Week 1 - Football Game of the Week Preview

4A Lowell (12-1) at
6A Crown Point (1-9)

A USA-365.com Special Report by Mark Smith




The 'Leather Helmet Trophy' will be awarded to the winners after Friday'S game. Jordan Jusevitch (6) helped the Devils win the trophy in Lowell last August.
(Photo by Mark Smith)

When: 7:00 p.m., CDT on Friday, August 19, 2016.

Where: Crown Point High School, 1500 South Main (one mile south of the CP downtown square).
TV/Radio/Internet: WTMK (88.5) FM live, live updates of all local scores all night on WLPR (89.1) FM. Live Internet audio stream on www.USA-365.com, (our 13th year of streaming Bulldogs Football!)
Tickets: $6

Enrollment: CROWN POINT - 2,664; LOWELL - 1,187

WEATHER: WEATHER: It will not be as miserable as if was last Friday, but it will be warm. Daytime temperatures will be in the 80s again and the artificial turf will be warm (to say the least) at game time when the temperature should still be in the low 80s. This looks like one of those nights when I wish they'd delay the start of the game 30 minutes until the sun goes down. There is a very slight chance of rain. There always is when the humidity is this high. It will be an unpleasant night. Folks from Lowell should remember that the visitors' grandstand (and sidelines) at CP faces the sun so heat and vision could be an issue in the first quarter.

PARKING: CP has a lot of parking, but Lowell brings a lot of fans. Visitors from Lowell should know there is parking at the northeast end of the CP campus between the tennis courts and the soccer fields. Late comers can park in the junior high north of the high school lot. Arrive by 6:30 p.m. (game time is 7 p.m.) and be ready to walk a bit.

WHAT's AT STAKE: The best thing about this game is that for both teams, the upside is much greater than the downside. There's really nothing at stake.

If Lowell loses to Crown Point? Well. CP is the bigger school with more depth and fewer two-way players. In many respects, CP is 'supposed' to beat Lowell. But this year, if Crown Point loses to the Devils, CP has lost to a Top-10 team that went undefeated in the 2015 regular season. No big deal.

Now if Crown Point wins, it goes a long way to turn last season around. It's a win over a Top-10 team and it is a big deal. If Lowell wins on the road at CP Friday, they have started what they hope to be a very successful year with a road win over their arch rivals.

This is a night where if you play well and lose a close game, you can be okay with it.

The HISTORY:  The web site NorthernIndianaFootball.com says the first Lowell-CP game was held in 1903, but the same web site says that Lowell began playing football in 1896 when there were not many other schools around except for Crown Point. So let's just say that Wyatt Earp was still doing the old wild west shows the same time Lowell and Crown Point played high school football for the first time.

There's no good reason that Lowell vs. CP don't play twice a year. The two South Lake County schools played a home-and-home series for almost 20 years from 1934 to 1952 and if they did it now, they would still draw better crowds at both games than both schools draw for most other teams. In the 19 years of the home-and home, CP swept both games five times, Lowell swept both games seven times and the two schools split six times.

Crown Point leads what is the longest series in this part of the state: 65 wins to 42 for Lowell with two ties. Even though the Bulldogs have had some of their
best-ever team in the last two decades, CP leads Lowell 10-9 in the last 19 seasons.

If you want to introduce someone to high school football, Lowell vs. Crown Point is the game you should use. It's always a warm weather night with a big, colorful crowd and when the game is played at CPHS, as it is this Friday, there's usually a little bit of parking room for late arrivals.

It's traditional that Crown Point teenagers have 'theme nights' at the football games. When Merrillville plays, the CP boys and girls come dressed as Pirates. When Portage comes to CP, the Crown Point students come dressed as Indians.

