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RSN CLASSICS: The Greatest Games Ever Played – Griffith vs. Andrean 2004

Andrean vs. Griffith 2004 Sectional Championship
“Unbelieveable/Unforgettable – Part 3”

While Andrean-Griffith, 2004, will always and rightfully be remembered for the frenzied final two-plus minutes, beginning with that shotgun snap to Finn, what cannot be lost is how incredible the game was from start to finish. At school that day, an Andrean player ripped a spare part from a leftover Halloween decoration lying around 5959 Broadway, a skeleton. Against the stern warning of assistant coach Roy Dakich, who had caught wind of the plan, the players ran out onto the Griffith field holding up the bone, mocking on its home field a program that had beaten it by five touchdowns less than a month before.

The same could be said about the pasting put on the 59ers by the Panthers a few weeks before. Griffith’s quarterback, Lehmann, expected nothing of the sort this time around.Just seven years before, the two programs had cheered each other on wildly at the RCA Dome, as they played back-to-back games for their then-respective class state championships. It seemed like a lifetime had passed.

 “We went into that game expecting a war,” says Lehmann, who would go on to continue his football career at Wabash College. “We played one of our best games the first time around, but we also knew Andrean made mistakes and missed some plays they usually make. We were also watching them closely the following weeks after our first game, and they murdered whoever they played.”

Before the game, Steve Egan, an Andrean senior out since early in the season with an injury, gave a stirring locker room speech that centered not on the rivalry with Griffith, but about living to fight another day alongside the best friends you would ever have.

“I was roused,” Harangody says. “I was definitely roused.”

Outwardly, as the bravado with the bone indicated, the 59ers had put the earlier loss behind them. But for 16-to-18-year-old kids, the doubts still swirled beneath the surface.

“We knew we had to go through them,” Finn says. “They clobbered us earlier in the season. We definitely had to go through them.”

The doubts melted away after a first-half drive that ate up eight or nine minutes of clock, as Finn recalls. The 59ers didn’t even score on the drive, but they had gone toe-to-toe with their prior tormentor, and came out standing. While Griffith had run the option-oriented wishbone offense for decades, this time it was bombs away Andrean that ran wishbone, keeping the ball on the ground. For the Panthers, despite their more extensive experience running it, the high-risk, high-reward attack led to three lost fumbles, two of which Andrean converted into touchdowns.

Still, on the strength of 143 yards rushing and four touchdowns by fullback Nelleman, Griffith went up 35-28 with 6:38 to play in the fourth quarter.

“So many times during that game,” Finn says, “we’re in a good position, then they’d return a kick for a touchdown or something. It’s like, ‘Come on, man, really? It can’t just be easy?’”

After the Panthers’ touchdown, Andrean began its march toward destiny. The Finn-to-Kocal miracle came with 2:06 on the clock. It wasn’t the precise circumstance they had imagined, but now it was time to make St. Germain and Kocal’s inside joke reality.

As Kocal recalls now, only a few people in the stadium had known what was about to happen. Andrean’s linemen, oblivious, continued to block for an extra point. However, seconds before the kick, St. Germain had signaled to Finn that a fake was on.Finn, now the holder, took the snap for the extra point. Earlier in the game, having taken the lead 28-21, the 59ers considered running a fake extra point to put some distance between themselves and the Panthers – and keep momentum squarely on their side. Now, with the Boneyard still buzzing over the touchdown, and anticipating Griffith’s upcoming last-ditch drive, he didn’t place the ball on the ground, as expected. Instead, Finn sprang from his crouch and pitched the ball to Kocal, now the kicker.

“It wasn’t until that very last second that I realized exactly what we were doing,” says Kocal. “We made it happen in the heat of the moment. We didn’t have time to get nervous. Tommy’s eyes kind of lit up and I thought, ‘Oh, no. Here we go.’”

Only playing his second year of football, Kocal says today that he didn’t have the foundation in the sport to grasp how huge the moment was, either on the touchdown throw into double coverage, or, now, on a fake extra point with the game in the balance.

“The play calls are hysterical, looking back on it,” he says. “What were we thinking?”

His lack of experience was, in fact, a blessing, because he didn’t feel enough pressure to botch the execution. Instead, just like at practice, Kocal ran it in to the same side of the end zone he had just hauled in Finn’s throw for a two-point conversion to make the score Andrean 36, Griffith 35.

Three weeks later, to put an explanation point on the season, the 59ers beat Heritage Hills to become the 2004 Indiana Class 3A state champions.On its ensuing drive, Griffith would advance the ball to the Andrean 28-yard line, verging on field-goal range. But the Panthers weren’t close enough yet. Lehmann’s final pass was intercepted by Andrean’s Bob Puchalski as time ran out, giving Andrean the win in what still stands as the greatest Region game ever played, part of perhaps the greatest local rivalry ever staged.

“If we hadn’t won that game,” Finn says of the Panthers, “they’d have won state.”

That’s little solace in Griffith, where games of such magnitude, at least for now, seem like a more distant memory than just 10 years would indicate.

“We worked hard for many years to get to that point,” says Griffith’s Lehmann, lined up against Harangody on the side opposite from Kocal’s catch for the winning touchdown. “It would have meant the world for us to win that game. … It’s been almost 10 years, and to be honest, I haven’t watched the tape of the game.”

Part 3 of 3. CLICK HERE TO GO BACK TO PART 1. CLICK HERE TO GO BACK TO PART 2

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