The RENEGADE 'Magnificent-7':
2018 NW Indiana High School Football Final Poll & Picks
... and a look ahead to 2019

A Special Report by Mark Smith



It will be interesting to see what happens in Griffith in 2019. The Panthers will welcome in some new foes and there is a chance they will chart a different route in the post-season as well.  (Photo by Mark Smith)

'Mr. Picker' WEEK-15, 2018 Football Picks in Review:
Nov. 23-24, 2018

Wrong - 1; Right - 5 = 87.5%

The Pick The Result

Western Boone 38, Eastbrook 28 

Western Boone 34-20

Bishop Dwenger 24, Evansville Central 17

Dwenger 16-10 (4 OTs)

Warren Central 31, Carmel 14  

Warren Central 27-7

Pioneer 38, North Vermillion 23  

Pioneer 60-0

Evansville Memorial 49, West Lafayette 35

(wrong) West Lafayette 47-42

New Palestine 35, Decatur Central 20  

New Palestine 28-14


‘Mr. Picker’ (by the week)
WEEK ONE: 10 of 13, 76.1%
WEEK TWO: 12 of 15, 80%
WEEK THREE: 9 of 13, 69.2%
WEEK FOUR: 10 of 11, 90.9%
WEEK FIVE: 8 of 12, 75%
WEEK SIX: 9 of 12, 75%
WEEK SEVEN: 10 of 12, 83.3%
WEEK EIGHT: 10 of 12, 83.3%
WEEK NINE: 8 of 12, 75%
WEEK TEN: 16 of 19, 84.2%
WEEK ELEVEN: 15 of 16, 93.7%
WEEK TWELVE: 7 of 12, 58.3%
WEEK THIRTEEN: 11 of 14, 78.5%
WEEK FOURTEEN: 8 of 12, 66.7%
WEEK FIFTEEN: 5 of 6, 87.5%

Playoffs (6 weeks) 62 of 79, 78.4%
Season total (15 weeks) 148 of 191, 77.4%

'Mr. Picker' (13 Years)
2017 (final) OVERALL: 137 of 184 = 74.4%
2016 (final) OVERALL: 119 of 170 = 70.0%
2015 (final) OVERALL: 131 of 174 = 75.2%
2014 (final) OVERALL: 131 of 176 = 74.4%
2013 (final) OVERALL: 130 of 175 = 74.2%
2012 (final) OVERALL: 137 of 177 = 77.4%
2011 (final) OVERALL: 134 of 184 = 72.7%
2010 (final) OVERALL: 135 of 184 = 73.3%
2009 (final) OVERALL: 154 of 212 = 72.6%
2008 (final) OVERALL: 145 of 193 = 75.1%
2007 (final) OVERALL: 143 of 188 = 76.0%
2006 (final) OVERALL: 166 of 217 = 76.4%
2005 (final) OVERALL: 170 of 233 = 72.9%


Week-14 (State Finals) Review:
Not quite six for six but OK. Really, with all the detail you get on the state finals games (thanks to the IHSAA) you should be able to pick every game correctly. But it's hard to look at two undefeated teams on 14-game win streaks and be certain about who’s going to win. Sometimes the streak that a team is on exaggerates the ability of that team for one game. Sometimes there just isn't a ‘better’ team in a match of 14-0s. I’m still looking to get back near that 77% level we hit way back in 2012. Not a lot of dominant teams. This may be a tough year for the old ‘Picker.’

BEST PICK: Probably New Palestine over Decatur Central 35-20 when the final was 28-14. That was how that game was supposed to go. Warren Central over Carmel 31-14 when the final was 27-7. Again. That was almost exactly how it was ‘supposed’ to go. No big deal prediction there.

WORST PICK: Memorial over West Lafayette 49-35 when the final was West Lafayette 47, Memorial 41. With the offenses involved, I was just guessing. I think if they played 10 times, both sides might win five of them.



2018 was a good year in Northwest Indiana. Everybody who won a sectional had a really good year. Everybody who won more games than they lost had an OK year. Everybody else has work to do.
I think you have to look at high school football that way.

The IHSAA reclassifies teams for the 2019 state tournament and one team that seems certain to move is Andrean. The Class 3A 59ers are smaller than Class 2A Boone Grove, so there’s little doubt that Andrean will be in Class 2A for the 2019 playoffs.

