The RENEGADE 'Magnificent-7':
2020 NW Indiana High School Football Week-9 Poll

A Special Report by Mark Smith



Merrillville can win half or all of the the Duneland Conference championship when they ride the bus to Chesterton Friday night. (Photo by Mark Smith)

MERRILLVILLE (10-16-2020) We are a week away from one of the biggest blunders the Indiana High School Athletic Association (IHSAA) state tournament makes. Giving a first round bye to the biggest schools.


For those who donít know, there are 64 teams in the state tournament in Classes 1A, 2A, 3A and 4A. In Class 5A and 6A, there are 32 teams. And those biggest schools do not play the first week.

I have never heard a reason why.

If you simply list just 32 teams in Classes 1A and 2A and 64 in Classes 3A, 4A, 5A and 6A, you solve this problem. Why do it?

Larger schools have bigger numbers. More boys on the team means big schools can play week after week after week and not wear down the troops. The teams that are stressed in the state tournament are those who play the full nine game schedule and then a three week sectional with no byes or breaks of any kind. One of the great fantasies of high school football thinking is that teenage boys can play football 14 or 15 weeks in a row (National Football League or NCAA college teams NEVER play 13 or 14 weeks in a row) and that it doesnít wear them down and out.

Look at small school Class 1A and 2A teams, which have fewer than 50 players. Does anybody think those teams, which have boys playing both offense and defense, donít wear themselves down seriously by November? Every team that got an unscheduled bye week got a break in the Covid-19 2020 season, no matter what they tell you.

The other reason to have the larger schools play every week is cash money. Even if Class 1A schools sellout their games thatís 1,000, 1,500 fans at best. When Crown Point plays at home (and there isnít world wide pandemic) they draw 2,000 on a bad night. I am aware that the IHSAA makes the ticket money off the state tournament, but that only suggests to me that they should make the change I suggest.

There are other options. Let's say there are 348 football playing schools. The number changes from year to year. Give the top six teams in EVERY 58-team (58 times six is 348) class a bye and have 52 other teams in each class go head to head in sectional quarterfinals. Add the 26 first round winners to the six bye teams and every class has 32 sectional semifinalists as they do now.

If there are only 322 schools in any year, have 2A thru 6A do the 58-team playoff (290 teams) and have Class 1A include just enough teams (32) to fill out the bracket. Class 1A teams deserve the byes that Class 5A and 6A teams are getting. Someone will change this eventually.

Okay, now we find out if we should have pushed the football season to the spring because of the virus. Any positive Covid-19 tests involving a football team after this weekend eliminates that school from the 48th Indiana High State Athletic Association (IHSAA) state tournament.

1. (6A) Merrillville (6-1)
2019 (11-2), 2018 (7-4), 2017 (1-9), 2016 (5-6), 2015 (7-5)


MERRILLVILLE: The Pirates rejected Lake Central 35-7 last week, the fourth time that Merrillville has held a team to a total of seven points this fall. If Merrillville is 100% healthy, thereís no reason for high confidence as they head east to play Chesterton (4-3) Friday night for a half share of the Duneland Athletic Conference (DAC) championship.

Yes, I would guess that Merrillville wanted to play at Lake Central (1-7) as opposed to Crown Point (3-3) in the Class 6A Sectional 1 semifinals. But the good news is, they did not draw 6A No. 3 (Lafayette) Jefferson, which has lost just four times in the last four seasons. A Pirate win over CP, I believe, puts them at home in Merrillville against Jefferson (10-0) the night of November 6 for one of the state tournamentís most highly anticipated sectional championship games.

2. (5A) Valparaiso (4-0)
2019 (13-1), 2018 (10-2), 2017 (8-2), 2016 (5-5), 2015 (7-3)


VALPARAISO: The news from Valpo last week is that all-state quarterback Max Grimes is out for the season with his knee injury in August. That means that junior Logan Lockhart, who has played in all five of Valpoís games anyway, will be the starter in the state playoffs. Valpo rolled over Portage 41-7 last week as halfback Tommy Burbee ran for TDs of eight, 25 and 80 yards. The Vikings ran the ball 37 times for 343 yards. If the Vikings were somehow harmed by two Covid-19 weeks off, it wasnít obvious as they led 27-0 at the half. Valparaiso drew Michigan City (5-1) in the Class 5A Sectional 9 semifinals on October 30.

Yes. Iíd guess that Valpo wants to play Michigan City (4-2) right away and not risk anyone getting hurt earlier in the sectional. That is what will happen on October 30. The Vikings would also be a big time favorite over anyone in 5A Sectional 10 in the regional on Nov. 13. Close your eyes and you can almost see Class 5A No. 3 Valparaiso (4-0) vs. Class 5A No. 2 Bishop Dwenger (7-1) in the 5A Northern semistate, can't you?


