It seems you can count on it every season. Monroe Central will be one of the best Class A football teams in the state.
It’s no coincidence that since John Hochstetler entered the picture in 2012, the Golden Bears have become a perennial gridiron power in East Central Indiana. Year after year, “Coach Ho” has Monroe Central ranked in the top 10 of the Class, and this year is no different.
With Hochstetler steering the ship, the Monroe Central community has shown enormous support and defied the naysayers, who back in 2008, expressed concern that the school could not support a football program.
The Bears (5-1) enter the final game of the season Friday night against visiting Shenandoah (6-2) as the No. 9 team in Class A.
No matter how good a team is, sooner or later it’s going to get real tough. It starts this week for Hochstetler’s boys as Monroe Central hosts the Raiders, an opponent that is always formidable, in their final regular season game.
How good is Shenandoah. Consider that on Oct. 2, the Bears needed a Hail Mary pass to defeat a good Eastern Hancock team, 28-21. And a week later, Shenandoah traveled to Eastern Hancock and beat the Royals, 28-21.
On paper, this week’s affair looks like an even match-up between two excellent teams. It’s likely to be decided in the fourth quarter.
After this week, the Bears open sectional play at Taylor, which has lost seven straight game and will likely lose in its final game against Delphi (6-2). If the Bears win against Taylor, they would host Madison-Grant (2-4) in the sectional semifinals. Those are two games that (again, on paper) the Bears should win.
Monroe Central fans will most surely be rooting for Union City (3-4), Wes-Del (3-5) or Tri-Central (6-2) to emerge from the top of the Sectional 43 bracket. It’s not likely however, because one of them would have to defeat undefeated and No. 1-ranked South Adams (8-0). It was the Starfires who handed Monroe Central its only loss of the season, 31-14, back on Sept. 18.
The Bears would be 8-1 if they can win the next three and enter a potential match-up with South Adams for a sectional championship.
But we are getting way ahead of ourselves. The last thing Coach Ho is talking to his players about this week is the sectional. The only plan is to defeat the Raiders.
One of the big reasons the Bears have been successful year after year is they get contributions from many places. Defensively, under the guidance of Richard Green, they are top-level years after year. On offense, the Bears typically are well balanced between the running game and passing game.
Monroe Central’s offensive engine begins with junior quarterback Jackson Ulom, who has had a better season than anyone could have expected. His passing numbers are off the charts. Jackson has completed 81 of 104 passes for 78 percent (not a misprint) for 15 touchdowns with just two interceptions. He averages almost 200 yards a game (188) through the air.
Luke Jones’ numbers have been equally as staggering. He’s caught 32 passes for 509 yards and 9 touchdowns. He’s rushed for 282 yards and five touchdowns. He’s returned kickoffs, returned passes, made interceptions and even has thrown a touchdown pass while scoring 90 points in all.
And remember, these numbers are in just six games. The Bears missed two games this season while being quarantined.
There’s been plenty more heroes – too many to mention. Joel Kennedy has carried a big load running the ball (418 yards, 3 TDS). Junior big guy Gavin Smithson-Burciaga has had 17 catches for 226 yards and a pair of touchdowns. And credit the offensive line for giving the protection and creating holes for all of this to happen.
Defensively, the Bears have been nothing short of great again. The Bears give up just 12.17 points a game, 12th best in Class A. Top tacklers have been juniors Mitchell Moles (77), Caleb Snyder (57), senior Khaner Phillips (47), Burciaga (43) and another junior, Jonah Jones (39). The Bears have an astounding 41 sacks in six games, led by Burciaga with 15 and six by Phillips.
Shenandoah leads this series, 6-2, one of the few teams to have an upper hand in the series. The Bears, though, won 35-12 last season.