Week 1 Picks - 2021 NW Indiana High School Football
A USA-365.com Special Report by Mark Smith
August 18, 2021
The concession stand will be busy in Lowell Friday night when Crown Point brings a big crowd down to see the Red Devils and Bulldogs. Popcorn for one dollar is a pretty good deal and Lowell and Crown Point should put on a pretty good show in the traditional Northwest Indiana season opening high school football game this Friday night (08-20-2021). (Photo by Mark Smith)
Mr. Picker - WEEK (1) ONE:
MERRILLVILLE (08-20-2021) There are some nice, new opening night matchups and more schedule changes will come in week two.
In Lake County, the consolidation of the Hammond schools forced schedules to change, which is interesting. Morton and Hammond Central (the consolidations of Class 4A Morton, 4A Gavit, 4A Clark and 4A Hammond high) will both be in Class 5A which also changes several local sectional alignments.
But that’s for October. You probably know that a few of us didn't find a game in person every week last season due to Covid-19 issues but, for those of you folks still watching games at home, here’s what I think I know.
Lowell games will be on Regional Radio Sports.com (rrsn.com) as they were last year. This week’s Lake Central and Munster game will also be carried on rrsn.com. I believe the broadcasts are free.
Some schools around the state are broadcasting games on pay-per-view basis and some are airing free games. Once the season begins, check the IHSAA Champions Network and find out who is on TV and where.
For clarity sake, I will often refer to Hammond Central as Hammond when I make predictions as I refer to East Chicago Central as East Chicago. There are too many ‘Centrals’.
Okay, let’s get started. South Newton has lost 38 games in a row so I’m not going to pick the North Newton vs. South Newton game. I’m just not going to do it. Bishop Noll is 2-49 the last six years so I’ll sit back a little on them, too. I see that Lake Station is playing Crossroads Christian in Illinois this week, but I’m skeptical of that because the Illinois football season doesn’t begin until next week.
Let's pick 12 games in week one. I know I’m leaving a couple of schools out, but I’ll touch on everyone in the weeks to come. And, as always, don’t look for the Lowell and Crown Point predictions just yet. They will come later in the week.
‘Mr. Picker’ (by the week)
'Mr. Picker' (15 Years)
Mr. Picker 2021 WEEK (1)
Hammond Central at (SB) Washington
SOUTH BEND (08-20-2021) Here’s a new matchup because here’s a new school. In theory anyway. Again, Hammond Central is the old Hammond high. It bothers me that they didn’t retain all the tradition of Hammond high but I’ll get over it. Lowell-graduate and former Wheeler coach Adam Hudak leads the now Hammond and they should have more depth than Hammond did in past seasons. I know nothing about Washington except for the fact that they’ve been 3-7 in four of the last five seasons. Hammond Central’s schedule isn’t overly difficult and they get off to a good start here.
Hammond Central 28, (SB) Washington 14
Griffith at Highland
HIGHLAND (08-20-2021) Here’s an old school matchup going all the way back to Lake Suburban Conference days in the 1970s and 80s. The Panthers and Trojans had played every year forever until Highland was one of the teams Griffith dropped from the schedule when they joined the Greater South Shore Conference (GSSC) five years ago. Highland eliminated Griffith 38-21 in 4A Sectional 17 play last year and these two could easily meet again in October. Highland has not had a winning season since 2014 but to do so this year, they have to win this game. They will.
Highland 20, Griffith 14
Hanover Central at East Chicago
EAST CHICAGO (08-20-2021) These teams played two years ago and Hanover won by four touchdowns. EC had a disastrous year last season. The pandemic shut them down until September and they then went 0-5. If my grade school math skills are still working, Hanover scored 513 points last season in 12 games. The Wildcats were hit by some hard graduation losses, so we have a situation where Hanover may not be as good as 2020 and EC almost certainly will be better. I’m going to stay with the Wildcats in a close one.