In the last classification, Andrean was listed as having 492 students. The 2018-2019 school directory of the IHSAA lists Andrean as having 414 students.

The school I’m not sure about is Class 4A Griffith, which was listed as having 800 students in the last classification two years ago. Scottsburg had 794 students and they were 4A. Brebeuf had 794 students and they were 3A. Class 3A Danville had 791.

But the 2018-2019 directory had Griffith at 832 students, an increase that would keep the Panthers in the 4A playoffs. But I don't know how the enrollment changes at the other schools. State wide some changes that will shake up the brackets are definite.

Back-to-back state champ Pioneer moves from 1A to 2A. Back-to-back state finalist Evansville Memorial moves from 3A to 4A. State champ Bishop Dwenger moves from 4A to 5A. Southridge bumps from 2A to 3A and Columbus East moves from 5A to 6A.

Somebody has to move down. I hope it's Griffith.

So let's look at five ‘teams to watch’ for 2019. Teams of interest. Picks to click.

Not necessarily the top five for next year. Just five teams with a story to tell.


1. (6A) Valparaiso (10-2)
2017 (8-2), 2016 (5-5), 2015 (7-3), 2014 (2-8)


VALPARAISO – Valparaiso graduates several key players, but they return a lot of familiar faces from the 2018 regional champs. Quarterback CJ Opperman (94 of 210, 1,187 yards) returns and the offensive line can again use big John Hofer (6-5, 310) and even bigger Ben Scot (6-5, 320). Speedy halfback/receiver combo Antonio Osario returns in 2019. Defensively. Dylan Dingman (6-4, 245) had 69 tackles, and 10 QB sacks as a sophomore in 2018 and Cooper Jones (6-1, 245) had seven sacks. Linebacker Peyton Krutz (6-1, 210) is also back after 53 tackles in 2018. Jack Cahill had five pass interceptions in 2018 as a junior.

I believe that Valpo will replace Mishawaka with Griffith on the 2019 schedule which is a positive. Mishawaka has a style of offense that Valpo does not see again all season.
Griffith isn't as good as the Cavemen right now, but they run a ‘conventional’ offense that will provide a more accurate test for the Vikings.

I think the Viking program is gaining in respect in the northern half of the state. The bar is set high. To simply equal 2018, the Vikings must sweep the Duneland Athletic Conference (DAC) and win the regional championship again. But it's not impossible they do that. Valparaiso will be Northwest Indiana’s top team going in to 2019.


2. (6A) Merrillville (7-4)
2017 (1-9), 2016 (5-6), 2015 (7-5), 2014 (6-6)


MERRILLVILLE – The Pirates’ spread offense will be ready to roll in 2019 as Merrillville has two returning experienced QBs. Aahric Whitehead (120 of 206, 1,691 yards, 15 TDs) and Peter Rodriguez (81 carries, 469 yards) will throw it to receivers Armani Glass (41 catches, 703 yards, 9 TDs) and Jeremiah Howard (38 catches, 579 yards). The two QBs will hand the ball to running backs Roderick Bell (157 carries, 709 yards, 8 TDs), and Darius Schultz (105 carries, 340 yards, 11 TDs rushing).

Offensive tackle Martes Lewis (6-6, 290) can return in 2019 and I wouldn't be shocked to see defensive lineman Kenneth Grant (6-3, 336) on offense. The Pirates also have linebackers Davin Latiker (55 tackles) and Devin Sanders (54 tackles, 6 sacks) back on defense with kicker Niko Djukic and Austin Pupek.


Merrillville will be a fun team to watch in 2019 as they take on arch rival Crown Point in sectional play and Valparaiso in the Duneland Athletic Conference. No team returns more on offense and they have motivation of not winning the sectional three years in a row.

The Pirates also have dropped Penn from the schedule and have signed up to renew the rivalry with 20th century arch rival Hobart. Good for both programs and it will help Merrillville get off to a faster start than they have in recent years. The Pirates appear to have the size, speed and experience to challenge Valpo in the DAC.


3. Crown Point (5-7)
2017 (7-5), 2016 (6-6), 2015 (1-9), 2014 (8-2)


CROWN POINT – Crown Point is 18-18 the last three seasons, but they are three-time sectional champions. That’s a great achievement because it means the Bulldogs were able to play better when the bigger games came. And the prospects are good for 2019. Of the 22 listed starters for CP in Class 6A Sectional 1, twelve were underclassmen including seven on offense.

