This was a successful season by any measure.
Cathedral High School football throughout the 2022 season competed with the biggest schools and the best teams – and the Irish often beat the biggest schools and the best teams. They also made a run deep into the postseason.
“We just got consistently better as the season went on,” Irish Head Coach Bill Peebles said.
The young Irish, playing in Class 6A after winning back-to-back Class 5A state titles in 2021 and 2022, improved steadily throughout the 2022 season and finished 10-2 with a 33-10 loss to eventual state champion Center Grove in a semi-state game on November 18.
They also established themselves as a 6A contender.
“We took a step this season,” Peebles said. “We’re 6A, and we’re considered ‘This level.’ The question now is, how do we get to the next level? We need to get to a 6A state championship and it’s going to be tough. It will be a battle every year. We have to run our program that we’re going to be playing an elite level every week for 15 weeks.”
The Irish, who beat Center Grove 40-29 in the regular season, finished second in the Class 6A Associated Press Media and the Indiana Football Coaches Association rankings.
“We had a great year,” Peebles said. “We weren’t that far away. We got beat by a team that was every bit as good as us and played a little better.”
The Irish in addition to splitting with Center Grove split with No. 4 Brownsburg, losing to the Bulldogs 42-35 in the regular season and beating them 14-7 in the regional playoff.
“It’s really hard to beat a really good team twice,” Peebles said. “That’s kind of the way it played out. I don’t want to say we overachieved. I don’t know how good we were at the beginning of the year, but I felt like at the end of the year we were one of the top two, three, four teams in the state in all classes. It kind of panned out in who we played and how we played them.
“I’m proud of the team and I’m really proud of the coaching staff. The staff did a great job developing these guys.”
The Irish advanced to the state final four by improving in key areas that were rebuilt from the 2021 season. After starting the season with nine new starters on defense, the Irish improved defensively by the week and held Brownsburg – the state’s highest-scoring team – to a touchdown in the postseason game.
After entering the season with five new starters along the offensive line, the group matured and led the way for senior Carson Johnson to rush for 218 yards in the semi-state loss to Center Grove.
“These kids got better every week,” Peebles said.
It was an Irish season marked by dramatic comebacks, with the team rallying five times to win. The Irish trailed Lawrence North 21-10 in the first round of the postseason before rallying for a 44-35 victory and trailed Center Grove by 16 points late in the regular-season finale before rallying for a 40-29 victory.
“I think it was a really gritty team,” Peebles said. “It wasn’t a perfect team. We got behind in a lot of games and we always responded really well – probably with the exception of the last game. Our kids were resilient. They were gritty. They were tough. They competed. I was very proud of them.”
Key for the Irish was a senior class that included four-year starting tight end Brennan Wooten, who finished his career playing in more victories than any player in program history. Senior wide receiver Jaron Tibbs and defensive lineman Kendrick Gilbert started three seasons and have committed to play collegiately at Purdue.
“It’s a pretty special time and these guys led the way for us,” Peebles said. “These guys have been around for some pretty special football. We’re thankful for a great senior group that did a great job.”
Junior Danny O’Neil completed 207 of 329 passes for 2,654 yards and 32 touchdowns, and holds most major school passing records entering his senior season. And O’Neil will return next season to lead a team that Peebles said took a “step in the right direction” in 2022.
“We’re not worried about 5A, 4A, etc.,” he said. “We just have to prepare our kids to play in the 6A tournament every year. We’ve got to make sure we’ve got the right kids. We’ve got to make sure the coaching staff is on board and this is what we’re preparing for.
“A team might be the best team we’ve ever had and still not be good enough. You’ve got to be good and lucky against the teams we play. It’s not easy and it’s not going to be three [state titles] in a row, five in a row like it was in the early 2010s. That’s just not going to happen.
“It’s going to take every ounce for us to win a state championship at the 6A level on any given year.”