Hanover 28, East Chicago 26
Portage at Morton
HAMMOND (08-20-2021) This is a new matchup and there’s not a lot to go on either way. Portage has had four losing seasons in a row, but they posted a late upset victory over LaPorte. I have no idea what Morton has. They gained talent from the Hammond consolidation, but the Governors only played four games in 2020 due to the pandemic. Of all the teams in Northwest Indiana, I think Morton is the one that local football followers are most curious about. Expectations are high and the Governors beefed up their schedule as they join Class 5A, so the days of one-loss or two-loss regular seasons are over. I like Portage to get a road win here.
Portage 35, Morton 20
Chesterton at Hobart
HOBART (08-20-2021) This should be the first game at Hobart for running back Trey Gibson (6-1, 1890) who carried 214 times for 1,569 yards and 23 touchdowns last season at Wheeler. But Chesterton returns all-area quarterback Chris Mullin (6-4, 190) who passed for 147 of 254 for 1,902 yards and 12 TDs. Also back for senior years are receiver/runner Colby Bullock (60 carries, 374 yards and 61 catches, 737 yards) and ‘The General’ 6-foot-2 wide receiver Jackson Westmoreland (38 catches, 532 yards, 8 TDs) on an offense that should light up the scoreboard. Even though Hobart is at home, I don’t see them stopping the Chesterton offense on a warm, clear opening night. Go with the passing team.
Chesterton 31, Hobart 17
New Prairie at LaPorte
LaPORTE (08-20-2021) I know very little about New Prairie going into this year. I like linebacker Jacob Mrozinski (6-2, 230) who made 59 solo tackles (19 against LaPorte) and four sacks last season and safety ‘Big Ben’ Fronk (6-3, 205) who kicked a 56-yard field goal last season. But this should be a good year for LaPorte. The Slicers were improving at the end of 2020, winning three of their last five.
LaPorte’s Collin Berquist (5-11, 180) ran 232 times for 1,374 yards and 11 TDs last fall. Jayden Parkes (5-9, 170) carried 72 times for 399 yards and caught 14 passes for 256 yards and four more scores. Big tight end Grant Ott-Large (6-4, 225) caught 25 passes for 311 yards. You guys can tell who I’m picking. This is the traditional big school-little school neighborhood rivalry week. All things being equal, based on a significant disparity in enrollment, Lake Central ‘should’ beat Munster. Crown Point ‘should’ beat Lowell. LaPorte ‘should’ beat New Prairie. And they will.
LaPorte 21, New Prairie 7
Whiting at Frontier
CHALMERS (Ind.) (08-20-2021) Frontier is a small Class 1A school, but they have a couple of big boys. Senior Caleb Atkinson (6-2, 225) carried 253 times last year for 1,734 yards and 20 touchdowns and he made 63 tackles on defense. Treven Girad (6-3, 195) carried 101 times for 583 yards and he made 56 tackles on the other side of the ball. Linebacker Justin Schroeder (6-2, 230) made 90 tackles last year as a sophomore. I honestly don’t know what Whiting has. The Oilers season consisted of just four games last season and they may be a little overmatched in this 2021 debut road game.
Frontier 27, Whiting 13
Boone Grove at John Glenn
WALKERTON (Ind.) (08-20-2021) Walkerton is a sweet little town and a wonderful place to visit in the summer. Boone hopes for a nice evening in the sun here. Glenn lost five of their last six in 2020, but Boone was 3-7 last fall. Glenn QB Nate Creed (6-0, 180) played in just two games last year after playing in 11 games his first two seasons. If he’s back, Creed is a run-pass threat who was 17 of 23 for 154 yards in two games in 2020. Boone will field a very young team, it seems. The ‘Max Preps’ football site roster lists just three seniors. There seems to be some athletes. Daekwon Coleman (6-4, 200) returns at tight end and linebacker. Sophomore Abdelquader Alzeer (6-1, 240) has good size as a two-way lineman. Sophomore Josh Oglesby (6-7, 190) is a punter, wide receiver and outside linebacker. Junior Maverick Zormier (6-2, 173) is a cornerback and quarterback. But I don't know what Boone has. Glenn beat Boone 41-0 last year but these teams have split four meetings. I honestly don’t have any idea here so I’ll ride with the home team in a much closer game.
