Week 10 - Football Game of the Week Preview

Hammond Morton Governors (3-0)
at Lowell Red Devils (7-1) 

A USA-365.com Special Report by Mark Smith

10-22-2020

 

The bold and the cold. Lowell will need the all 'friends of the program' and their traditional home field advantage Friday night when they take on rival Morton in the opening game of the 48th annual Indiana High School Athletic Association (IHSAA) state football tournament. (Photo by Mark Smith)

When:  7:00 p.m., CDT on Friday, October 23, 2020

Where:  Lowell high school - 3 miles west of I-65 on U.S. 2 in Lowell.

Tickets$6

TV/Radio/Internet:  Live internet feed on RRSN.com (pay per view). It's my understanding that the school shares in the profits from these broadcasts so you are contributing to the Lowell athletic department by purchasing a game. I think the Region Sports Network (https://www.regionsports.com/) is also carrying this game on line.

 

ENROLLMENT: Morton – 1,276; LOWELL – 1,107.

This is probably the final playoff game between Lowell and Morton for the foreseeable future. The four Hammond city public schools are Morton (1,276), Clark (734), Gavit (885) and Hammond high (807) will consolidate into two schools (Morton and Hammond) next year. The new Hammond high is under construction right now behind the old school on Calumet Avenue in Hammond. Assuming that the stated enrollments (from the 2020 IHSAA directory) are remotely accurate, the consolidation will put approximately 3,600 teenagers into two high schools. If Morton and the new Hammond high split city kids evenly (I do not know that) that would mean Hammond would have two 1,800-kid schools. In football, that would mean that Morton and Hammond would both be Class 5A in the fall of 2021.

WEATHER: Not as bad as it could be. Rough for fans but OK for the players. The forecast is for rain much of the day Friday, but skies should clear before kickoff. Temperatures will drop into the mid-40s during the game with a 10 mile-an-hour wind. Not picnic weather, but not unusual for a playoff football game.

The natural grass field will be wet after rain Thursday and Friday, but kickers and passers should not be handcuffed by the weather.
 

PARKING/TICKETS: Traditionally, few fans come from Hammond to watch games at Lowell, but this week might be a little different. Morton’s season was in jeopardy due to Covid-19, but they did start football in time to play three games, all Morton wins. There is more than average interest in this week’s game in Lowell and with Classes 5A and 6A not playing, you may see some jackets from other schools in the stands.

But the weatherman is not your friend this Friday and Morton will not bring a lot of ‘friends of the program’ to Lowell.

 

THE SITUATION: It's been a very odd year for Lowell vs. Morton. These teams were originally scheduled to meet in week three of the season, but Hammond canceled all contact sports due to the Covid-19 virus. In September, the city reevaluated their position and allowed contact sports. It's revived football but the move has not been a total success. Clark won a soccer sectional, but then had to forfeit their regional opportunity last week due to positive virus tests.

I don’t know the future of Lowell playing Morton in football. I assume they will meet in 2021, but Morton, as I said here will be a Class 5A (or maybe Class 6A school) next year and will no longer be a post-season foe for the Red Devils. Both schools might want to reconsider the annual Lowell-Morton regular season matchup.

State-wide, at least four schools, Peru, Bedford-North Lawrence, Southwood and East Chicago have forfeited their state tournament games this week due to the Covid-19 virus.

There will be more, but as of this writing, Lowell-Morton and the Griffith-Highland are on for Friday.


2020 (4A) Morton (3-0)
8-2 (2019), 9-3 (2018) 8-3 (2017) 4-7 (2016)
Coach Mac Mishler (1st year) 3-0

10-3 (W) 38-8 (3A) Hammond (1-2)
10-9 (W) 42-6 Gavit (2-1)
10-16 (W) 40-18 at Clark (0-3)

4A Sectional 17
10-23 (Fri.) at LOWELL (7-1)

 

MORTON Update:

HAMMOND: I’m not exactly sure about the depth situation for Morton, so I don't know how many players they will bring to Lowell this Friday. Morton rushed for 320 yards last week in a 44-14 win at Gavit, but I doubt the plan is to try to beat Lowell on the ground.

