The RENEGADE 'Magnificent-7':
2016 NW Indiana High School Football Week-11 Poll

A Special Report by Mark Smith



The sun sets on half the 192 remaining teams in the Indiana state football tournament this Friday night. It's winner-take-all at Crown Point where the Bulldogs host Lake Central in the 6A Sectional 1 semifinals. (Photo by Mark Smith)

LaPORTE (10-24-2016) I've got to believe that so far, the Class 5A and 6A teams that got a 'bye' (a week off) at the start of the 2016 Indiana High School Athletic Association (IHSAA) state football tournament, have to be very happy with it.

Not only did they not lose in the first week of the state tournament, they also didn't freeze as teams did in Northwest Indiana, playing in temperatures that dipped into the mid-40s by the end of the games.

The question going forward is: How will teams react to not playing last Friday. Unlike college and professional football, most Indiana high school teams (unless you simply can't fill out the schedule) never have a week in the nine-game regular season where they do not play. What does that do to/for you?

Does the bye help Michigan City (6-3), which lost its last two games at home?

Did they need a free week to regroup or will they think about the losses and lose confidence?

How does Penn (9-0) benefit from a bye when they are facing a Valparaiso team they defeated in August. Why give the Vikings two weeks to work on them?

Offensive and defensive coordinators are usually rushed through the week. Most of them are school teachers or they have other jobs. The extra time has to give those assistants so much extra time to work on installing the game plan for the all-important playoff opener.

A few schools had a fall break last week or this week so there were no classes. That created extra practice time. We'll never know for sure, but it will be fun to theorize about how the 'bye week' helped or hurt one team or the other.

1. (6A) LaPorte (8-1)
2015 (6-4), 2014 (8-6), 2013 (1-9), 2012 (1-9)


LaPORTE: LaPorte probably didn't want a week off after their first loss of the season, to Portage in week nine. All the extra time can do is give Chesterton (2-7) more time to work on how to stop them. One thing to note in rankings. How the teams you defeated are is significant. LaPorte's 21-20 win over New Prairie in August looks better now that New Prairie is 8-2 and is 1-0 in the post-season. The Slicers, led by running backs Brennen Long (138 carries, 827 yards, 14 TDs), Drayson Nespo (137 carries, 669 yards, 6 TDs) and Chris Juszkiewicz (83 carries, 713 yards, 9 TDs) are the No. 1 team.


2. (6A) Valparaiso (5-4)
2015 (7-3), 2014 (2-8), 2013 (3-7), 2012 (3-7)


VALPARAISO: The Vikings open the 6A Sectional 2 playoffs at Penn, so they needed an extra week to work on it. Valpo lost 27-7 at Penn 10 weeks ago and the rematch is Friday with an early Northwest Indiana (NWI) start: 6:30 p.m. CST. The other three setbacks: Valparaiso has lost games 39-38 to LaPorte (8-1), 24-20 to Portage (6-3) and 21-20 last week at Lake Central (4-5).
The Vikings QB Jake Leffew (105 of 177, 1,236 yards, 8 TDs) reportedly suffered an injury against LC in the season finale. The Vikes aren't favored with Jake, but they have little chance without him.


3. (6A) Portage (6-3)
2015 (1-10), 2014 (1-9), 2013 (6-4), 2012 (3-7)


PORTAGE:  Portage didn't want a bye. In the final two weeks, they topped LaPorte and Valparaiso, probably the two top teams in the Duneland Athletic Conference (DAC). QB Anthony Maceo (210 carries, 1,269 yards, 14 TDs) certainly needed a bye after averaging over 23 carries a game. Portage plays Merrillville (4-5) on October 28 in Class 6A Sectional 1 and there's no way to judge how they'll do. Look at this poll. I have them rated behind two teams (Valpo, LaPorte) that they defeated and ahead of two teams (Merrillville and Michigan City) that defeated Portage. The Indians are 4-0 on the road and 2-3 at home. Their results contradict themselves.