3.) (2A) Andrean (7-1)
2019 (10-4), 2018 (10-2), 2017 (8-4), 2016 (5-6), 2015 (7-4)


MERRILLVILLE: This seems to be Andreanís hour of power. The 59ers rolled over a good Kankakee Valley team 35-7 last week. Andrean has wins over Hobart (5-2), New Prairie (4-4) and KV (5-3) and the 59ers have won seven in a row since an opening night loss to Merrillville (6-1). This is the third consecutive season that Andrean has had a seven-game winning streak and the 59ers play Lowell for the Northwest Crossroads Conference (NC) championship this Friday.

Yes. But almost any draw was good for them. The 59ers play at Boone Grove (2-5) in the Class 2A Sectional 33 quarterfinals and then would take on either Whiting (0-1) or Bishop Noll (1-5) in the semifinals. Odds are, Andrean rides the big, yellow bus to Rensselaer for the Sectional 33 title game on November 6. There seems no way for Andrean to avoid 2A No. 3 Pioneer (7-1) and 2A No. 2 Eastbrook (7-1) in November, but thereís no way for Pioneer and Eastbrook to avoid them, either.

.) (4A) Hobart (5-2)
2019 (11-3), 2018 (7-3), 2017 (6-4), 2016 (10-3), 2015 (5-5)


HOBART: I keep thinking thereís something pivotal that I donít know about Hobartís season so far. They have rolled past five teams including Chesterton (4-3) and Griffith (4-2). But the 35-24 loss to Andrean still makes me wonder. The Brickies shouldnít give up 35 points to anybody. Hobart rolled over KV 41-17 and Highland 44-6 the last two weeks and they close out the regular season with a game at Munster (1-7) this Friday.

I guess so. The Brickies are the favorites and defending champions in Class 4A Sectional 17 and I think theyíd have liked to play Lowell immediately on October 23 in the quarterfinals. Instead they get Gavit (2-1) and then East Chicago (0-5) or Gary West Side (2-5) in the semifinals. Hobart vs. Lowell appears likely on November 6 and the game, more likely than not, would be in Lowell.


5.) Chesterton (4-3)
2019 (6-4), 2018 (3-7), 2017 (4-6), 2016 (2-8), 2015 (8-3)


CHESTERTON: The Trojans' game with Crown Point last week was canceled by the Covid-19 virus and they host mighty Merrillville (6-1) in the regular season finale this Friday. One problem for Chesterton is that they are a passing team (180 passes in 7 weeks) and the weather is changing. Cold weather (upper 40s is the week nine forecast) is like an extra defensive back in high school football and chilly fingers will be back on the menu this Friday. Merrillville will be the fourth Top-10 team Chesterton has faced this fall.

No. Chesterton got a home game, but they drew Penn (4-4), a very strong defensive team. Then, the Trojans would likely see Elkhart (6-0), the new Elkhart County consolidation that hasnít come close to losing. The Trojans have never won a sectional and, with the draw they just got, the 2020 road will be difficult.

6.) (4A) LOWELL (7-0)
2019 (7-5), 2018 (10-3), 2017 (14-1), 2016 (9-5)


LOWELL: Why isn't Lowell higher in the poll since they havenít lost any games on the field? The Red Devils coasted past an out-manned Munster squad 41-7 last Friday, rushing for 322 yards on 45 carries. Part of it is the schedule. Lowell has not faced any ranked teams. The Devils have also had a few boys in and out of the lineup and their strength has been hard to judge. But that changes Friday when the Devils ride the big, yellow bus to 2A No. 1 Andrean (7-1) for a conference title showdown.

Yes. The Devils open Class 4A sectional 17 with Morton (3-0), but they get that game in Lowell. The Devils would then meet either Highland (3-4) or Griffith (4-2) in the semifinals and Lowell would then face defending sectional champ Hobart. This is just me talking, but I think Lowell does not want to play Hobart the week after they play at Andrean. The ĎNovember mení Lowell and Hobart should then meet again on November 6 in south Lake County.

7.) (5A) Michigan City (4-2)
2019 (4-6), 2018 (10-3), 2017 (9-4), 2016 (7-4)


MICHIGAN CITY: I didnít see MCís 14-13 overtime loss at LaPorte coming. The Wolves were averaging 37 points a game. This was a rivalry game and LaPorte (3-5) is on the rise. But it is not a good late-season sign to get a setback against a sub-.500 squad and it was the offense that surprised me. Michigan Cityís game with Crown Point this week was canceled by the Covid-19 virus and, if I was MC, I would not try too hard to find a week nine game.

No. The Wolves drew Valparaiso (4-0) at Valpo and thatís a hard ride down a dusty road. The Wolves get a bye on October 23 so Michigan City will get two full weeks to work on Valparaiso. I think that is an advantage.


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Revised: October 13, 2020 .