The RENEGADE 'Magnificent-7':
2016 NW Indiana High School Football Week-6 Poll

A Special Report by Mark Smith



It's almost game time at LaPorte high school where the Slicers have five wins in five games so far. Merrillville plays at undefeated LaPorte Friday night at 7 p.m. (Photo by Mark Smith)

LaPORTE (9-19-2016) The poll changes again at the top spot this week as LaPorte takes over the No. 1 spot.

Defense wins? Maybe. But The Slicers have scored at least two touchdowns 31 times in their last 32 games. They only scored seven against Cathedral in the 2014 Class 5A state title game. (Sure wish LaPorte hadn't moved up to 6A, but we'll talk about that next month.)

The Slicers are on a 3-year run where they have won 19 and lost 10 and LaPorte has score at least 20 points for 10 games in a row.

All 4A teams need to get some video (there's a lot of it on-line) on Northwood and quarterback Trey Bilinski (6-3, 189). For half a century, Northwood ran the ball into the line and lived with the results. But now, in the middle of Amish country no less, the Panthers light up the scoreboard for 50 points a game, with four offensive linemen returning from 2015 and Bilinski is throwing for 300 yards most every Friday.

Warsaw (3-2) and Plymouth (3-2) stand between Northwood and 9-0 and since they are in 4A Sectional 19, they can't come to Northwest Indiana potentially until the semistate.

This is the big week in the Greater South Shore Conference (GSSC) where Class 2A No. 1 and defending GSSC champ Whiting (5-0) takes on challenger Hanover Central (5-0). This is the game Hanover has probably pointed to since they restarted the football program two years ago. Whiting has topped Hanover 42-21 and 34-7 the last two years so this won't be a runaway. I'll be interested in seeing how many Hanover fans make the ride up to the north end of Lake County in the 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. hour Friday (a tough rush-hour drive) to see their boys take on the top-rated team.

Time to pass out mid-season grades. Whiting and Hanover get 'As', obviously. Remember kids, football is the only class where you can be failing at midseason and still get an 'A'. That doesn't work inside the building. Don't give up and don't talk back to your teachers. You don't get to do that outside the building.

1. (6A) LaPorte (5-0)
2015 (6-4), 2014 (8-6), 2013 (1-9), 2012 (1-9)


LaPORTE: The Slicers outran a fifth opponent, pulling away to win 35-17 at Lake Central. Brennan Long rumbled 15 times for 184 yards as the Slicers rallied after trailing 17-14 in the third quarter.
52 carries for 376 total yards and junior QB Nolan Lorenz is a very tidy 16 of 23 for the season with 3 TD passes and no interceptions. LaPorte averages 300 yards rushing per game. What happens when somebody stops them? Nobody has so we don't know. The scary thing about LaPorte is the rushing yardage allowed. Over 1,000 yards in five games. I know they're working on that, especially with Merrillville (3-2) heading for LaPorte County next Friday.


There's no complaints here. The one-point win over New Prairie (4-1) looks better every week as does the one-point win over Valparaiso (3-2). I'm intrigued by the fact that the former Griffith wishbone QB star Bo Radtke is the running back coach for the Slicers. Combine the rushing 'sauce' of Bo filtered down from his dad (former North Judson, Griffith and now New Prairie coach Russ Radtke) with that of coach Dave Sharpe of Jimtown fame (his now-retired dad Dave Sharpe was 288-54 from 1980-2007 and a Jimtown legend) who starred on two state titles as a player and everybody in NWI Indiana better watch out here.


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


VALPARAISO: Valparaiso handled rival Chesterton 34-13, scoring 28 points in the second half. Greg Lichtenberger scored two TDs for the second week in a row and he now has six scores in five games. I don't need to remind everybody that Valpo's two losses are to Penn (5-0) and LaPorte (5-0). Junior QB Jeff Leffew has thrown for 600 yards and the Vikings also do the no-QB 'Wildcat' offense when they want to stomp on you. The Vikes average 31.6 points a game, a number fattened by playing Gary West Side, but a number that's depressed by playing Penn. They have to like the thought that Crown Point, which has scored just 63 points all season, is coming to Valpo next Friday.


