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Photos by Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
Snider’s Andreas Gomez-Espino runs past the Merrillville defense in the second quarter.

Panthers reach goal

Fend off Merrillville for 1st state finals bid in 8 years

Snider’s Tyrell Swain scores on a short run in the first quarter. Swain ran for 112 yards and two touchdowns.

Snider clinched its first trip to the Class 5A state finals in eight years, but just like last week, it wasn’t easy.

The Panthers staved off a late rally by Merrillville to hold on for a 42-39 semistate win Friday at Wayne.

Fourth-ranked Snider (14-0) plays No. 1 Lawrence Central (14-0) for the 5A state championship at 7 p.m. Nov. 24 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

“I am happy for this senior class,” Snider coach Kurt Tippmann said. “These guys have worked so hard, and they are a tight group. They care more about each other than themselves.”

It is Snider’s first trip since finishing as the 5A state runner-up in 2004.

“This has been our goal since our freshman year,” Snider senior defensive tackle Weston Painter said. “It was our No. 1 goal this year.”

After trailing 42-26 entering the fourth, the Pirates got within 42-39 with 2:25 left, but the Panthers recovered the onside kick and ran out the clock.

The Panthers got a similar dramatic win last week when they rallied from a two-touchdown deficit with two minutes left in a 36-35 overtime decision over Fishers in the regional.

“We knew we didn’t play very well last week,” Tippmann said. “Our focus all week had been just go out there and let it rip, let it fly; just go out there and play. “

The Pirates outscored the Panthers 13-0 in the fourth.

Tippmann said it was hard to watch the Pirates’ attempted comeback play out almost exactly how the Panthers had done it a week before.

“It was a little flashback,” he said. “That thought had crossed my mind. That’s a sign of a good team (in Merrillville). We told them at halftime that this is going to be the toughest second half you have ever played, and that came to fruition.”

Friday was Snider’s second straight semistate appearance. The Panthers lost 28-10 to Penn last year.

“It was great just to get it done,” Snider senior quarterback Brandon Phelps said. “Now our No. 1 goal is to win state, and that’s what we are going to go do.”

Phelps threw for 199 yards and three touchdowns, two to Addison Dellinger, who caught four passes for 106 yards.

Tyrell Swain ran for 112 yards and two touchdowns, and Je’Norie Smith added 79 rushing yards. Nick Reese also scored a rushing touchdown.

Pirates quarterback Jake Raspopovich threw for 319 yards and three touchdowns, and Dylon Collins ran for 116 yards and a score.

The first half was an offensive show with the Panthers holding a 35-23 lead.

Snider had seven possessions and scored five touchdowns, with a punt and an end-of-the half possession.

Phelps completed 7 of 8 passes for 134 yards and two touchdowns, while Swain rushed for 86 yards and two touchdowns.

In the third quarter, Merrillville (11-3) cut the lead to 35-26 and almost recovered the onside kick, but it went out of bounds.

Dellinger caught his second touchdown from 29 yards to give Snider a 42-26 lead with 1:37 left in the third, and the Panthers were able to hang on from there.