Maybe because there aren't many comfortable 'Devil' costumes, CP students wear farm clothes (overalls, Daisy Dukes, suspenders and straw hats) to welcome their 'farm' friends from the south end of Lake County. Two years ago, some of the CP kids came to the game with ears of corn (there's more than a few corn fields in Crown Point, too) and sunflowers. I cannot confirm the rumor that some CP kids once tried to bring a pig to the Lowell-CP game, but left him outside when they found out he needed a ticket to get in. It's fun to try to explain to small children what the big kids are doing and why they're dressed like that.

These teams cannot meet in the post-season because they are not in the same enrollment class. Lowell is the only team on the CP schedule that they cannot possibly meet in the post-season (the Devils can't see several (CP, Portage, Munster and Griffith) of their regular season foes in the playoffs) so that makes this somewhat of a 'friendly', a soccer term for a game that has no meaning in any championship context.

It's usually a low-scoring close game where the winner and loser still walk away with some high hopes of the season to come.

The Lowell-CP winner also gets the 'Leather Helmet Trophy', a tribute to the days when Lowell and Crown Point were in on the ground floor of the long, long history of Indiana high school football.

The 'Distant' Replay:  CP rallies past Lowell 24-10


Team 1 2 3 4 F
CROWN POINT (1-0) 0 6 0 18 24
LOWELL (0-1) 7 3 0 0 10

Friday, Aug. 24, 2014,  83 degrees, humid at CROWN POINT, Ind.

1st QtrLOWELL (7-0) Ike James, 33 yard run. 45 yards, 7 plays after JT Thomas interception at the CP 45. Colton Wilkey kick. 5:56.
2nd Qtr: CROWN POINT (6-7) Artie Equihua 1-yard run. 62-yard drve, 9 plays. Kick wide. 3:40 left.
LOWELL (10-6) Colton Wilkey, 27-yard field goal. 65-yard drive, 9 plays. :00 (final play of the half).
3rd Qtr: No scoring.
4th Qtr: CROWN POINT (12-10) Artie Equihua, 24-yard pass to Morgan Kral. 80-yard dive 8 plays. 2-pt run failed. 10:51 left.
CROWN POINT (18-10) Artie Equihua 1-yard run. One play after fumbled punt snap. Kick wide. 8:20 left.
CROWN POINT (24-10) Troy Grady, 57-yard run. 2 plays, 69 yards. Kick blocked by Darion Hornickel. 2:31 left.


CROWN POINT: (25 carries, 254 yards, 4 TDs, 0 fumbles) Troy Grady (HB) 11 carries, 116 yards, TD;
Artie Equihua (QB) 9 carries, 117 yards, 3 TDs; Pat Messner (WR) 1-6 yards, Jesse Martin (HB) 1 (-1).

LOWELL (46 carries, 194 yards, one TD, 0 fumbles) Ike James (HB) 23 carries, 101 yards, TD;
Darion Hornickel (QB) 11-32; Zach Bobos (QB) 3-17; Gordon Sharkey (HB) 5-22; Trevor Espravnik (HB) 4-12 yards.

CP: Artie Equihua (QB) 5 of 8, 62 yards, TD, one interception;
LOWELL: Darion Hornickel (QB) 9 of 12, 70 yards.

CP: Matt Wielgus (WR) 1 catch, 15 yards; Jesse Martin (HB) 1-2; Dax Jones (WR) 1-17; Morgan Kral (TE) 1-24, TD; Troy Grady (HB) 1-4;
LOWELL: Ike James (WR) 1-7 yards; Kiefer Kersey (TE) 1-5; Tim Kreczmer (WR) 1-8, Austin Giordano (WR) 2-24; Trveor Espravnik (HB) 1-1 yards; Austin Belt (WR) 3-25.

CP (1) interception; LOWELL (0)


CROWN POINT: Two years ago when Lowell came to Crown Point, both the Bulldogs and Red Devils were coming off 6-4 seasons and neither was certain about how 2014 would go. Lowell led this game 10-6 going to the final period when Crown Point scored two touchdowns in 2:31 minutes.

