Week 2 - Football Game of the Week Preview

6A Portage (0-1) at
4A Lowell (0-1)

A USA-365.com Special Report by Mark Smith




Lowell quarterback Dayton Hornickel (14) got to play in the fourth quarter last year at Portage. Now Hornickel is the starter going into tomorrow's 2016 home opener against Portage. (Photo by Mark Smith)

When: 7:00 p.m., CDT on Friday, August 26, 2016.

Where: Lowell high school - 2 miles west of I-65 on US. 2
TV/Radio/Internet: WTMK (88.5) FM live, live updates of all local scores all night on WLPR (89.1) FM.
Tickets: $6

Enrollment: PORTAGE - 2,536; LOWELL - 1,187

Got to be better than the last two weeks. I know I'm not supposed to say this, but I need it to get colder. Soon. I'm old and I loved the 80s but I don't need temperatures to be in the 80s every single day and neither do most football players. The forecast for Friday is very good. Fingers crossed. Mid-70s during the day and mid-60s by halftime. Almost no chance of rain. Should be one of the best nights of the year.

PARKING: This is Lowell's home opener. The weather should be good. Expect a big crowd and get there early.
This is Portage's first visit to Lowell since the Vietnam War (1967-68) so I can't how guess how many fans from Porter County will show up. Portage is 2-19 the last two years so there may not be a caravan of supporters coming south down I-65.

Portage fans should know that the football stadium is behind the school at Lowell and the largest parking lot is in front of the school. Early arrivals can park behind the school next to the field. Late arrivals park in front of the school and have to walk a bit.

The Lowell home opener is always a popular night so the parking lot behind the school should fill up early. Only four regular season home games for the Devils this fall and, after next week (KV) there will be only two left.

WHAT's AT STAKE: Nothing in the standings. This is a nonconference game and not a rivalry. Portage has a new coach and I think they expected to do a little better than last week's 21-7 home loss. Lowell expected to do a lot better than scoring three points at Crown Point.

But this game means more than nothing, especially to Lowell. When you work all spring and summer and expect to be good, it shakes you up to lose the first game. But the winner in Lowell Friday can write off the first game and stay the course.

Lowell does have a tradition of winning sectional championships after losing the first two games or 3-of-the-first-4 in a season (2014, 2006, 2005, 1992) but that's not something you want to talk about the week of the home opener.

The HISTORY: Portage is the largest city in Porter County with a little over 36,000 residents. I guess you would call it a ' Baby Boom' town. In 1950, Portage had an official population of 2,116. It was a farm town sitting on original Potawatomi Indian land.

For you 'youngins' out there, my definition of the term 'Baby Boom' was the growth in America after World War II. When folks here realized we weren't going to wipe each other off the face of the earth with wars, they decided to live their lives. Approximately 65 million children were born in the USA between 1945 and 1961 and a lot of them must have been spawned in Portage where the population soared.

Portage is also a steel mill town. In 1959, National Steel opened a plant in Portage and in 1963, Bethlehem Steel also built a Portage plant, employing about 6,000 people. I'm assuming the mills were in Portage for the same reason Indians lived there and farmers farmed there. Portage is right on the southernmost shores of Lake Michigan. The story of Indiana (and most everyplace else) is that everything is built around lakes, rivers or the railroads that came in and around them in the 1800s.

Portage is also part of the Northwest Indiana story of how, as the mills closed and restructured, folks moved out of Gary, Hammond and East Chicago to places like Schererville, Chesterton and Portage. Portage is a mix of the families of steel workers or ex-steel workers, people whose families moved from North Lake County and a few descendants of those that have lived there since the early 1800s. If your last name is Robbins, Crisman, Spurloch or McCool (and there are a few of you) and your family is from Northwest Indiana, you may be a distant relative of the original settlers of Portage 200 years ago.

Obviously Portage high school used to be almost tiny. It was once in the small school Porter County Conference (PCC) with little schools like Boone Grove, Kouts and Washington Township. Portage high is now the third largest school in Northwest Indiana behind Lake Central and Crown Point.

Lowell and Portage aren't really near to each other so it's no surprise they have not been in the same conference since the 1960s when they played in the old Calumet Conference. Lowell and Portage played every season from 1952 to 1963 and again in 1967 and 1968. Portage won the first four meetings in the series, but Lowell leads the series 8-6-1.

While I'm pretty sure they'll continue to play, I don't know if there's the makings of a rivalry here. There's nothing that ties the two communities and they won't ever meet in the post-season. But even though Portage is the bigger school, the football program hasn't won more than six games in any one football season since 2004. This would be a very big victory for the Indians.