They should have defeated LaPorte and they didn't. That's what lowers their grade. I'd like to see them win a close game, but I don't blame them for wanting to win by 3 or 4 touchdowns. I keep remembering that the Post-Tribune had Valpo ranked number one before the season began and it didn't make sense at the time. But the Vikings play in 6A Sectional 2 with Penn (5-0) so they need to get a lot better than they are. That's just the way it is.


3. (6A) MERRILLVILLE (3-2)
2015 (7-5), 2014 (6-6), 2013 (9-2), 2012 (11-3)


MERRILLVILLE: Merrillville lost 42-35 at home to Michigan City and they got run down as the Wolves rolled up 300 yards on the ground. QB Cam Wright was an unofficial 25 of 42 for 392 yards, but the Wolves did get two interceptions. Wright leads the DAC in passing with 1,077 yards on 73 of 132 throwing the ball. Davion Ervin-Poindexter carried 24 times for 81 yards and scored four touchdowns. 'DEP' has nine touchdowns in his 'rookie' season on the Pirate varsity and he's up to 107 carries for 485 yards. But these nice numbers didn't impress Michigan City, which defeated Merrillville for the first time in 16 years. It's telling that one back: MC's Aryuan Cain-Veasey lined up and ran over them for 30 carries and 227 yards when they knew he was coming. That's an issue because LaPorte's got something for the Merrillville rushing defense in LaPorte this coming Friday night.


They lost to Michigan City (4-1) and Penn (5-0), but they've had to scramble for a couple of other wins and they do turn the ball over a lot. I love their comeback ability, but the really good teams aren't behind as much as Merrillville is. You could say that this was a rebuilding year after the Pirates graduated the best offensive and best defensive player in the DAC. But nobody cares about that.
The Pirates have to stop the run better or it'll be a very short post-season.


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


LOWELL: Michigan City hadn't won at Merrillville since Bill Clinton was president. But Aryuan Cain-Veasey helped make the Pirates lose last Friday night's election 36-33 in a pivotal DAC win for the Wolves. After losing 29-0 to Valparaiso, to bounce back and top Merrillville is impressive. I'm not sold on Michigan City yet. They shut out Northridge (1-4) and Chesterton (2-3), which is offensively challenged. Against winning teams they've given up 31 points a game and they still have arch-rival LaPorte (5-0) to play next month. But they get slumping Lake Central (1-4) next, so I'd guess they're quite happy with where they are.


No doubt. Anybody who tells you they thought Michigan City would defeat Chesterton and Merrillville on the road is 1.) Lying to you, or 2.) They're the same people who thought that Western Michigan would beat Northwestern and Illinois on the road. This was supposed to be a good season. They have two college caliber running backs and a returning QB. But if they defeat LaPorte and other results go right, Michigan City can win the Duneland Athletic Conference and that would be a landmark for the program.


5. (6A) Portage (3-2)
2015 (1-10), 2014 (1-9), 2013 (6-4), 2012 (3-7)


PORTAGE: Portage made one Anthony Maceo TD hold up in a 7-3 win at Crown Point, a pivotal game in the season for the Indians. The Portage defense stopped drive after drive from CP and held on to win for a third time by a TD or less. The Indians play a pro-style 4-2-5 'endless nickel' defense and they have proven tough to throw against, allowing unofficially just 428 yards on 39 of 88 (44.3%) in the air. All five of their games (with the possible exception of the 21-7 loss at Mishawaka) could have gone either way and the Indians' chance to win the DAC is still very much alive. Hopefully, big lineman Nick Johnson is OK after what looked like an ankle injury last week at Crown Point.