Artie Equihua hit on a 24-yard pass to Morgan Kral and the Bulldogs defense stopped Lowell on three plays. As the Devils tried to punt, the ball got past punter Robbie Smetana and CP recovered at the one-yard line, scoring immediately for an 18-10 lead. Lowell drove inside CP territory, but failed on 4th-and-9. One play later, Troy Grady raced 57 yards for a 24-10 lead.

The loss delayed what was going to be a good Lowell season. The Devils lost 42-41 to Morton and 17-12 to KV going 0-3. They then won eight of their next nine and the 4A Sectional 17 title before a one-point regional loss to New Prairie ended the season.

CP launched their 2014 season with that comeback placing second in the Duneand Athletic Conference (DAC) and finishing the regular season at 8-1. Even a 45-42 loss to Merrillville in the sectional opener didn't make it a bad year.

Artie Equihua, who threw the game-winning TD, is now a freshman defensive back at Wabash College. Morgan Kral, who caught the winning TD, is a sophomore wrestler at Purdue. Zach Bobos, who was Lowell's QB that night, is now a sophomore tight end at Division II St. Joseph's College in Rensselaer. Ike James, who scored Lowell's TD and gained 2,411 yards in 2014, is Bobos' teammate at St. Joseph's. 2015 Red Devil Jordan Martin, Robbie Smetana and CP linebacker Chase Ferree are also at St. Joe.

I used to say that this game was traditionally not indicative of how each team's season would roll out. But the last two seasons, that has not been the case. CP won in 2014 and ended up 8-2. Lowell won in 2015 and finished at 12-1.


- The Bulldogs badly need a win on opening night after last season's 1-9 record and they might as well be playing a state-rated team. In last year's game, CP scored early for a 7-0 lead, but gained only 126 total yards in a 21-7 loss.

That will be the key matchup this Friday. CP's offense against Lowell's defense, which returns six starters from 2015. CP's scrimmage at Penn kept them out of local eyes, but it probably didn't matter. The Bulldogs don't play starters much in the scrimmage to avoid any key injuries in meaningless action.

What to watch early is the push that CP gets with their rebuilt offensive line. Can they get four or five yards a carry on first down? Can they get 2nd-and-5 situations to open up their offense? The Bulldogs did average 4.7 yards per carry last year, but they only recorded 121 first downs all year. CP was not able to convert on third down and they faced a lot of 3rd-and-long situations.

That helps explain Crown Point's 25 turnovers (and three shutouts) in 10 games.

The offensive line is the key to everything and we'll know early Friday what they have against a Lowell defense that allowed just 131 points all last season in 13 games. Junior Jacob Keaveney (6-1, 285) is the starting center on a line that averages 245 pounds a man.

The Bulldogs need new running backs and it will be interesting to see how they rotate them. Senior Zach Stewart (5-10, 160) got some carries last fall, but he's the only one and he is listed only as a defender on the pre-season depth chart.

Griff Govert (5-10, 210) was listed as a linebacker last year, but now his roster designation is running back. He'll start against Lowell. Weight gains don't necessarily mean anything, but junior halfback Blaise LaFrey (5-10, 180) was listed at 160 pounds last fall. Ty Handley (5-11, 170) was listed at 160 and Ty is listed as the starting tailback Friday. CP has to find productive running backs.

That weight gain thing is more evident on the line. Again, weight alone means nothing but junior Jacob Keaveney (6-1, 285) was listed at 265 last season and he starts against Lowell. Junior starting tight end Ben Fridrich (6-2, 225) was 210 as a sophomore last fall. Right guard Ben Wesley (6-2, 240) was 215 as a sophomore in 2015. Chris Koteski (6-0, 230) was listed at 210 last year as a soph.

The Bulldogs, who were 39-18 in the five seasons before last year's 1-9, want to be a big deal this fall, but they at least will be bigger Bulldogs first.

Let's look at four CP players who should play key roles in 2016.

