By Mark Ambrogi
For Danville Community High School quarterback Kale Payne, it was challenge accepted.
“We challenged him this year, we told him his completion percentage should be above 70 percent,” Warriors first-year coach Jayme Comer said. “In my mind, he’s the best junior quarterback in the state and he’s only been getting better. We trust him with everything we do. If we have an opportunity to win (against Bishop Chatard), he’s going to be a big reason why.”
Payne has competed 71.5 percent of his passes to help lead Class 3A No. 5 Danville (11-0) to a duel with No. 1 Chatard (12-1) in the Class 3A state championship this Saturday (Nov. 28) and Lucas Oil Stadium, 3 p.m.
“Obviously he throws the ball really well,” Comer said. “He’s an athlete, too, so he can tuck it and run. It should be a great game for him to showcase who he is.”
The 6-foot-3, 185-pound Payne has connected on 138 of 193 passes for 1,806 yards. He has 26 touchdowns with just eight interceptions.
That’s a big completion improvement from last season when Payne completed 55.4 percent of his passes (133 of 240).
“Reading the defense better and knowing where to go with the football has helped me tremendously,” Payne said.
The junior quarterback said everyone was ready to take the next step after losing to Heritage Hills 33-17 in the Class 3A semstate in 2019.
“We were all motivated to get better,” Payne said. “We only lost two seniors on the offensive side of the ball, so we knew we could come in this year and pick up right where we left off with the new coaching staff.”
The Warriors, who finished 8-6 in 2019, were more run-heavy last season with 2020 graduate Chandler Schubert rushing for 2,005 yards.
“Schubert was a workhorse, he’d run right over you or right past you,” Payne said. “This year we’ve evened it out more, running the ball or passing the ball. We make it harder on the defense, they don’t know what it is coming.”
Payne said having two seasons with senior receivers Luke Wooten, Matt Brabec and Dominick Wynn and junior Tyler Dostin has helped the chemistry.
“Having a third year with Tyler (in 2021) will be interesting. I knew Tyler before I even came to Danville, he’s one of my buddies,” said Payne, who transferred from Avon following his freshman year. “We had played basketball together.”
Wooten is the leading receiver with 46 catches, followed by Dostin with 41. Payne and Dostin hooked up for a 65-yard TD in a 30-7 road victory over previously unbeaten Southridge Nov. 20 in the semistate.
“It was exciting winning the semistate, but we just knew that we weren’t in the pinnacle game yet,” Payne said. “We still have one more to finish.”
Chatard has more state titles with 14 than any other football program. But the Warriors won’t be intimidated.
“We have to come out and be the more physical team,” Payne said. “We have to pound on them from the start and play our game. We should be fine.”
Payne said his mission is not to force anything and protect the football.
“Especially in the playoffs, turnovers can change a game from winning to losing just like that,” he said.