Week 11 - Football Game of the Week Preview

6A Crown Point (3-3) at
6A No. 7 Merrillville (7-1)
Class 4A ASectional 1 Semifinal

A USA-365.com Special Report by Mark Smith


CP senior Alex O'Toole (56) will be on the front lines for the border battle between Crown Point and Merrillville Friday night in the Class 6A Sectional semifinals.
(Photo by Mark Smith)

When:  7 p.m., Friday, October 30, 2020

Where:  Merrillville High School, 2 blocks east of 68th and Broadway in Merrillville, IN.

TV/Radio/Internet: I do not know of any TV for this game (and believe me, I have looked). If you want to see Merrillville battle CP for the 14th time in seven years, you have to be in the big stadium in Merrillville.

Enrollment: CROWN POINT - 2,861; Merrillville – 2,097.

Crown Point is the second largest school in Northwest Indiana behind Lake Central (3,299 teenagers) and the fourth largest school north of the Indianapolis metropolitan area behind LC, Elkhart (3,452 students) and Penn (3,596 kids).

WEATHER: Serious cold. Mid-40s in the daytime Friday, but after the sun goes down, it could be less than 40 degrees for the kickoff. By 9 p.m. ‘Jack Frost’ will be in the house chilling us towards 32 degrees. Here’s another playoff game I wish was being held on Saturday afternoon. There is no reason why we can't play post-season games on Saturday in the daylight when it's warmer.
The boys will appreciate it if you can make it Friday, but I’m guessing they’ll understand it if you prefer indoor heat. If you come to Merrillville, use every trick you know to stay warm. Bring every coat you own and some you don’t. Hand warmers will be gold on this night. And full body costumes will not only be in tune with Halloween, they might keep your fingers and toes in good working order.


PARKING/TICKETS: Don’t worry about parking or ticket limitations this week. You’ll have plenty of room. Not only does Merrillville have the largest parking lot in Northwest Indiana, but near freezing cold will keep the casual fan away from Merrillville Friday night.

You hard core true believers will have plenty of room to park near the stadium. If you see an old guy with seven coats on carrying a camera and a clipboard on the Crown Point sideline, tell him to ‘Chill out, old man!”

He’ll think that’s really funny. Guaranteed.


THE SITUATION: So far, only one team in Indiana that I know of, Class 1A Clinton Prairie, has had to forfeit their sectional semifinal game due to Covid-19 issues. This is a big week in ‘virus watch’ because, obviously, 192 schools will play this weekend and there’s a lot of chances for forfeits.

When we get to the sectional championship games, only 96 schools will remain. As the virus worsens in the late fall (as we were told it would), fewer and fewer teams suggests that game-cancelling problems are less likely. But that’s not the only peril to the tournament. At Highland last week, the Trojans quarterback Evan Litavecz had to be held out of the game due to Covid-19 issues. Highland played Griffith in the Class 4A quarterfinals and won the game without their QB.

I’m almost certain that many teams playing Friday will be without one or two players. The only hope is that they know early in the week and, if the boy is a starTing player, they can get his backup ready. Covid-19 positive test numbers are rising state-wide. Cross your fingers.

The 'Distant Replay'...

Merrillville defeats Bulldogs  42-7
as Pirates defense dominates in DAC opener


Team 1 2 3 4 F
CROWN POINT (1-2, 0-1 DAC) 0 0 0 7 7
MERRILLVILLE (3-0, 1-0 DAC) 7 14 14 7 42

Friday, September 4, 2020 - 71 degrees, clear, Duneland Athletic Conference opener at MERRILLVILLE, Ind.

1st QtrMERRILLVILLE (7-0) Marcus Hardy, 14-yard pass from Angel Nelson. 58-yard drive, 5 plays. Austin Pupek kick. 10:19 left.
2nd Qtr
Lavarion Logan 28-yard run. 49-yard drive, 3 plays. Austin Pupek kick. 6:36 left.
Marcus Hardy, 16-yard pass from Angel Nelson. 47-yard drive, 4 plays. Austin Pupek kick. 0:01 left
3rd Qtr: MERRILLVILLE (28-0) Armani Glass, 43-yard pass from Angel Nelson. 43-yard drive, one play. Austin Pupek kick. 10:47 left.
Lavarion Logan, 2-yard run. 26-yard drive, 6 plays. Austin Pupek kick. 6:13 left.
4th Qtr: MERRILLVILLE (42-0) Phil Roche, 4-yard run. 78-yard drive, 4 plays. Austin Pupek kick. 10:23 left.
JJ Johnson, 11-yard run. 57-yard drive, 9 plays. Sammy Brewer kick. 0:27.

CROWN POINT (19 carries, 70 yards):
Matthew Walters (HB) 18 carries, 27 yards; Will Pettit (QB) 2 carries, 53 yards (2 sacks – minus 15); JJ Johnson (WR-QB) 8-46 yards, TD; Chris Walsh (WR) 1-2 yards.
MERRILLVILLE (25 carries, 224 yards, 3 TDs): Lavarion Logan (HB) 17 carries, 144 yards, 2 TDs; Paris Hewlett (QB) 2-76 yards, Phil Roche (HB) 4-10 yards, TD.