QB Grayson Lynk (6-4, 180) Senior:
The CP quarterback was a 41% passer last fall (53 of 129, 437 yards, 2 TDs, 6 interceptions), but I'm still convinced he'll be better. I thought the Bulldogs were two teams on offense last year. One, a run-dominated attack when running QB Artie Equihua was the signal caller and another, a pass-friendly offense when Lynk, who started the season opener at Lowell in 2015, was behind the center.
This year, the tall senior Lynk should command a multiple offense attack with pass catchers like Shane McCormack (6-6, 185) and Ben Fridrich (6-2, 215), Mark Knox (6-0, 145) and Griffin Govert (5-10, 210). If this group can get confident early in the season, they could reverse a lot of last year's losses. I think that CP's passing attack, which was not a factor last year, returns to the airwaves this season.

LB Donald Schuch (6-1, 215) Senior:
CP plays five linebackers a lot of the time and Schuch will probably be one of them all the time. He made 105 tackles including eight for losses last year. The Bulldogs' defense was on the field a lot last fall because the offense didn't move the ball. Still. CP allowed over 24 points only twice all year. Schuch had 15 tackles last season against Merrillville and 14 against Mishawaka. He had at least seven tackles in all 10 games. My confidence in CP's defense this fall has a lot to do with Schuch and junior linebacker Caden Watson (77 tackles) returning to make tackles.

RB/DB Zach Stewart (5-10, 160) Senior:
Last year, Zach Stewart ran the ball 14 times for 41 yards, caught four passes for 14 yards, returned eight kickoffs for a 20.5 average, grabbed two interceptions, recovered two fumbles and made 44 tackles on defense. I don't know if he'll play all these roles again, but you need this kind of versatility. Number 29 should be on the field quite a bit for CP this fall, but he'll start at cornerback in CP's 3-5-3 defense and as a kick returner.

WR - Shane McCormack (6-6, 185) Senior:
Shane grabbed 29 passes for 350 yards and a TD last fall, but I think he's going to do better than that this fall. He caught four against Valpo for 103 yards, six against Lake Central, five against Merrillville. I saw McCormack and QB Grayson Lynk barely miss on a half dozen big yardage plays last fall. With confidence and added strength, I believe those five or six catches can be an everyday thing for Shane. I also wouldn't be surprised to see McCormack used as an extra defensive back in final minute passing situations near the goal line. You didn't see that last year because, well, CP was hardly ever ahead late in the game. But with McCormack, Ben Fridrich (6-2, 225) and Tyler Jones (6-1, 160), the passing attack will be back in Crown Point.


LOWELL Update:

LOWELL - Lowell was a dominant defensive team last year. Only one team (Portage) scored more than 17 points on the Devils in 2015. They gave up 193 yards a game. And, while they lost a couple of key linebackers (Chris Han and JT Thomas), most of that defense returns bigger and stronger.

On offense, Lowell will ask senior Dayton Hornickel to replace his older brother Darren, who threw for 12 TDs with just one interception last fall. Darren doesn't have to throw for 12 TDs, but the Devils' coaches would like him to stay close to that one interception total.

What's good about Lowell is that they feel they should win every game again. That feeling isn't easy to establish. From 2003 to 2009, Lowell won 77 and lost 21. From 2007 to 2009, the Devils lost two regular season games in three years. Then they became average. From 2010 to 2013 they were 22-19. Not bad. Just not what they were. But since an 0-3 start in 2014, Lowell has won 20 and lost three. The last two losses have been 28-27 at New Prairie in the 2014 4A regional and 7-6 to St. Joseph's in the 2015 regional, a game the Devils still probably can't believe they lost.

What I'm trying to say is that while Lowell has some new players this season, if they get ahead early, they may jump back to the confidence level they had last year, which was pretty high.

Here's four of the many players who could make an impact for the Devils based on last year's undefeated regular season.