The 'Distant Replay'

Lowell fast start overwhelms Portage


Team 1 2 3 4 F
LOWELL (2-0) 14 14 14 0 42
Portage (0-2) 0 7 0 21 28

Friday, August 28, 2015 - 71 degrees, humid in PORTAGE, IN


1st Qtr: LOWELL (7-0) Ike James, 4-yard run. 44-yard drive, 6 plays. Robbie Smetana kick. 7:41 left.
LOWELL (14-0)
Ryan Bottos, 37-yard pass from Darion Hornickel.37-yard, one play.
Robbie Smetana kick. 5:40 left.
2nd Qtr: LOWELL (21-0) Trevor Espravnik, 13-yard pass from Darion Hornickel (3rd TD pass). 68-yard drive, 10 plays. Robbie Smetana kick. 11:24 left.
LOWELL (28-0)
Austin Giordano, 1-yard run. 20-yard drive, 5 plays after Gavin Summers recovered a fumble at the Portage 20 yard line. Robbie Smetana kick. 6:06 left.
PORTAGE (7-28)
Brandel Clayton, 5-yard run. 73-yard drive, 13 plays. Josh Gonzalez kick. 0:21 left.

3rd QtrLOWELL (35-7) Trevor Espravnik, Ike James, 75-yard run. 80-yard drive, 2 plays. Robbie Smetana kick. 11:13 left.
LOWELL (42-7)
Darion Hornickel, 32-yard option run. 52-yard drive, 4 plays. 8:09 left
4th QtrPORTAGE (42-14) Brandel Clayton, 15-yard run. 54-yard drive, 2 plays. Josh Gonzalez kick. 7:49 left.
PORTAGE (42-21)
T’ Cori Lewis, 18-yard pass from David Herrod. 18 yard drive, one play after Cody Russell recovered a fumble at the Lowell 18-yard line. Josh Gonzalez. 6:09 left.
PORTAGE (42-28)
David Herrod, 4-yard option run. 63-yard drive, 7 plays. Josh Gonzalez kick. 0:47 left.

LOWELL (41 carries, 259 yards, 4 TDs, 1 fumble): Ike James (HB) 15 carries, 146 yards, 2 TDs; Darion Hornickel (QB) 4 carries, 57 yards, TD; Austin Giordano (FB) 3 carries, 11 yards, TD; Trevor Espravnik HB) 5 carries, 28 yards; Noah Bishop (QB) 4 carries (minus-89 yards) 2 sacks; Jared Sojka (FB) 2-7 yards, Cedric Cashetta (HB) 5-10 yards.

PORTAGE: (37 carries, 176 yards, 2 TDs, fumble): Jeremiah Ratliff (HB) 15 carries, 92 yards, TD; Brandel Clayton (HB) 3 carries, 28 yards, 2 TDs; David Herod (QB) 8 carries, 36 yards; Anthony Maceo (QB) 8 carries, 10 yards; Kieve Camos (HB) 2 carries, 9 yards.

LOWELL: Darion Hornickel (QB) 3 of 4, 57 yards, 2 TDs, 0 interceptions; Noah Bishop (QB) 1 of 2, 21 yards; PORTAGE: David Herrod (QB) 2 of 3, 63 yards, one TD, one INT; Anthony Maceo (QB) 3 of 5, 63 yards, 0 TDs, no interceptions.

LOWELL: Ryan Bottos (WR) 3 catches, 65 yards TD; Trevor Espravnick (HB) 1 catch, 13 yards. PORTAGE: T’Cori Lewis (WR) 2 catches, 63 yards, Matt Fornari (WR) 2 catches, 51 yards, Deveon Finley WR) 1 catch, 11 yards.

LOWELL (1) fumble; PORTAGE (3) 2 fumbles, interception.
Jordan Jusevitch (LOWELL) interception, Gavin Summers (LOWEL) fumble recovery;
Kris Burns (P) fumble recovery



PORTAGE: This is one of those games where you need to see the box score. The numbers are somewhat even, but Lowell jumped to a 28-0 lead and held 42-7 after three quarters. Portage rallied late against Lowell's reserves to score three touchdowns with the help of David Herrod, who came off the bench to replace starter Anthony Maceo, who will again start this Friday.

Lowell overpowered the Indians in this game. Portage was playing as many as seven sophomores on defense and they didn't match up with Lowell. Portage lost all nine regular season games before a 36-14 upset of Lake Central broke a 12-game Indian losing streak.