Not an 'A'? No, they had 15 returning starters. 3-2 isn't a total shock. They should be better than last year's 1-10 team. They are 3-2, but they needed a last second kick to beat Lowell and a late rally to take down Lake Central. But Portage is very good defensively and their kicking game is strong. But when you had one win last season and one win two years ago and now you have three wins, it's a really good season.


6. (4A) LOWELL (2-3)
2015 (12-1), 2014 (8-5), 2013 (6-4), 2012 (5-5), 2011 (5-5)


LOWELL: Lowell bounced back with a 41-14 win at Highland, the Devils' first road win of the season. Trevor Espravnik scored two times and Jaeger Gill added two more TDs. The Devils have lost top tackler and two-way star Jordan Jusevitch indefinitely with a shoulder injury and they will miss him especially on defense, where Lowell allowed its first two TD passes of the season at Highland. But the Devils appear to be getting their running attack back on track with an unofficial 346 yards rushing last week. This is still a team that's allowed only 68 points (13.6 per game) all year. The offensive and defensive lines still can be a strength, and in truth they have a double-overtime loss and a 28-27 loss. Clearly they have lost all the close games so far. Can they win two in a row? Hobart (3-2) will have something to say about that this Friday.

GRADE: D-minus

That's harsh, but this is not where Lowell expected to be. Not even close. I thought they'd split with the 6A schools and be 3-0 in league play. There have certainly been injury issues, but I think even they'd say they should be at least 3-2. The rest of the schedule is tough, but Lowell seemed to find some new life last week at Highland. I think this is still a sectional championship team, but right now, the won-loss record is a disappointment.


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


MUNSTER: The start was not good, but losses to 6A schools Lake Central and Chesterton don't ruin the season. Since Sept. 1, Munster is 3-0 with wins over Highland (3-2), Andrean (2-3) and last week, 20-7 over Morton (3-2). Big receiver Jaylon Scott caught a 5-yard TD pass and ran back a kickoff 92 yards for another score. QB Andrew Jumonville is 35 of 65 for 548 yards and six TDs on the year. Punter Scott Fischer averages 40 yards a boot and is a solid placekicker. The Mustangs lost to Chesterton by three points. They had a good shot at being 4-1 at this point. But I have to rate them above Whiting (5-0), Hanover Central (5-0) and East Chicago (3-1) on strength of schedule.


I didn't think prospects for a winning season in Munster were high this year, but it looks like they will win more than they lose. Munster did have 11 starters coming back, including the QB Jumonville, so maybe 3-2 is where they should be. Even with a trip to Lowell coming up, the Mustangs could get to 6-3. The fact that they have dropped from 5A to 4A actually hurts the Mustangs in the post-season because 5A (where you likely get a first round bye) is an easier path to the regional than 4A is with Lowell, East Chicago and Morton in 4A Sectional 17.


8. (6A) CROWN POINT (2-3)
2015 (1-9), 2014 (8-2), 2013 (6-4), 2012 (8-4)


CROWN POINT: I was going to drop CP all the way out of the poll, but I can't quit on them. Another low-scoring loss last week, 7-3 to Portage. It looks tough with Valparaiso (3-2) and LaPorte (5-0) on the road back-to-back.  Top rusher Tyler Gomez was hurt last week and his situation is not known. But points matter. LaPorte (5-0) allows 19.8 points a game. Crown Point (2-3) allows 12.8 points a game. How bad can you be with that defense? Let's see what happens as they visit Porter County.


They should be 4-1. Losing 10-6 at Mishawaka and 7-3 to Portage. Those are very winnable games. The offense has not produced points and points, again, do matter. CP hasn't scored more than two offensive TDs in any game yet. Scoring 12.6 points a game, it's a miracle they beat Lowell and Lake Central. But I look at the players and say that one night, they are going to break out and put up 28-31 points. I still think so. That's why the grade is so low. They should score more than they do.


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Revised: September 21, 2016 .