Morton QB Josh Lamb (6-0, 160) was 4-of-9 for 41 yards last week and a TD in the 30-point win. He didn't have to throw much. Lamb ran the ball six times for 107 yards and a TD.

In last week’s game, Morton’s Devan James (5-11, 160) scored on a 65-yard punt return. Jovan Lucas scored on runs of 43 and 50 yards. Speedy Ken-Shan Watkins (5-9, 155) ran 12 times for 62 yards and two TDs last week.

Five senior players who ended the 2019 season at Morton (Jo Jo Johnson, 310-pound lineman Phillip Gunn, receiver Marcus Hardy, quarterback Paris Hewlett and defensive end Dierre Kelly) are now at Merrillville, but Morton’s three easy 2020 wins suggest it would be a mistake to assume that the Governors didn’t have underclassmen who could attempt to fill those holes.

Morton makes you run all over the field. Sideline to sideline. They are typically athletic and even though I don’t recognize a lot of their players, this team seems to be typical of past teams. The Governors traditionally blitz a lot, bringing seven or eight defenders to the line of scrimmage and rely on single coverage in the secondary, sometimes with no safety. On offense, the Governors seem to split three wide receivers a lot in a one-back attack where the QB is a threat to run.

Morton has nothing to lose on this night. Their season was resurrected after six Covid-19 forfeits. In many respects, they have already won the ‘battle’ of 2020. This has to be a very big game to them. Lowell is in the Top-10 and Morton defeated them 35-23 last year in Hammond. The Governors know it can be done.

But I have not seen many highlights of this season and Morton has only played the Hammond city schools. So I only know questions, not answers.

Can the Morton defensive front, which swamped their Hammond rivals, contain Lowell running the ball and can the Governors’ offensive line, which did enough of a job against Hammond, Gavit and Clark, handle Lowell’s fast defense? Like most nights, the lines will decide this game.


Class 4A Sectional 17
Friday, October 23

Gary West Side (2-5) bye
No. 7 Hobart (6-2) at Gavit (2-1)
Griffith (4-3) at Highland (3-4)
Morton (3-0) at No. 9 LOWELL (7-1)

Friday, October 30
Hobart (7-2) at Gary West Side (2-5)
Griffith (4-3)/Highland (3-4) vs. LOWELL (7-1) or Morton

 

SECTIONAL CHANGES: This is the final year for Class 4A Sectional 17 as it is right now. Morton will be Class 5A or Class 6A in 2021. Gavit is closing and Griffith (listed in the IHSAA directory as having 653 students) will almost certainly be Class 3A in 2021.

You can go dizzy trying to figure out who the new Sectional 17 teams will be because reclassification in other parts of the state could push Sectional 18 teams west into Sectional 17.

If that is the case, then Kankakee Valley and New Prairie could be Lowell’s new playoff pals. But there is talk of consolidation among South Bend’s public schools and that would affect 4A Sectional 18 significantly. Morton might decide they want to play a bigger nonconference school than Lowell since they will be preparing for the 5A playoffs, not the 4A.

So I truly have no idea who Lowell will be playing next October in week three.

As for now, Gary West Side advances to the semifinals after East Chicago had to forfeit this week. But Hobart almost certainly will reach the Nov. 6 Class 4A Sectional 17 championship game.

Lowell’s path is not as certain. Morton is an unknown and they averaged 40 points a game against the other Hammond schools. Griffith lost to Lowell 47-28 in September, but only Andrean scored more points against Lowell than Griffith did.

The Devils are in the bottom half of the bracket and it appears that if they play three sectional games, they will host two of them.

Downstate, No. 2 Evansville Central (9-0) plays at No. 8 Jasper (7-2), while in the north in 4A Sectional 19, No. 6 Leo (8-1) plays on the road at Northridge (6-2) and East Noble (6-3) hosts Columbia City (6-3), a rematch of a 27-10 East Noble win three weeks ago.

