The RENEGADE 'Magnificent-7':
2017 NW Indiana High School Football Week-15 Poll

A Special Report by Mark Smith



In the northern part of the state, eventually, you have to hope you'll be driving I-65 on the Thanksgiving weekend. Top-ranked Lowell isn't going to grandma's house. The Devils head to the state finals to play East Central Saturday in the 4A championship game at the Lucas Oil Arena. (Photo by Mark Smith)

LOWELL (11-21-2017) Most of the top-ranked teams stayed strong in week 14 as 1A No.1 Pioneer (14-0), 6A No. 1 Ben Davis (13-0) and 4A No. 1 Lowell (14-0) did what they had to do and reached the state championship games. Only 2A No. 1 Eastbrook fell 15-14 to Woodlan.

This is what you want for the marquee games of the 2017 season. Undefeated league and regional champs on the bus to Indianapolis to play in the downtown pro stadium on state wide TV.

Superpower Ben Davis, averaging 50 points a game, is going for the school's ninth state title. Tiny Pioneer with all-state QB Jack Kiser and a defense that has recorded eight shutouts, is 14-0 for the second straight season. Trying to win the Pioneer's first state title in 20 years after losing in the state final game last November.

And then there's Lowell. They lost in the regional in 2014 and 2015. They lost the semistate at home in 2016. Another chance was not guaranteed.

But the Devils sit at 14-0 for the first time in school history looking to bring home a state championship. All the state finals games will be on FOX Sports Indiana, but that's not on any cable systems in Northwest Indiana. Lakeshore Public Television (Comcast Channel 17) stopped carrying the high school state finals a few years ago.

You have to access one of the many FOX sports channels to see the games live or on replays. Or you have to get on your horse and ride south to Indianapolis.

1. (4A) LOWELL (14-0)
2016 (9-5), 2015 (12-1), 2014 (8-5), 2013 (6-4), 2012 (5-5), 2011 (5-5)


LOWELL: Trailing 7-0, Lowell turned the game around, went back to the power running game of the Devils' glory years, and stopped Bishop Dwenger 21-7 to reach the state championship game for the fourth time in 12 years. Senior Jordan Jusevitch had three rushing TDs and a pass interception as Lowell improved to 14-0 for the first time in school history. Only Andrean (2014 and 2003) and Hobart (1997, 1989, 1991 and 1993) have ever won more than one state football championship. Only two Northwest Indiana schools (Andrean in 2013 and Rensselaer is 2014) have ever gone 15-0. That is what Lowell is playing for when they take on East Central (11-3) Saturday at 2:30 p.m. Lowell time in the Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis.


2. (6A) Valparaiso (8-2)
2016 (5-5), 2015 (7-3), 2014 (2-8), 2013 (3-7), 2012 (3-7)


VALPO: Again, the rankings don't end until everybody you played is out of the state tournament. As I said last week, every time Penn (12-1) wins, it makes Valparaiso's season look better because Valpo is the only team to defeat the Kingsmen. So when Penn put a surprising 34-7 spanking on Carmel last week, 2017 Valparaiso looks more like the season they hoped it would be when the post-season began and ended on the same day. It is worth repeating that QB Jake Leffew, who missed most of 2017 with injury, will be back next season. Leffew was 113 of 204 for 1,355 yards and nine TDs in 2016.


3. (4A) New Prairie (11-2)
2016 (9-3), 2015 (6-4), 2014 (13-2), 2013 (12-1), 2012 (9-2)


NEW CARLISLE: Here's why the rankings change after teams have been defeated. The Cougars took 4A No. 1 Lowell into the fourth quarter on November 10 before losing 25-20 in the 4A regional championship game. And now Lowell (14-0) has reached the Class 4A state championship game. That makes New Prairie's season a bit better. Just as it did for Lowell in 2014 when New Prairie topped the Devils 28-27 and the Cougars reached the finals. New Prairie sophomore halfback Chris Ketterer (6-0, 170) gained 1,396 yards and scored 22 TDs on 202 carries. This matters, because I believe he was also the backup quarterback. Ketterer would figure to replace three year starter Nick Wilson (205 carries, 1,978 yards) which would help the Cougars get a head start on 2018.