John Glenn 21, Boone Grove 14
Lake Lake Central at Munster
MUNSTER (08-20-2021) This game is somewhat in doubt as I’m writing this because LC had to cancel their scrimmage with Andrean, reportedly due to Covid-19 issues. Lake Central is 8-32 the last four years and four of those wins are over Munster. Munster is 3-27 the last three years and they need a good start. Watching Munster last year they were and are very young. Again, going by enrollment only in the next-door-neighbor matches, Merrillville should beat Andrean. Crown Point should beat Lowell. LaPorte should beat New Prairie and Lake Central should beat Munster. They will.
Lake Central 35, Munster 14
Kankakee Valley at Rensselaer
RENSSELAER (08-20-2021) The ‘Jasper County Super Bowl’ matches the Kougars, who were 5-0 last year but finished at 5-4, against Rensselaer, which lost to KV 28-7 in 2020. If everyone from last season returned, the Bombers are ready to rumble. Quarterback Tate Drone (6-4, 180) was 73 of 133 for 13 TDs (5 interceptions) as a junior and he has Kelton Hesson (5-11, 175) who caught 25 passes for 299 yards and ran 37 times for 309 more yards last season. Rensselaer also should have Dylan Kidd (5-9, 190), who carried 206 times for 1,323 yards and 23 TDs last fall.
And the Bombers have good size, which is an understatement when it comes to junior Ayden Randolph (6-5, 340), In seven games as a sophomore Randolph had 11 tackles for losses and five quarterback sacks. KV may have more depth on a warm night, but Rensselaer is beginning a peak year.
Rensselaer 28, Kankakee Valley 7
Andrean at Merrillville
MERRILLVILLE (08-20-2021) The ’Battle of Broadway’ brings together two sectional championship teams who both graduated a lot of good players. But Merrillville is still led by QB Angel Nelson who threw for 2,000 yards (113 of 167 for 2,161) and 23 touchdowns in 2020. And he’ll still stand along side Lavarion (‘The Tank’) Logan (5-9, 205), who rushed for 1,305 yards (212 carries) and 20 TDs. Up front is Division I prospect Kenneth Grant (6-4, 345) who can also bring the pain. The 59ers are replacing key players at wide receiver, QB and halfback. I think Merrillville starts strong here.
Merrillville 42, Andrean 17
CROWN POINT at LOWELL
LOWELL (08-20-2021) This game is getting a lot of interest because of the new Crown Point head coach Craig Buzea, who was a big winner at Portage and Homewood-Flossmoor. In his first game, he’ll lead the Bulldogs down to the south end of Lake County to take on a Lowell team that went 9-2 last year and returns some key players on offense and defense. That includes two-way standout Spencer Barta (6-4, 230) who had 96 tackles in 2020, hard-charging edge rusher Ray Ambassi (5-9, 180) and outside linebacker Riley Bank. On offense, with Joe Heuer (219 carries, 1,306 yards, 17 TDs) and Ryan Marx (94 carries, 592 yards and 9 TDs), the Devils will run the ball.
I do not believe Crown Point returns a starting skill position player from 2020. But everybody likes tackle Jack Darlington (6-4, 260) and I believe Jack Ruess (6-4, 260) and Nic Cicero (6-1, 245) return in the offensive line. Speedy JJ Johnson (5-11, 160) could be the new quarterback. Defensively Nikola Paic (6-1, 280) will anchor the line and place-kicker Sammy Brewer, a three-year veteran, is one of the best in all of Northwest Indiana. But I don't know much about 2021 Crown Point. They are too new.
Who’s going to win? Let me think about it another day.
Penn at Valparaiso
VALPARAISO (08-20-2021) Two powers go head-to-head on opening night. Valparaiso rallied late to win 17-16 last year. Valpo returns QB Logan Lockhart who completed 52 of 119 passes for six TDs last year. Halfback Hayden Vinyard ran 84 times for 677 yards in 2020. But VHS again has size up front led by Matt Hofer (6-6, 330) and Michael Boone (6-5, 305). I don’t know what Penn has. Penn traditionally does not wear numbers in the pre-season scrimmage and their online roster only has about 40 players. Penn probably has 100 players. I’d bet the Kingsmen have depth and a good running back even if I don’t know who he is. When in doubt, take the team with the returning quarterback.
Valparaiso 17, Penn 10
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Revised: August 18, 2021 .