A USA-365.com Special Report by Mark Smith
|The ball is usually in good hands when Merrillville quarterback Angel Nelson (12) has it. The Pirates topped Andrean for the fourth year in a row last Friday night. (Photo by Mark Smith)|
MERRILLVILLE (08-27-2021) Looking at the state rankings in week one, you go right to 6A No. 1 Center Grove, a defending state champ, which swamped Warren Central in week one 38-14. In Class 5A, No. 1 Cathedral, the defending 5A champ rejected 6A Westfield 14-0.
charter member of the Indianapolis Catholic school football mafia, 4A No. 1
Roncalli, the 2020 state champ, rumbled over Class 6A Southport 55-7 in week
These three schools are heavy favorites to repeat in their respective classes. When I hear that it should be your goal as a football program to win a state title, I understand why that is said. And in individual sports, that is what you shoot for. But in team sports, specifically football, my goal is to win the sectional. You have a successful program if you win the sectional every year and never win state. Some might see that as limiting your horizons or not trying to be the best you can be.
But in a five or six team single-elimination playoff, public schools always have been at a significant disadvantage. Bishop Chatard of Indianapolis has won 15 state titles in less than 50 years of the IHSAA state tournament. Coincidence?
I also think that, under the present format in all classes but Class 6A, the sectional is an eight-team playoff, in fact, mini-state tournament. To me, as a public school, if you begin the season with that realistic goal, and you win the sectional or get to the title game every year, you have a great football program.
Let's get to week one.
My apologies go out to New Prairie and Rensselaer, who can argue that they were indeed magnificent in week one. New Prairie halfback Noah Muniga, who gained 1,000 yards last year as a sophomore, carried 33 times for 321 yards and five touchdowns as the Cougars upset LaPorte 37-21 in week one.
The LaPorte Herald reports that Muniga, who played at 155 pounds in 2020, is now up to 195 pounds and is a headache on two feet. And with 6-foot-6, 310-pound four-year offensive tackle Hunter Whitenack leading the way, New Prairie deserves a few words here.
As does Rensselaer, which certainly took it to county rival Kankakee Valley 41-17 last week. The ‘Big Kid’, Rensselaer senior Dylan Kidd carried the ball 23 times for 211 yards and three TDs. The Bombers are looking good. Maybe even magnificent. But not Top-7 in this poll. Not yet.
Every week one poll has to value good teams that lose to bigger schools against smaller schools that win decisively. That’s the discussion this week.
1. (6A) Merrillville (1-0)
2020 (10-2), 2019 (11-2), 2018 (7-4), 2017 (1-9), 2016 (5-6), 2015 (7-5)
MERRILLVILLE: Not much doubt here. Merrillville spotted Class 2A No. 1 Andrean lads of 7-6, 13-7 and 21-13 before dominating the second half for a 47-21 win. Veteran quarterback Angel Nelson threw for three touchdowns. All-area halfback Lavarion Logan scored five touchdowns. But folks are probably still talking about 340-pound senior lineman Kenneth Grant who blocked two punts and grabbed the last one in the end zone for the final TD of the game. The purple Pirates look to again have a balanced offense with size up front and speed on the perimeter. Next up is ‘old school’ rival Hobart (0-1) and the goal will probably be not to fall behind early.
2. (5A) Valparaiso (1-0)
2020 (8-1), 2019 (13-1), 2018 (10-2), 2017 (8-2), 2016 (5-5), 2015 (7-3)
VALPARAISO: I admit to being surprised by Valpo’s 35-7 win over Penn last week. Senior halfback Aidan Vinyard ran 25 times for 228 yards and four touchdowns and the boys in green totaled an unofficial 467 yards on offense. It's not that I don’t think Valpo is good, but few teams lay the lumber to Penn like that. Valparaiso has defeated the giant 3,500 South Bend area school four years in a row. I’m going to wait a couple more weeks before passing any hard judgment on the Vikings to see if this first week stomping said more about Penn than it did about Valpo. The Vikings play at Hammond (0-1) this coming Friday.