CROWN POINT (4 of 15, 16 yards) Will Pettit (QB) 4 of 15, 26 yards. MERRILLVILLE (4 of 15, 16 yards) Angel Nelson (QB) 13 of 18, 216 yards, 3 TDs.


CROWN POINT: JJ Johnson (WR) 1 catches, 5 yards; Matthew Walters (HB) 3-11 yards.
MERRILLVILLE : Armani Glass (WR) 4 catches, 74 yards, TD; Marcus Hardy (WR) 2-30 yards, 2 TDs; Jo Jo Johnson (WR) 7-112 yards.


CROWN POINT – 76 yards, 6 first downs, 0 turnovers;
MERRILLVILLE – 431 yards, 12 first downs, one turnover.

MERRILLVILLE (09-04-2020) Eight weeks ago, Merrillville rolled over Crown Point, CP’s worst loss of the season. It was just 7-0 Merrillville midway through the second quarter, but the Pirates broke the game open with three TD passes form QB Angel Nelson. The domination then came from the Merrillville defense. Crown Point failed to cross midfield until the fourth quarter. CP did not gain more than five yards on any first half play. It was 42-0 Merrillville with 10:23 left in the game.

What I remember from the game was how totally CP’s offense was contained. The Bulldogs did not commit a turnover, but also did not gain 100 yards. That means they were simply shut down all night long until substitutes came into the game in the fourth quarter.

I have rarely seen a team dominated so totally. CP is going to have to reinvent themselves somewhat on offense to be a factor this coming Friday.

2020 (6A) Merrillville (7-1)
11-2 (2019), 7-4 (2018), 1-9 (2017) 5-6 (2016)
Coach Brad Seiss (6th year, 38-27)
8-21 (W) 40-14 (2A) Andrean (9-1)
8-28 (W) 23-7 (4A) Hobart (7-2)
9-4 (W) 42-7 (6A) CROWN POINT (3-3)
9-11 (W) 58-19 at (6A) PORTAGE (3-6)
9-25 (W) 33-7 (5A) MICHIGAN CITY (4-2)
10-2 (L) 28-45 at (3A) Bishop Chatard (9-1)
10-9 (W) 35-7 (6A) LAKE CENTRAL (1-8)
10-16 (W) 34-10 at (6A) CHESTERTON (4-4)

Class 6A Sectional 1
10-30 (Fri.) vs. CROWN POINT (3-3)
11-6 (Fri) vs. Jefferson (11-0)


SCHEDULE CHANGES: On the computer, Jeff is a 42-point favorite over Lake Central. Six touchdowns is a lot. The Bronchos are led on offense by speedy ‘Touchdown Tommy” Hogan (5-10, 175) who has carried the ball 124 times for 1,240 yards, exactly 10 yards a carry, and 21 touchdowns. QB Brady Preston (6-2, 200) is a three-sport varsity athlete who has completed 92 of 139 passes for 1,311 yards. Preston has run 45 times for 347 yards and six more TDs.

The big knock against Jefferson is their schedule. Jeff has beaten West Lafayette (8-2) but that’s about it when it comes to ranked teams. The Bronchos’ 76-55 win over Harrison doesn't say much for the Jeff defense. Jeff smoked out Marion (7-3) by a 43-21 score. Jefferson seems like a warm weather finesse team.


Class 6A is the ‘major leagues’ of Indiana high school football and Merrillville has a major league team. Quarterback Angel Nelson (5-7, 175) has come through to lead the Pirates, completing 83 of 129 for 1,688 yards and 17 touchdowns, while throwing just four interceptions.

When Nelson hands off, it's to junior Lavarion Logan (5-9, 200), who has carried 163 times for 1,034 yards and 16 touchdowns.

When Nelson throws, it's to big Marcus Hardy (6-4, 185) and speedy JJ Johnson (5-11, 180). Hardy has 18 catches for 647 yards (34 yards a catch) and eight TDs. Johnson, probably the No. 1 player in Northwest Indiana, has 30 catches for 589 yards.

Veteran Armani Glass (5-7, 145) has been injured and has played just four games. Paris Hewlett, who was Morton’s quarterback last season, has caught on at wide receiver and is a running-receiving threat.

Johnson has run nine times form the ‘Wildcat’ formation for 154 yards and three touchdowns. ‘JJ’ also has a kick return touchdown and is so dangerous on returns that no one dares kick the ball to him anymore.

Kicker Austin Pupek averages 38.6 yards per punt and he is 37 of 42 on extra points. Pupek has kicked no field goals because Merrillville has not really played any close games. I think he’s good from about 35 yards in.

On defense, the Pirates are anchored by lineman Kenneth Grant (6-4, 350), end Dierre Kelly (6-2, 250), Linebacker Devin Sanders (6-2, 215) and corner Devon Davis, who has three interceptions.