CP returns QB Will Pettit (6-2, 190), who was 107 of 248 for 1,129 yards and eight TDs as a sophomore. Also back are receivers Tysen Cazy (6-3, 180) and David O’Toole (6-1, 180), who combined for 54 receptions and 763 yards as juniors. Also back are tight ends Ben Uran (6-4, 195) and Felix Meeks (6-2, 225) plus tackles Kyle Milly (6-3, 210) and Cael Begley (6-4, 230) and guard Michael Wolff (6-1, 250).

On defense, five of the boys who started in the post-season include cornerback Alec Barancyk (71 tackles in 2018), linebacker Jacob Woods (60 tackles), end Silas Reeves (48 tackles) and punter Collin Flavin (6-2, 230), who was in on 37 tackles as a defensive end in 2018.

CP has to find a running back to replace Scott Mills (269 carries, 997 yards, 11 TDs) who was an invaluable player in 2018. If they do, this offense will improve. The question is: How much. CP has been solid defensively the last three years and that should continue.

But what they have on offense and what it could be. It's very interesting.


4. (4A) Lowell (10-3)
2017 (14-1), 2016 (9-5), 2015 (9-5), 2014 (12-1)


LOWELL – The Devils graduated all five starting offensive linemen and the 2019 season depends on the five boys who will replace them. The Devils’ top three tacklers graduate before next season, but the defense, while not at the elite level of the past two seasons, should be OK.

Starting defensive backs John Alessia (5-11, 155) and Adam Bank (5-9, 150) return as do starting defensive linemen Trevor Mantovina (5-10, 204) and Bryan Stoner (6-0, 225). Linebacker Aaron DuBord (55 tackles) will be a key man.

On offense, Lowell’s new QB might be Ryan Marx (5-5, 145) a fast option runner who did get some varsity time as a freshman. Alessia (17 catches, 276 yards), who spent five games as the QB in 2018, will be the top receiver.

Marx carried 11 times for 145 yards and three TDs in limited duty. I don’t think the Devils want Alessia (the 2018 backup) to be the backup QB. He grabbed four interceptions, ran a punt back for a TD and was in on 48 tackles on defense. John is more valuable as a multi-position player.

Nate Gard (who kicked a school-record 13 field goals) returns as the punter and placekicker. His scoring ability changes how Lowell plays the game once they cross midfield.

There are running back and receiver slots to fill for 2019, but a lot of what happens depends on who makes strength and size gains physically in the off-season. Lowell seemed a little undersized last year, although you wouldn’t know it from the final record.

It is a testament to the coaches and players that the Devils went 10-3 with such a thin roster (only 40 in grades 10-12) and a 5-game injury loss of the starting quarterback.

The Devils replace Clark on the 2019 schedule with Griffith, a natural rival, so the schedule will be a little tougher, but another sectional title is certainly possible.


5. (4A) Griffith (8-3)
2017 (10-2), 2016 (8-4), 2015 (4-7), 2014 (1-9)


GRIFFITH – The Panthers bring back quarterback Carson Crowe who was 69 of 141 for 945 yards passing, with six TDs and who carried 101 times for 759 yards and nine TDs. Coaches will tell you that planning for a season is so much easier when you have an experienced quarterback returning. The Panthers don't have a lot of other starting players coming back, but I’m intrigued by other changes.

I have not seen the official schedule, but I have heard that Griffith will add 6A Valparaiso and 4A Lowell to their schedule. Griffith has played Lowell every single year the Panthers have played varsity football going back before World War II. Griffith dropped Lowell two years ago when the Panthers joined the Greater South Shore Conference (GSSC), but the two schools met in the playoffs in 2017 and 2018.

The Lowell-Griffith rivalry is good for the sport locally.
And there is the 3A-4A thing. Griffith is too small a school to have a real chance go far in the Class 4A playoffs. But let's say they drop to 3A. And let's say that 3A state champ West Lafayette is moved out of 3A Sectional 25 (a possibility) because they are so distant from most Sectional 25 teams.

The playoff future is bright for Griffith if they are 3A.

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Revised: December 08, 2018 .