2015 NW Indiana High School Football Final Poll
(and a look ahead to) The Top-5 for 2016

A Special Report by Mark Smith



A big question in 2016 will be whether Lowell, which has lost the regional by one point two years in a row, can finally take that road down to Indianapolis for the state finals. (Photo by Mark Smith)

LOWELL (01-01-2016) The football season ended with the surprise of the season, Whiting in the state title game. The surprise was: After a generation as a 1A power, the Oilers slide up to 2A due to enrollment the same year that 1A superpower Lafayette Catholic drops back to 1A. We can all agree that Whiting would not have reached the state finals had they had to defeat Lafayette Catholic.


LC won the state championship in 1A and if they get to the semistate in 2016, they’ll move back up to 2A. But if Whiting reaches the semistate in 2A next fall, they’ll bump to 3A, assuming their enrollment level stays where it is.

Lowell didn't reach the finals but they reestablished themselves as a state power. The Devils were sectional champs in 2014 but they were 8-5 which means they were barely a ‘nothing special ‘ .500 team during the regular season. In 2015, against a schedule that included four larger (and 2 significantly larger) schools, Lowell went 9-0. That was special. Lowell will eventually go back to being a .500 team, but it won't be the next couple of seasons.


But the most significant thong that occurred last year may have been the Whiting-Woodlan playoff game. On a day when six inches of snow discouraged folks who might have dared to (including me) from attending the game, the Region Sports Network showed the game on a video feed linked to an audio airing of the game. I do not know how many people watched the one camera production. The RSN had done that type of TV airing before, but it was on nights when there were other games.


The Whiting-Woodlan game was the first time that the video wasn’t just a favor to those who cared, but a necessity. For about 10 years now, there has been no TV of local football and basketball. For those who don’t know, the local cable TV production office closed early in the past decade when Comcast decided that Northwest Indiana was the ‘Chicago area’.


That’s why you can watch all the Illinois high school football games you want, but none from our state. Our local PBS station got out of the high school football broadcasting business about the same time, claiming that assorted first half highlights of games was not cost effective (and that’s the key phrase) coverage.


But the Whiting-Woodlan game, airing on a night when many could not or would not attend, shows a door to the future. There is no reason that high school football can't be televised. Not a game of the week. All games. Any games. Even the public broadcasting Lakeshore Public Television (if they wished to) could do one camera productions of games and show them on the station’s web site while it runs its regular programming.

The games could be run on tape-delay which would eliminate the need for a live feed from the site. Not just one game, but multiple games. When was the last time you watched your favorite TV show live? We all watch multiple things on what us old folks call: "tape delay."

Why does it matter?

The last 10 years of local high school football and basketball in Northwest Indiana are almost entirely lost. They were on the radio and newspapers covered them, but other than coaches tape, there is no video. If you wanted to watch Wheeler’s 28-27 win over Whiting, one of the premier games of 2015, you cannot. There is no complete video broadcast of it. It is lost to those who did not play in it or did not attend.

If you wish to watch selected games from the 1970s, 80s and 90s, you can find them. They were broadcast on local TV (don't ask me how I know). They are on line or available for you to find. They are not lost.

As someone who has spent years writing about high school sports, let me tell you, words never portray the scene adequately.

Radio broadcast, even the best ones, are snapshot vocal stylings that leave out 1,000 things for every 10 they explain. Bottom line. Ten years later? If you can't see it, it didn’t happen. Those in charge worry that games shown to home viewers will encourage people not to attend games and pay to see them. But that’s never been true.

The Chicago Cubs have the largest fan base of any American Pro sport because they showed all their games to young people for decades. They bred fans. People want to come to their ballpark and pay to see them because they watched them on TV and liked the scene. Nobody comes to the park because they hear games on the radio.

The top-rated TV program the week of Christmas 2015 was an awful pro football game between the New York Giants and Minnesota Vikings. Why? Because the National Football League has shown games on free TV on Sundays for half a century.

Millions watch the NFL every week now and most games are sold out because they have been televised on free TV all their lives. TV makes young fans. No one doubts that. If young people can't watch, they don’t care. Even if you show a 7 p.m. game at 10 p.m. that night or 10 a.m. the next morning. The future popularity of high school football will slide on whether games are available to watch on many platforms. Anyone who has ever met me will quickly note that I am the most tech-challenged person they have ever met. I have a 5-year-old cell phone because I don’t know how to acquire and use a newer model.

But even a technologically retarded person such as myself can see the eternal value of young people being able to watch their local high school, their friends and neighbors play sports on any device whenever they want to. For years, I’ve heard that attendance is down at sporting events because ‘kids today’ don’t care about high school athletics. What if they truth is: They just want to be able to watch?

Does anyone believe that kids who can watch the local high school play on line from the time they are 5-years-old won't come to the games when they get old enough? That’s called breeding fans.

There is no reason EVERY game isn't on line in most sports. Not just football. Soccer. Baseball. Basketball. Volleyball. The school can and should be producing or contracting out to produce the broadcasts.

There’s no reason you should not be able to watch 10 high school football games a week. Not just the one you attend. Not just the game of the week.

There’s money to be made and there’s popularity to be bred. There will come a time when all team sports games of larger schools will be available on line. There will come a time when high school is on line. That’s where we’re headed. Its just a matter of who gets there first.

Lowell was probably the top team in 2015, although a Lowell-Merrillville matchup would have been worth seeing.

Let's look ahead: Here are five schools-of-interest for 2016. Not the best five teams. Just five whose stories will be well worth watching.

