5A regional football: Contender, Pretender, or...

I wanted to preview Friday's regional championship games, and of course the only logical way to do that is by playing a game of "Contender or Pretender (or Chicken Tender)."


Carmel (11-1) at Ben Davis (10-2)

Friday, 7:30 p.m.

CONTENDER: Brandon Denning, Carmel — Denning was fantastic in last week's win over No. 1 Warren Central. The senior QB took control of the game and led the Greyhounds to a comeback win after the running attack proved ineffective. Denning has earned "don't bet against him" status.

PRETENDER: The Ben Davis run defense — The Giants may have effectively slowed down Carmel's rushing attack earlier this season, but don't expect it to happen again (see below). Avon RB Charles Davis rushed for 119 yards on 19 carries against Ben Davis last week.

CHICKEN TENDER: The two teams' previous matchup — Yes, Carmel and Ben Davis played on Oct. 14. And Ben Davis jumped out to a 10-0 lead before Carmel came back to win, 20-10. But while the game was less than a month ago, it means little right now. Both teams have changed so much, it's hard to take anything away from the first meeting. I doubt they'll combine to score just 30 points again on Friday.

Hamilton SE (11-1) at FW Snider (8-4)

Friday, 7:30 p.m.

CONTENDER: Gary Harris, Hamilton SE — Harris is riding high after committing to Michigan State for basketball, but his focus is on bringing home a state football title right now. He's the one player in this matchup most capable of changing the game by making a handful of plays.

PRETENDER: Ross Risley, Hamilton SE — Risley, a junior QB filling in for injured senior Jake Jones, may turn out to be a great fit for the Royals' offense. But the fact is, he's inexperienced and will be seeing his first extended action of the season. He'll have to prove it if he wants "Contender" status.

CHICKEN TENDER: FW Snider's 5-game win streak — After losing to Cathedral on Oct. 1, Snider has won its last five games. But the streak isn't as impressive as it looks on paper. The combined record of the five teams (including playoff foes FW North Side and Kokomo) was 27-28.

Crown Point (9-3) at Penn (12-0)

Friday, 7:30 p.m.

CONTENDER: Zach Oakley, Penn — I've been on the Oakley train since early in the season, when the sophomore QB showed he could consistently produce big plays with his legs. Watch for him to split open the Crown Point defense for some big gains on Friday.

PRETENDER: Crown Point defense — The Bulldogs allow just 11.2 points per game, but the schedule has not been challenging to this point. Give credit to the Crown Point coaching staff, however, as both of their playoff wins (Valparaiso, Merrillville) came over teams that beat the Bulldogs in the regular season.

CHICKEN TENDER: Chad Gindelberger, Penn — I'm a fan of Gindelberger, Penn's senior QB. I just happen to think the other half of the team's QB tandem, Zack Oakley, is going to have the bigger impact on Friday. So take heart, Chad — you may be a "Chicken Tender" this week, but you could easily be a "Contender" next week (if Penn manages to move on).

Center Grove (8-4) at Bedford NL (9-3)

Friday, 7:30 p.m.

CONTENDER: Center Grove's chances of advancing — Sure, Bedford NL managed to topple undefeated Castle last week, but I'm putting that win in the "fluke" category. I fully expect Center Grove to come away with the win and move on to the Semi-State round.

PRETENDER: Center Grove's regular-season record — The Trojans were just 5-4 in the regular season, but their game is well-suited for the postseason. With three rushers breaking the 600-yard barrier so far (senior Spencer Weeks and sophomores Logan Hutson and Alex Lucas), the ground attack has been unstoppable in the playoffs.

CHICKEN TENDER: Center Grove's chances of advancing next week — The other side of the bracket is going to be either Carmel or Ben Davis. Center Grove played both of them earlier this season and lost both games by a combined score of 84-31. Any celebrating after Friday's game may be short-lived.

Check back in tomorrow for official picks.

Want to play Contender or Pretender (or Chicken Tender)? Hit me on Twitter (@ESPNHSGrimala).