Center Mitch Sacco (6-2, 272) Senior:
At Lowell, the offensive line is the key unit on the roster and Mitch Sacco is the pivotal member of the line. Lowell ran for 3,296 yards last fall and Mitch was on the field for a lot of those. Listed at 259 pounds last fall, Sacco could be bigger and better than ever this fall. On defense, Sacco picked up 10 tackles and a couple of QB sacks, but he'll spend most of his time on offense with returning blockers Max Steward (6-0, 230) and Noah Fraze (5-8, 262). When Lowell has two or three or more offensive linemen returning, traditionally, they have run the ball very well.

RB-LB Trevor Espravnik (5-10, 184) Senior:
I think Trevor Espravnik would have added his name to Lowell's long list of 1,000-yard rushers except for an accident of birth. Trevor was born a year after Ike James who rushed for 4,500 yards in three seasons for the Devils. Now he will rush for 1,000 career yards one way or another. In 2014, Espravnik carried 56 times for 231 yards. Last year, he carried 30 times for 152 yards. This season, Trevor might get 100 carries even though junior Jordan Jusevitch figures to also get the ball a lot. Jusevitch and Espravnik are two-way players, so they may split time ball-carrying, especially early in the season. Defensively, Espravnik was in on 77 tackles and recorded two quarterback sacks. He's one of the anchors of Lowell's defense which held foes to 110 first downs and 2,513 yards in 13 games. Lowell lost the regional title game 7-6. Nobody moved the ball consistently on their first string defense. Espravnik was one of the reasons why.

FS-RB Jordan Jusevitch (6-0, 201) Junior:
Jusevitch has been the leading tackler for the Devils the last two seasons and he hasn't touched the ball a lot on offense. Why? Because halfback Ike James ran 347 times for 1,967 yards last year and 319 times for 2,442 yards in 2014. Now James has graduated and those 300 carries have to be given to someone else. But because Jusevitch is the leading tackler, Lowell coaches probably don't want him to run 300 times as well. In limited duty on offense in 2015, Jordan carried 35 times for 280 yards, a 7.3 yards per carry average. He caught 11 passes for 288 yards and five TDs and ran six kickoffs back for a 35 yard average. On defense he was in on 123 tackles and intercepted five passes. Jusevitch is a breakaway runner with power. Throws in his area on defense have to accurate. You have to kick away from him on special teams. And you have to be careful throwing the ball in the middle of the field.

CB-WR Jaeger Gill (5-11, 185) Junior:
Jaeger Gill is a key defender for the Devils recording 51 tackles last year, breaking up nine passes, blocking a kick, recovering a fumble and grabbing an interception. Lowell will want him on the opposition's top receiver, probably CP's Shane McCormack Friday night. Gill has untapped potential as an offensive player because he's a wide receiver and Lowell doesn't throw much. Gill caught seven passes last fall for 129 yards and he returned seven punts for a 10.9 yard average. It's safe to say that Lowell will get Jaeger Gill the ball more than seven times this fall and he may become known around the conference as more than just a defensive back.

LOWELL (12-1) at CROWN POINT (1-9)

Bulldog Stadium: capacity 4,800



CROWN POINT (08-19-2016) Usually the Lowell-Crown Point game is a bigger game for Lowell. Not this year. I like Crown Point to come out strong and push over a TD early, maybe a run by Griff Govert. Lowell will rally after a punt return by Jordan Jusevitch and Trevor Espravnik will score to tie the game 7-7 in the second quarter.

There will be a long period of time Friday when nobody scores and the game should be close going to the fourth quarter. I like Lowell to convert a turnover into a second TD by Espravnik. A pass interception from Jaeger Gill will lead to a third TD and a 20-7 lead. CP will score late on a Grayson Lynk TD pass, but this will be a rough, slow game to watch on a warm night.

Crown Point's passing attack will take some shots here, but this is a tough Lowell secondary. The Devils will intercept two or three passes. But the CP defense will contain (not stop) Lowell's rushing attack. I don't think a Devil will rush for over 100 yards. I'd like to think this is going to be a thriller with four quarters of nonstop action. I'd like to tell you that.

To me, this looks like a low-scoring, defensive struggle that Lowell survives.



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Revised: August 19, 2016 .