On October 2 in Indianapolis, the Pirates gave up 500 total yards and lost 45-28 to Bishop Chatard (8-1). I was very surprised at that point total. I didn’t think anybody could roll up 45 points on this defense. In the other seven games Merrillville has played, no one has scored more than 19 points. Those other seven teams scored a COMBINED 70 points. I think the Chatard game was somewhat of a fluke. Chatard hasn’t scored 45 points against anyone else this season. That game seems to be an outlier.

I don’t think having a week off in week six and another in week 10 will have any effect on the Pirates at all. They played eight games including two teams (Andrean and Bishop Chatard) ranked No. 1 in the state in their class. Merrillville should be very much ready for Friday night.

2020 (6A) Crown Point (3-3)
6-5 (2019), 5-7 (2018) 7-5 (2017) 6-6 (2016)
Coach Kevin Enright (9th year) 50-45
8-21 (L) 0-6 (4A) Lowell (8-1)
8-28 (W) 31-0 at (4A) Highland (4-4)
9-4 (L) 7-42 at (6A) MERRILLVILLE (7-1)
9-11 (W) 16-7 (6A) LAKE CENTRAL (1-8)
9-18 (W) 24-21 (6A) PORTAGE (3-6)
10-2 (L) 14-24 at (5A) LaPORTE (3-6)

6A Sectional 1

10-30 (Fri) at MERRILLVILLE (7-1)
11-6 (Fri.) vs. (Lafayette) Jefferson (10-0)



CROWN POINT - Crown Point’s situation is unique. They have not played for three weeks since a 24-14 loss at LaPorte. That game probably isn’t relevant now. The Bulldogs’ situation reminds me of college football where you play your season, take a month off, and then go to a bowl game over the holidays. CP has had three weeks to prepare for Merrillville.

CP’s defense has been solid much of the year. The Bulldogs have allowed 100 points in six games (16. 6 per game) and a couple of those scores were born of offensive problems.

What do you do against the Pirates? Do you load up against Merrillville’s 1,000-yard rusher Lavarion Logan and try to blitz QB Angel Nelson into some bad throws? Or do you drop into six and seven man coverages on anything other than first down and test the Pirates’ patience? Or (most likely) a combination of both?
Nothing works if the Bulldogs have to punt nine times like they did at Merrillville on September 4. CP has to find a way to move the ball and that’s where the three weeks comes in. I have absolutely no inside information, but I think you might see some two-back formations against the Pirates. You may see quarterback Will Pettit (25 carries, mostly broken pass plays, all season) run the ball a little more. CP needs to keep the clock running and shorten the game.

The Bulldogs are also going to need pass completions of any length. Even short pass completions keep the clock running. The way to stop Merrillville’s offense is to keep that offense on the sidelines.

Junior Sammy Brewer, the Bulldogs place kicker and punter, will play a crucial role if the game is close. The last two seasons, Brewer is 33 of 33 on extra points and 8-of-12 on field goals. In last November’s 10-9 loss to Merrillville in the Sectional 1 championship game, Brewer’s 42-yard field goal attempt fell one yard short with four minutes left in the game.

CP committed five turnovers in that game. In 2020, CP has just seven turnovers in six games.

The big thing for the Bulldogs is belief. In 2019, Merrillville toped CP 24-21 and 10-9. Crown Point has to believe they have enough to keep Friday’s game close. They’ve had a lot of time to think about it.

6A CROWN POINT (3-3) at 6A No. 7 MERRILLVILLE (7-1)

at Merrillville's Demaree Stadium - Capacity: 7,100


SAGARIN RATINGS: Merrillville by 33.

There is very little in the season record of either team which does not suggest a big number win for the Pirates. Crown Point has three losses including one to a sub-.500 LaPorte team. Merrillville’s only loss is on the road against a team (Bishop Chatard) that has been ranked No. 1 in Class 3A most of the season. For the record, Merrillville was a 34-point favorite over Crown Point back in September and the Pirates won 42-7.



MERRILLVILLE (10-30-2020) The Bulldogs will be ready to play and an early turnover will set up a Sammy Brewer field goal and a 3-0 lead.

Merrillville mounts a long drive and scores on a Lavarion Logan run to take a 7-3 lead after one quarter. The Pirates get going on a long, time-consuming second quarter drive ending in field goal from Austin Pupek.

Jo Jo Johnson grabs a third quarter punt and goes all the way for the Pirates, who take a 17-3 edge. But CP rallies after a short Pirate punt and Will Pettit finds tight end Felix Meeks for a late third quarter TD, cutting the lead to 17-10.

Merrillville stays with Logan on the ground but Johnson, on a designed running play, scores on a long run to pump the lead back up to 14 at 24-10. CP scrambles together a fourth quarter drive, but they must settle for another Brewer field goal and an interception return by Johnson caps the scoring.

CP will try everything they know, but Merrillville won’t be overconfident and they won't be looking past their arch rivals.



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Revised: October 29, 2020 .