1. (4A) LOWELL (12-1)
2014 (8-5), 2013 (6-4), 2012 (5-5), 2011 (5-5), 2010 (6-5), 2009 (13-2)


LOWELL - Looking back on what Lowell did this season, I've taken some time to form high hopes for 2016. The Devils gave up 131 points in 13 games, allowed just 37 points in four playoff game and still didn’t reach the finals. I can't say they would have defeated eventual 4A state champ Bishop Dwenger (14-1) but I’d have driven 2-1/2 hours to see that game. But the future is bright with key offensive linemen returning in Mitch Sacco, Noah Fraze and Max Steward. You would never diminish all the great running backs who have played for Lowell and Ike James (681 carries, 4,426 yards) was one of the greatest. But it's all about the line. And with returning veteran linemen, it would not be a surprise to see underclassmen Jordan Jusevitch, Jaeger Gill or Trevor Espravnik step right in and continue to roll up big yards. Jusevitch made 123 tackles and five interceptions on defense and he’s only one of a half dozen starters returning defensively next season. Lowell needs to decide on a new QB and a new kicker and they’ll be the sectional favorite again in 2016.

2. (4A) Chesterton (8-3)
2014 (6-5), 2013 (4-7), 2012 (9-2), 2011 (5-6)


CHESTERTON – Chesterton lost the Class 6A sectional 2 title to Penn 49-14 in November and they watched as Penn won the 6A state title. The Trojans' defense allowed 158 points in 11 games (14.3 per game) after allowing 138 points in 11 games (12.5 per game) last year, the top defensive record of any team in the past two seasons. Chesterton’s losses are to Penn (14-1), Valpo (7-3) and just 7-6 to 5A No. 4 Kokomo (11-0). The question here is: If the defense of the past two seasons is a combination of players and scheme, how much of each was it? 2016 is when Chesterton finds out the answer to that.

3. (6A) LaPORTE (6-4)
2014 (8-6), 2013 (1-9), 2012 (1-9), 2011 (3-7)


LaPORTE – LaPorte, like Merrillville and Chesterton earlier, ended the season with a 49-21 loss at eventual state champ Penn on October 25. The Slicers rushed for almost 3,500 yards in 10 games with junior Brennan Long gaining 1,000 yards and senior Gino Francesconi (162 carries, 981 yards) almost getting to 1,000. LaPorte lost to Lake Central (5-5), Merrillville (7-5), Chesterton (8-3) and Penn (14-1), and even with LC’s late slide, there isn't a bad loss there. LaPorte returns Owen Streiter (6-0, 170) a multi-position player who was in on 86 tackles in 2015 while catching five passes for 79 yards. LaPorte used a type of Wing-T offense that saw them passing the ball just 58 times. I’m not sure they do that in 2016, but if they do, Streiter figures to end up at running back with Long and he will do well. Watching the state finals, I think that high school football is trending back towards one dimensional running teams that shorten the game and wear down the opposition. I’ll be interested in seeing if LaPorte can sustain what they did in 2015.

4. (4A) ANDREAN (6-4)
2014 (14-1), 2013 (15-0), 2012 (11-3), 2011 (9-1)


MERRILLVILLE – Andrean fell 35-34 at South Bend Washington and Washington then lost the 4A Sectional 18 title game to St. Joseph’s. The Niners didn’t win the Northwest Crossroads Conference (NCC) and they lost in sectional play, so it wasn't a good year for them. They’ll have QB Patrick Reardon (30 of 43, 490 yards) eligible to return in 2016, which puts the 59ers ahead of most teams in NW Indiana. The 59er losses were to Munster (5-5), Highland (4-6), Washington (7-4) and Lowell (12-1). I don’t know of anyone who started four years at Andrean but it looks like Colin Mullaney (6-3, 250) will. A QB and a line anchor is where you start a football team. I believe that 2016 will be the 59ers’ final year in Class 4A even if they win the state title. They are 4A only due to their success (the IHSAA’s success factor’) in 2013 and 2014. The 59ers path to post-season titles in 4A is a rough one but they should compete. In 2017, falling back 3A (or maybe even 2A by enrollment), Andrean seems certain to state prominence. For 2016? We didn’t get that Andrean-Lowell regional championship game we wanted, did we?

5. (2A) Whiting (13-2)
2014 (10-1), 2013 (9-2), 2012 (10-1)


WHITING – Whiting lost the state final game, but the trip to Indianapolis was the climax of a 30-year quest where good Whiting teams were stopped short of the finals. Can they go back? With superpower Lafayette Catholic (15-0) still in 1A for another season, yes Whiting can. Whiting returns QB Stuart Glascow (113 of 191, 1,903 yards, 17 TDs) who also ran 187 times for 1,115 yards and 14 TDs. The Oilers lost a lot of key seniors, but linemen Brent Reel (5-7, 245), Chris Zapata (5-8, 253), Isaac Sahagun (5-8, 230), and Christian Gamino (6-1, 235) aren't graduating. Defenders like Caleb Macon (76 tackles), Miguel Rivera (52 tackles) and Chris Page (26 tackles) are back. Running backs Tommy Davenport (105 carries, 606 yards) and Dylan White (71 carries, 636 yards) and Carlos Madden (88 carries, 749 yards) are all back. Even kicker Kenny Padilla (50 of 53 extra points) is back. There’s no doubt this team will do very well in 2016. Define very well? The power in the 1A and 2A classes is almost always in southern Indiana where there are more 1A and 2A schools. But barring crippling injuries, I can see a Whiting-Monrovia state finals rematch.


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Revised: January 03, 2016 .