The regional winner of Sectional 17 (maybe Lowell or Hobart) facing Sectional 18 (maybe KV or New Prairie) could face Leo or East Noble in the 4A Northern Semistate. No. 6 Leo and No. 7 Hobart are the highest ranked teams in the north half of the Class 4A bracket.

 


 

2020 (4A) LOWELL (7-1)
7-5 (2019), 10-3 (2018), 14-1 (2017) 9-5 (2016)
Coach Keith Kilmer (11th year, 89-39)

8-21 (W) 6-0 at (6A) Crown Point (3-3)
8-28 (W) 37-19 (6A) Portage (3-6)
9-4 (W) 6-13 (2A) Wheeler (6-3)
9-11 (W) 47-28 at (4A) Griffith (4-3)
9-25 (W) 28-21 (4A) KANKAKEE VALLEY (5-3)
10-2 (W) 27-7 at (4A) HIGHLAND (3-4)
10-9 (W) 41-7 (5A) MUNSTER (1-8)
10-16 (L) 14-35 at (2A) ANDREAN (8-1)

Class 4A Sectional 17
10-23 (Fri.) vs. Morton (3-0)
10-30 (Fri) vs. Highland (3-4) or at Griffith (4-3)

 

SECTIONAL NOTES: If Lowell defeats Morton, I believe the Devils would host Highland or play on the road at Griffith on October 30. Morton would be on the road on October 30 against either Griffith or Highland. I believe that for Lowell to host Hobart on November 6 in the 4A Sectional 17 championship game, Griffith has to beat Highland. But I can't tell for sure.
It's complicated.

LOWELL Update:

 

LOWELL – Lowell gained 264 yards rushing last week on 41 carries, although many came against the Andrean reserves, including some freshman. I would not be shocked to see backup QB Riley Bank in the game on goal line situations. QB Cam Stojancevich (41 of 89, 529 yards, 6 TDs) is more passer than runner. Bank is more runner than passer and has 17 yards on just eight carries in a reserve role this fall. While Lowell is conservative on offense, they probably have things they have not shown so far, holding them for the ’second season’ which begins Friday.

Defensively, Lowell was not as bad as the final score looked at Andrean. The Devils had a punt blocked and fumbled a short kickoff, costing them two touchdowns in a span of 1:12 in the second quarter. Special teams have hurt the Devils this year. They have allowed three kick return TDs.

Playing on a wet field in cold temperatures this week, Lowell’s defense will be in the spotlight this week. The Devils have 16 quarterback sacks, led by sophomore linebacker Riley Bank (5-10, 182) with 4 ˝ and junior Ray Ambassi (5-7, 205) with 3 ˝. Ambassi, who played a lot at fullback in 2019, has 11 tackles for losses as an undersized defensive tackle. Junior Spencer Barta (6-3, 210) has been in on 67 tackles.

Morton will spread the field with four receivers and test the Lowell secondary as Andrean did. The 59ers bunched three receivers on one side and used star Nick Flesher on the other with powerful Ryan Walsh in the backfield. Morton doesn’t have those players, but they traditionally do much of the same things and the Governors will tests Lowell’s speed sideline to sideline.

But again, the key will be if Morton’s offensive line, unproven so far this season against a strong defense, can block the quick Lowell defensive front. Can they handle everything Lowell will throw at them? I don’t believe Morton has trailed yet in their short three-game season. What happens if they do not score first?

Morton also has played on artificial turf the first three games and it is a change to get on the natural grass at Lowell. Lowell has a home field advantage that, since the Lowell-Morton game was in Hammond in 2019, this Morton team has not faced.

