 in the sectional opener) and won 50-20 at North Central for the Southwest Seven Conference championship.

“Our goal every game is to get a shutout,” said Turpin, a defensive end, who noted that last week’s blanking of Wood Memorial was the Miners’ third shutout of the season. “The defense has been playing great. The defensive line’s establishing a new line of scrimmage for [the opponent’s] offense, the linebackers are making great reads, we’re playing fast, pursuing to the ball and playing as a team.”

“I think our defense is exceptional this year,” said Padgett, an outside linebacker. “We’re extremely fast, we have big defensive tackles in the middle, good inside linebackers … it’s hard to run east and west [against us]. It’s hard to run anywhere.”

“We play a 4-4 scheme, we have for five or six years now,” coach Steve Weber explained this week. “The kids and the coaches know it fairly well.

“We like playing physical football, and our whole idea is to stop the run,” Weber added. “To win this sectional, you have to beat strong running teams.”

“We’re a gap-control defense,” explained coordinator Mike Hayden. “We have some very aggressive linebackers [including Padgett] and some good-sized defensive tackles [240-pound J.D. Fish and 290-pound Josh Meuer, both juniors, plus 190-pound senior Jathan Wright]. If a team can single-block [our tackles], we’ll probably lose … pass defense [led by free safety Jaron Powell] is probably our biggest strength.”

Led by senior star Bo Gibson, the Commodores are certainly one of those strong running teams Weber talked about.

“[Gibson] is elusively fast, with good feet … a strider,” Hayden said. “He won’t get arm-tackled … and [the Commodores] don’t throw a lot, but when they do it’s usually for a completion.”

“They have big kids and a good running back,” Weber said. “They’re not real flashy, but they’ll find your weakness and attack it.”

The Commodores are bigger than the Miners — “Most teams are,” Weber pointed out. Weber hopes his team is a little quicker, but added “by no means are [the Commodores] slow.”

“We’ll have to play fast and hard, and be mentally prepared,” said Turpin, “and I think we are.”

“Playing fast and having fun [are the keys],” said the 5-foot-9, 165-pound Padgett, who described his responsibility as “basically a sideline. I make [the runners] go north and south, where the inside backers can do their work.”

Turpin is a two-way starter, and he’ll be playing right tackle on offense this week. That’s so he can match up with Perry Central’s Robbie Piper [6-3, 380], the younger and bigger of two Commodore brothers [Joey Piper is 6-1, 335].

“I kicked his butt last year, but we still didn’t come out with a victory,” said Turpin, who admits to 6-0 and 194. “I’ve got to stay low [blocking Piper], play fast, stay in his hips and keep my feet moving.

“Third time’s the charm,” Turpin added in thinking about tonight’s outcome.

“I not only want to beat [the Commodores], I want ‘em to have dings and bruises that they think about on that long bus ride home,” Padgett concluded.

“I want ‘em to suffer.”

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