The RENEGADE 'Magnificent-7':
2016 NW Indiana High School Football Week-14 Poll

A Special Report by Mark Smith



The winning flags fly in Whiting this week as the Oilers (12-1) try to reach the state championship game for the second consecutive season when they meet Eastbrook (12-1) in the 2A Semistate championship game in Whiting this Friday night. 
(Photo by Mark Smith)

LaPORTE (11-14-2016) It's a good season up here because we have two Northwest Indiana teams still alive for the semistate level of the state tournament. Actually 3 if you count Pioneer (but nobody does because nobody knows where Pioneer is) in Class 1A after their 28-27 upset of top-ranked Lafayette Catholic.

In 4A, unranked Lowell gets extra credit. The Devils won three road games to get back home for the 4A Semistate against 4A No. 2 Northwood (13-0).


But maybe it was predictable.

For a six year span (2007 to 2012), the IHSAA flunked geography and sent the Lake County-based Devils into 4A Sectional 18, which had them facing teams an hour east of Lowell in Marshall and St. Joseph's County. Since they were returned to Sectional 17 in 2013, Lowell has won three of four sectional titles.

What does that say? I'm not sure. New Prairie (and temporarily Andrean) moving into Sectional 18 made it tougher than Sectional 17, but no tougher than when Concord and Mishawaka (both now 5A) were large 4A schools. But 4A Hobart (which also shouldn't be in Sectional 18 if you go solely by where they are) won Sectional 18 this year and Lowell beat them decisively.

One thing Lowell being back in Sectional 17 does is it makes road games familiar. When Lowell was in Sectional 18, they faced teams they had never seen before. This season, Lowell felt quite comfortable playing playoff games at Morton, Munster and Hobart. The Devils play there regularly and they thrived on the road in this playoff run.

One thing I do not know is: Have more Lowell fans been willing to travel with the team since the Sectional 17 foes are much closer than the Sectional 18 opponents? The Lowell regional crowd at Hobart last Friday did not fill the visitors grandstand. It was not as large as I thought it would be. It was a cold, a 45-degree night and Hobart's visitors' bleachers are unusually large. There were maybe 700-800 Lowell fans. But this was also a Lowell team that was 2-4 at one time.

The crowd at New Prairie (the Lowell regional final game) two years ago when the Devils were 8-4 was standing room only on a day after a six inch snowstorm. The Lowell home stadium was understandably packed last year when Lowell was 12-0 going into the regional with St. Joseph's. High school playoff crowds might be cumulative. Maybe some home town folks give up on a team when they lose early in the season and they don't come back. Maybe some don't want to travel when they aren't confident of the team winning. Hobart defeated Lowell in September. Maybe non-parent fans just prefer home games.

For this week, 2A Whiting and 4A Lowell are at home for the semistate. While I always wish teams would play Saturday so more fans could watch, this is not the time. The Class 2A and 4A state championship games are set for Friday, November 25 this year. Those 2A and 4A teams must play this Friday no matter what the distance (both Eastbrook and Northwood will ride more than two hours) must travel.

I believe Whiting's second consecutive Class 2A regional championship is short term gain for long term pain. If they win this Friday, Whiting will be a 3A school next fall due to the IHSAA's 'success factor', which bumps up schools with two years of state quality success. Whiting, a small 2A by enrollment, can't realistically go very far in a 3A playoff bracket that includes Griffith, (Mishawaka) Marian, Rensselaer (Rensselaer-Whiting games will be very popular) and will include Andrean. So this run to the title is probably 'it' for the Oilers for a couple of seasons. That shines a bigger light on the game this Friday night for Oiler senior players who have gone 35-4 the last three years.

With Lowell and Whiting at home, the semistate game is a great, great moment. If you grow up in the same community and play sports, all your life you think about reaching the state high school finals. To play one home game for the right to get to those finals is something very few high school athletes ever get a chance to do. And for seniors, whether you win or lose the state title game, the night you won your final home game on your field in your neighborhood and qualified for the state championship is the night you will always remember every time you walk or drive past that field.

I believe both semistate games will begin at 6:30 p.m. local time, 30 minutes ahead of the regular 7 p.m. starts.

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


LaPORTE: Penn's 23-0 win over Crown Point only makes LaPorte's 9-2 record look better. After the Slicers lost to Penn 42-21. LaPorte's only other loss was to Portage (6-4) and the Indians also defeated CP (6-6). LaPorte defeated 4A powers New Prairie (9-3) and Hobart (10-3) in nonconference play in August and they were 6-1 in league play. The Slicers are No. 1 unless Lowell, which didn't defeat either Portage and Crown Point, gets to the state finals.