 

Lowell 1000-yard rushers
…………….in the state tournament era (1973-present):

1. Brandon Grubbe (2009) 403 carries, 2,417 yards
2. Ike James (2014) 319-2,411 yards
3. Scott Gray (2005) 323-2,336 yards
4. Michael Pickett (1994) 339-2,256 yards
5. Trevor Espravnik (2016) 329 carries, 1,947 yards
6. Toby Goetz (2004) 276-1,939 yards
7. Ike James (2015) 347-1,931 yards
8. Brandon Grubbe (2008) 316-1,831 yards
9. Matt Pernick (1996) 229-1,827 yards
10. George Fields (2012) 277-1,811 yards

11. Michael Pickett (1993) 273-1,687 yards
12. Brandon Grubbe (2007) 281-1,675 yards
13. Justin Henley (2002) 167- 1,552 yards
14. Cole Midgett (2010) 195-1,481 yards
15. Justin Henley (2003) 227-1,447 yards
16. Mike French (2000) 200-1,382 yards
17. George Fields (2013) 209-1,377 yards
18. Matt Pernick (1995) 175-1,349 yards
19. Max Znika (2006) 224-1,302 yards
20. Mike French (1999) 226-1,280 yards

21. Tyler Wildman (2018) 293 carries, 1,270 yards
22. Sean Anderson (2001) 242-1,048 yards
23. Joe Heuer (2020) 167 carries – 1,037 yards
24. Nick Holley (1997) 131-1,014 yards

 

LOWELL – Lowell junior Joe Heuer went over 1000 yards for the season last week, gaining 145 yards on 28 carries. The veteran running back has 1,037 yards on 167 carries. What I have done here this week is ‘highlight’ the Lowell backs in the state tournament era who have gained 1,000 yards as underclassmen. While Heuer is now one of 24 Red Devil backs to gain 1,000 yards since 1973, he is just the eighth underclassmen.

It should be noted that Joe didn't play against Griffith and the entire Lowell team didn’t play in week five against Hobart, so Joe Heuer has run for 1,000 yards in just seven games. Lowell junior Ryan Marx picked up 75 yards on seven carries in the second half of Lowell’s loss to Andrean last week. Ryan has gained 444 yards on 55 carries and he only carried the ball three times in the first two weeks of the season. Joe Heuer’s numbers are eye-opening, but I’d guess that if the situation was different and Marx, who has played on offense in just six games, had twice as many carries as he does, he’d be knocking on that 1,000-yard mark as well.

Lowell seems very well-suited at running back for the sectional and traditionally, that means the Devils will post some post-season wins.


4A Morton (3-0) at 4A LOWELL (7-1)

 

Lowell Stadium: capacity 2,500

 

SAGARIN RATINGS: Morton by 1.

The computer does not consider forfeits or Covid-19 postponements so I don't understand this spread. The Devils and Governors have no common opponents this year. Morton has defeated three teams which have low ratings, but the Governors are ranked higher than anyone on Lowell’s schedule except Andrean. I’m not buying it. For the record, Andrean was a 14-point computer favorite over Lowell last week and they won 35-14. 

 

WHAT WILL HAPPEN...

 

LOWELL (10-23-2020) I try not to get hung up on what a team did last week and how they will respond. I don’t actually know the boys. But the Devils will be reminded how poorly they began last week’s ‘big’ game (trailed 28-0 at the half) and how poorly they began the ‘big’ Kankakee Valley game (trailed 21-0 at the half) and this Friday is a chance for some redemption in that respect.

 

We’ll know early. If the Devils start fast, meaning control the ball and take even a small lead, it will be a cold Lowell night for Morton.

They will. I see Lowell getting rushing TDs from Joe Heuer and Cam Stojancevich for a 14-0 second quarter lead. Watch out for Morton’s Devan James on the kickoff returns. He could go all the way to cut the lead to 14-7.

 
But a blocked kick will set up a TD pass from Stojancevich to Adam Bank and late TDs from Heuer and Ryan Marx will end the scoring. Morton will be ready to play and the first half will be close.
But Lowell’s lines will wear down a Morton team that has not had to go hard in the fourth quarter yet this season. The worst thing that could have happened to Morton was Andrean stomping Lowell last week the way they did. The Devils will want to right the wrongs of week nine and Morton just happens to be in the way.

 

LOWELL 33, MORTON 7


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