3.) (6A) CROWN POINT (1-0)
2020 (3-4), 2019 (6-5), 2018 (5-7), 2017 (7-5)
CROWN POINT: I might be biased here, but I’m in on the Bulldogs. The offensive line took over what was an even game and fueled a 28-14 win at Lowell in week one. Junior quarterback Johnny Johnson ran for two touchdowns and passed for two more in his starting debut. The defense held Lowell to 161 yards rushing and I will predict that no one else on the Devils schedule will hold them to less than that. Crown Point needs more of a passing attack to compete well in the DAC. But big, strong offensive lines win in any league and there is a lot of enthusiasm here. The Bulldogs were very confident against a team that had beaten them four years in a row. We’ll know more after the Bulldogs host Andrean in week two.
4.) (5A) Michigan City (1-0)
2020 (4-3), 2019 (4-6), 2018 (10-3), 2017 (9-4), 2016 (7-4)
MICHIGAN CITY: The Wolves laid the smack down on South Bend Washington 62-0 in week one and I know it was a mismatch. But there’s a new man in town. Sophomore 15-year-old Michigan City running back Jaden Hart (6-0, 180) scored three touchdowns, playing only in the first half, showing a peak at what he mighty do this year. MC halfback Racian Hart scored four touchdowns and the Wolves defense, with seven starters back from 2020, grabbed five turnovers and dominated the overmatched Washington boys. I want to hold on here until I see Michigan City take on a tough, hard-running Warsaw (1-0) team this coming Friday. But the Wolf Pack seems ready to rumble this season.
5.) (6A) Chesterton (1-0)
2020 (5-5), 2019 (6-4), 2018 (3-7), 2017 (4-6), 2016 (2-8), 2015 (8-3)
CHESTERTON: Chesterton is here because I think they are better than they showed in week one. The 20-14 win at Hobart was good money in the bank, but I thought they’d win this one easily and it didn’t work out that way. All-area QB Chris Mullen threw TD passes of 17, 37 and 70 yards and he was 17 of 22 for 224 yards. But the Trojans led 20-0 in this game and they were literally holding on at the end. I expect a lot more out of this team and that 20-0 lead was satisfying and justifying. The fourth quarter was a little shaky, to be kind. A very interesting matchup this week as the Trojans host TF South of Lansing, Illinois with big Ernest Temple (6-1, 215) at running back.
6.) (2A) Andrean (0-1)
2020 (11-2), 2019 (10-4), 2018 (10-2), 2017 (8-4), 2016 (5-6), 2015 (7-4)
MERRILLVILLE: I can't fault the 59ers for losing to my top-rated team and I was impressed by Andrean early in this game. The 59ers led 21-20 in the third quarter before the purple people rolled over on them. New quarterback Scott Ballantine had a shocking debut, completing 26 of 40 for 259 yards and two touchdowns. I’m going to guess that’s the most passing yardage Merrillville will allow this season. If the 59ers came out of this game injury-free this is a big boost to them because they won't see anybody like Merrillville again. A landmark game is coming in week two. The first-ever meeting of Andrean and big neighbor Crown Point (1-0). Might be time to note that the 59ers, who lost by 26 points to Merrillville last Friday, lost by 27 points to Merrillville in week one last year and ended up with an 11-2 record.
7.) (4A) LOWELL (0-1)
2020 (9-2), 2019 (7-5), 2018 (10-3), 2017 (14-1), 2016 (9-5)
The Devils lost the opener at home 28-14 to Crown Point, but I suspect that
outcome may say more about Crown Point than it does about Lowell. The Devils
trailed 7-6 in the third quarter, held the ball for seven minutes, and got
nothing out of it. CP then scored three touchdowns on their next three
possessions. But, to be fair, this is a senior dominated, experienced Lowell
squad and they were not very good on offense in week one. Nine scrimmage running
plays for losses for Lowell. This is the first opening night loss for Lowell in
four years and now they hit the road to play at Portage (1-0) in week two and at
New Prairie (1-0) in week three. It should be noted that the Devils were without
linebacker Spencer Barta (6-4, 225) and placekicker Caden Britten against CP and
I still think this team is the 4A Sectonal 17 favorite. But unless they put some
logs on the fire this week, the Devils may be looking at 0-3.
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Revised: August 22, 2021 .