2. (4A) LOWELL (9-4)
2015 (12-1), 2014 (8-5), 2013 (6-4), 2012 (5-5), 2011 (5-5)


LOWELL: Lowell ran down Hobart 44-23 to win the 4A Regional title. The Devils, winning for the seventh week in a row, held Hobart (10-3) to less than 150 total yards. Senior running back Trevor Espravnik (282 carries, 1,756 yards) carried 40 times for 184 yards and scored his 27th touchdown. Junior Jordan Jusevitch scored two TDs and Lowell won a fourth consecutive playoff games by 20 points or more. The Lowell losses here are to Hobart (10-3), Portage (6-4), Griffith (8-4) and Crown Point (6-6), all by a TD or less. It can't be avoided now that Lowell's 2005 state championship team was 1-4 before they won their last 10 games. Lowell takes on Northwood (13-0) and all-state quarterback Trey Billinski (188 of 301, 3,100 yards, 37 TDs, 5 interceptions) for the semistate title this Friday.


3. (4A) Hobart (10-3)
2015 (5-5), 2014 (3-7), 2013 (5-5), 2012 (8-3)


HOBART: The Brickies jumped ahead 23-14, but ended up losing 44-23 at home to Lowell (9-4). Hobart could not repeat their earlier 18-12 win over Lowell (9-4) as Nick Ray (209 carries, 1,433 yards, 19 TDs) closed out his season with 19 touchdowns. I'm not sure what happens to Hobart in 2017 as Andrean (a 4A Sectional 18 participant) drops back to Class 3A and Gary West Side may also fall to 3A. The 59er move would make Sectional 18 easier to win next fall, but that West Side move might bring Hobart back into 4A Sectional 17. One thing is sure for Hobart, which was loaded with seniors this fall. After winning that first sectional since 1997, there will be change.


4. (4A) New Prairie (9-3)
2015 (6-4), 2014 (13-2), 2013 (12-1), 2012 (12-1)


NEW CARLISLE: New Prairie lost to LaPorte (9-2), Hobart (10-3) and Marian (11-2) so it was a strong 9-3. I know they'd have liked to play Lowell again, but maybe it'll happen in 2017 when the Cougars return starting QB Nick Wilson (285 carries, 1,652 yards , 20 TDs) back to lead the offense after completing 53 of 101 passing, for 1,085 yards and 11 TDs. Linebacker Austin Weiland (70 solo tackles) end Kyle Weber (50 solo tackles) could lead the defense in 2017. The Cougars won't see Andrean in 4A Sectional 18 next fall and they may not see Hobart there either. The future seems bright.

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


VALPARAISO How are they in the rankings at 5-5? The short answer? Because they lost twice to Penn (12-0) and Penn keeps winning. Valpo also lost 39-38 to LaPorte (9-2), 24-20 to Portage (6-4) and 21-20 to a very strange Lake Central (4-6) team. It's hard to argue that Whiting (12-1), Crown Point (6-6) or East Chicago (7-2) would beat them. Crown Point played but didn't beat them. The Vikings can return QB Jake Leffew (113 of 204, 1,355 yards, 9 TDs) and kicker Lucas White (24 of 24 extra points, 8 field goals and 36.1 per punt) for 2017.


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


MICHIGAN CITY: Michigan City lost to LaPorte (9-2), Valparaiso (5-5), Mishawaka (10-3) and Crown Point (6-6) and the CP loss isn't such a big deal now. The Wolves will return QB Mike McCullough (102 of 215, 1,576 14 TDs) next season along with linebacker Chase Triplett, who was in on 91 tackles and five sacks in 2016. The Wolves need some new skill position players in 2017, but they appear to have a couple of core players on offense and defense.

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


PORTAGE:  Portage did beat Lowell and Lowell (9-4) is still playing, so the Indians did their share this fall. Portage also topped LaPorte (9-2) and Crown Point (6-6). We won't talk about the two losses to Merrillville (5-6). For 2017? Anthony Maceo (238 carries, 1,450 yards, 14 TDs) returns at QB as does linebacker Drake Guerrero, who was in on 99 tackles in 10 games. The DAC will be very tough, but Portage will be one of the reasons why.


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


CROWN POINT: Crown Point didn't have anything they could hurt undefeated Penn with, losing the regional championship game 23-0 and gaining less than 100 yards. The Bulldogs end up at .500 and Michigan City (7-4) is the only winning team they were able to beat. But the Bulldogs will remember the late season four-game winning streak and the fifth sectional title in school history. The future is fairly bright, especially on offense where the Bulldogs return center Jacob Keaveney, QB Ryan Bolda, tight end and placekicker Ben Fridrich, halfback Tyler Gomez and receiver Tyler Jones.

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Revised: November 13, 2016 .