MUNSTER | If there was any year for the IHSAA and football coaches to recommend a sixth class in the football postseason, this was it and Munster couldn't have been happier.
The Mustangs had power and experience coming back from a 2-8 team in 2012 that couldn't wait to show what it had learned in the offseason.
"This is what we've been dreaming of," Munster coach Leroy Marsh said. "What it does is gives program hope."
Munster took every advantage, picking up the bye week — completely necessary for recovery reasons — then reaching its first sectional championship game since its title win in 1996.
Despite the 24-17 loss to Mishawaka on Friday, the Mustangs see even more optimism.
If the multiclass system in basketball was designed to allow more teams to win sectional titles, the sixth class in football does the same thing and then some.
The enrollment difference between the first team in Class 6A (Ben Davis) and the first team in Class 5A (North Vigo) is 2,756 students. The enrollment difference between North Vigo and Plainfield, the first team in Class 4A, is 440 students.
That difference is bigger than just a little. It's how many players are walking the halls and how deep the bench can go. It's how many middle schools the program can draw from and how many coaches can teach the younger grades as they grow.
It's the difference, in many cases, between winning a lot and winning just a few.
Munster has an enrollment of 1,560, 27th in Class 5A and Mishawaka moved into Class 5A after an increased enrollment moved them to 1,514, good for 31st of 34 teams in the class.
The new classifications take Munster out of a previous Class 5A that included Merrillville (2,339), which beat the Mustangs in 2008 and 2012, Crown Point (2,620), which beat Munster in 2010, and Lake Central (3,271), which beat Munster in 2009 and which the 'Stangs beat in 2010.
"(The loss to Merrillville) was the stimulus to get going for this year," Marsh said, "and our seniors last year gave us great effort and didn't give in. Hopefully we can keep that going and get it back here next year."
The Mustangs lose their quarterback and the bulk of the offensive line.
The juniors and sophomores will remember this game. The younger classes will recruit their friends to play, those who want to reach another sectional final.
Suddenly, Munster can compete again in Class 5A.
While multiclass basketball was meant to help the 1A and 2A programs, the addition of Class 6A was meant to help those in Class 5A. As a beneficiary, Munster can't wait for next year.
"It gets more players in the program," Marsh said, "and gives you hope that if you listen and do what the coaches want and get in the weight room, you have a chance to be successful. 2014 will start Dec. 1. "