4. (5A) Michigan City (9-4)
2016 (7-4), 2015 (2-7), 2014 (4-6), 2013 (2-8), 2012 (2-8)


MICHIGAN CITY: Michigan City ran into the 'curse of the north' at the Northern Class 4A semistate in Kokomo. The Wolves, with a balanced offense of over 2,000 yards rushing and 2,000 yards passing, ran into a cold November night with high winds. It destroyed their passing attack. Is that an excuse. Yes? It is the truth. It always has been. QB Mike McCullough was 4 of 15 for 119 yards and two interceptions. Kokomo, a hard core running team, led 21-7 at the half and won 21-14. Here is the problem for teams that play in northern Indiana. The offense you run in August and September is the offense you need if you ever got indoors to play the state championship. That's not the offense that wins the regional and semistate in 40 degree weather, rain, snow flurries and 20 mile-an-hour winds. Michigan City graduates a lot of key players. They will be a very different team in 2018.

5. (6A) LaPorte (7-4)
2016 (9-2), 2015 (6-4), 2014 (8-6), 2013 (1-9), 2012 (1-9)

LaPORTE: LaPorte lost 38-10 to Michigan City, which ended their season with a 21-14 semistate loss at Kokomo. Final totals had the Slicers averaging 388.5 yards rushing per game and they may not fall off that number in 2018. All eight DAC teams had returning starters at QB in 2017. Only three of those schools (Lake Central, Merrillville and Valpo) have experienced QBs coming back in 2018. LaPorte loses QB Nick Lorenz to graduation but they have offensive tackle Brandon Seibert (6-3, 323) and top tackler (13 tackles for loss) linebacker Noah Perez (5-10, 190). LaPorte has the style of offense to win late November games outdoors in Northwest Indiana. The Slicers' task is to get their defense to a level where they can contain athletic, spread offense teams (read: Michigan City) well enough that they will still be playing in late November.


6. (6A) Crown Point (7-5)
2016 (6-6), 2015 (1-9), 2014 (8-4), 2013 (6-4)


CROWN POINT: The Bulldogs lost the regional championship to Penn for the second year in a row and with Penn advancing to the state championship game by beating Carmel, CP doesn't have to spend much time in the off-season wondering why they lost. Crown Point won the Bulldogs' second consecutive Class 6A Sectional 1 championship and halfback Tyler Gomez ran 283 times for 1,630 yards, the third best single season total in recorded CP football history. Ryan Bolda completed 104 of 229 passes for 1,197 yards and 10 TDs. Caden Watson led the defense with 153 total tackles including 98 solo tackles. Sam Krutz was second with 94 tackles. On offense, CP graduates almost everybody who started. But they also won't begin the season on the road against a senior-dominated No. 1 team.


7. (4A) Griffith (10-2)
2016 (4-7), 2015 (6-5), 2014 (10-2), 2013 (8-2)


GRIFFITH: Griffith again saw their dismissal from the 2017 state tournament seem less painful and Lowell, the team that beat them 42-7, advanced to the Class 4A state championship game. Is Andrean (8-4) better? The 59ers did not play Griffith and they did lose by 'only' 16 to Lowell (14-0). Griffith did beat Morton (8-3) and I don't know if the 59ers have a win that good. Griffith will still be one of the top teams in the Greater South Shore Conference (GSSC) and those who were dismayed with them moving to a small school conference may understand it a little better in 2018. Again, the IHSAA school directory lists Griffith as having only 805 students, making them one of the state's smallest Class 4A schools.


Copyright 2017 and Meyer Multimedia Services, a division of Meyer Broadcasting Corp.  All rights reserved.
Revised: November 21, 2017 .