4. (4A) New Prairie (8-2)
2015 (6-4), 2014 (13-2), 2013 (12-1), 2012 (12-1)


NEW CARLISLE: The Cougars took down Riley 42-14 last week. The 'prairie dogs' are 5-0 on the road and the only losses here are to LaPorte (8-1) by one point and (Mishawaka) Marian (9-1) by four points. Junior Nick Wilson (230 carries 1,368 yards, 17 TDs) posted his sixth 100-yard game and his second 200-yard game, with 34 carries for 207 yards. The Cougars have rushed for 3,011 yards and even with my public school education, that's 300 yards a game for 10 games. Next up: the rematch with Andrean (5-5) in the 4A Sectional 18 semifinals this Friday.


5. (4A) LOWELL (6-4)
2015 (12-1), 2014 (8-5), 2013 (6-4), 2012 (5-5), 2011 (5-5)


LOWELL: Lowell coasted past Gary West Side 65-6 in a game where most of the starters didn't play beyond the first half. This was a get well week for the Devils who, while they didn't get one of the Class 5A and 6A-style byes, they got to play, but not get bruised up too much against the Cougars, who did not put up a fight. The Lowell losses here are to Hobart (8-2), Portage (6-3), Griffith (7-3) and Crown Point (4-5), all by a TD or less. Are they better than Michigan City (6-3)? They were at the start of the year and the Devils have won four in a row now. Lowell, which was in the state Top-5 at the start of the season, was 2-4 in September and now they're 6-4. The Devils now head to Hammond for a rematch with rival Morton (4-6), which broke a 4-game losing streak against Gavit 18-12 last week. Lowell will be the better team going in against the Governors, but you always have to beware of rematches where you won the first time.


6. (4A) Hobart (8-2)
2015 (5-5), 2014 (3-7), 2013 (5-5), 2012 (8-3)


HOBART: The Brickies continue to ride the quiet trail. Last Fridays' 33-14 win over South Bend Washington was Hobart's fifth win in a row and the Brickies' 8-2 record is their best since 2008. I know the 17-point loss to LaPorte (8-1) and the 24 point loss to Andrean (5-5) are a little vivid, but big Nick Ray gained 124 yards on 15 carries last week to step up to 173 carries and 1,288 yards on the year. Hobart gained 285 yards on 43 carries against Washington and, when you look at the teams they've beaten, Lowell (6-4) and Griffith (7-3) are on the list and, of the seven teams the Brickies defeated during the regular season, six of them won last Friday. The Brickies host KV (3-7) in the 4A Sectional 18 semifinals next Friday and they should advance ... quietly.


7. (5A) Michigan City (6-3)
2015 (2-7), 2014 (4-6), 2013 (2-8), 2012 (2-8), 2011 (1-9)


MICHIGAN CITY: Michigan City needed a week off after two losses to end the year and they can rest up big time rushers Aryuan Cain-Veasey (171 carries, 1,277 yards, 16 TDs) and Markice Hurt (81 carries, 530 yards) along with QB Michael McCullough (76 for 166, 1,180 yards, 10 TDs). I'm trying not to judge MC on how far they've come (they were 2-7 last year and have had losing records the past six seasons), but where they are now. The Wolves should be ready to take out Elkhart Central (2-7) this Friday night and they'll have an eye on the Mishawaka (8-2) game against (South Bend) Adams (6-2) in the other half of the 5A Sectional 9 bracket.

8. (6A) CROWN POINT (4-5)
2015 (1-9), 2014 (8-2), 2013 (6-4), 2012 (8-4)


CROWN POINT: Crown Point (4-5) and Lake Central (4-5) are pretty even now even with CP winning their last two games over Chesterton (2-7) and Michigan City (6-3). The Bulldogs' QB Grayson Lynk (78 of 167, 977 yards, 4 interceptions) has rushed 76 times for 458 yards. WR Shane McCormick is up to 485 yards gained on just 26 catches. The bye had to help CP halfback Tyler Gomez (56 carries, 503 yards, 5 TDs), who was hurt and missed 2-1/2 games in the middle of the season. The big concern here is that CP plays Lake Central Friday in the 6A Sectional 1 semifinals and the Indians are clearly much better than they were when CP defeated Lake Central 17-3 in September. I don't think there's a game in week two of the playoffs in NWI that is more difficult to predict.


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Revised: October 24, 2016 .