Lowell would win 12 games in a row until a 7-6 home field regional loss to St. Joseph's. The Devils put Portage on the schedule to replace Hammond, which was dropped not because they couldn't play, but largely due to attendance at games when the Wildcats came to Lowell. So there are two stories this Friday night. How the game matches up and does anybody from Portage make the drive to south Lake County.


– Portage returned 16 starters this season and I know they expected more than seven points against Mishawaka in week one. This is basically the same team that lost 42-28 at home to Lowell last year, but they are bigger and stronger with a new coach, former Culver high coach Darren Rodriguez.

Coach Rodriguez reportedly will not be with Portage this Friday as he is serving a one-game suspension. In his final game at Culver, he was ejected, drawing the mandatory one-game suspension. He asked the IHSAA if he could serve the suspension in week two so as not to miss the home opener last week. The request was granted and Rodriguez will not be with the Indians this Friday.
Portage did hold Mishawaka to 186 yards rushing and just 13 first downs last Friday, a decent defensive effort against a state-rated team. The Indians did turn the ball over three times and they rushed for just 67 yards against a Mishawaka defense that retuned eight starters from 2015.

Portage needs this game. The Indians play the schedule ranked 19th toughest in the state. Their next four opponents are Lake Central (1-0), Merrillville (1-0), Crown Point (1-0) and Chesterton (1-0). That's a hard ride down a dusty road. Portage needs to beat Lowell. They've only won two games in two years. Let's look at four Portage players who should play key roles this Friday night.

QB - Anthony Maceo (5-10, 187) Junior:
Maceo was just 8 of 24 last week for 173 yards in a come-from-behind effort (his team was down 21-0 in the second quarter) against Mishawaka. His coach describes him in the Times newspaper as a running back playing quarterback. It fits. Last year Anthony ran 147 times for 723 yards and nine TDs. Passing? Just 37 of 87 for 518 yards and three TDs. So Portage's 2016 strategy is simple. They have to keep the game close and let Maceo do his thing. The Indians can't fall behind early and ask Anthony to do that other thing.

OG - Nick Johnson (6-4, 331) Senior:
Probably Portage's best college prospect, Johnson has made recruiting contact reportedly with Indiana, Nebraska, Purdue and Valparaiso. Starting for the third season in a row, Nick is the one Portage will run behind on short yardage. He is one of four seniors - Mike Montes (6-0, 230), Nate Cruse (5-10, 210) and Jason Doran (5-7, 215) - who are returning starters. With a line like this, they don't want to throw the ball.

Kicker - Josh Gonzalez (6-0, 160) Senior:
The top kicker in NW Indiana, Gonzalez made seven field goals last year in 11 games and was 26 of 29 on extra points. The NWI soccer player of the year, Gonzalez hit 40-yard field goals last season and there's little doubt he can hit field goals from 50 yards out. This week's game will not be a scoreless tie after four quarters. The presence of Josh Gonzalez guarantees that. Lowell won't run any kickoffs back for TDs. Josh Gonzalez can guarantee that, too.

FB - David Herrod (5-9, 187) Senior:
Herrod played some quarterback last year, but he also had 97 rushes for 430 yards and six TDs. Now, he's the fullback behind Anthony Maceo in Portage's option offense. Herrod ran for a TD and threw for another in last year's game. I think he gets the ball 15-20 times Friday night if the game is close and it won't surprise the Devils after his game in 2015.

LOWELL Update:

– Lowell is spending this week trying to get the offense moving after last week's 9-3 loss at Crown Point. The numbers were bad. No touchdowns. Nine punts. Just 71 total yards. Only three first downs. Part of it was field position. Lowell received the ball nine times. At the their own 28, their own 27, the 20, the 14, the 40, the 37, the Lowell 4 and the Lowell 7-yard line. Buried deep in their own territory, the Devils never attempted a pass on first down. They tried to run the ball out of the hole all night. That led to several 3rd-and-long situations and seven quarterback sacks. It was a perfect storm of going nowhere.

That will almost certainly change this week. The Devils won't be throwing the ball 25 times, but at home with good field position (it can't be as bad as it was last week), Lowell will get the ball outside the hash marks a little more in the hopes of opening up the middle of the Portage defense. The Devils' defense forced seven punts and did a good job against CP quarterback Grayson Lynk, who was 12 of 26 for 98 yards. The Devils were one play away from winning last week, but they fell one play short.

FB-LB-PK Jake Post (5-9, 173) Junior:
After Jake missed a field goal in the final minute of last week's game, I was a little surprised when coach Keith Kilmer sent him out again on 4th-and-5 in the first overtime with CP leading 3-0. But Jake boomed a perfect field goal from 18 yards out to tie the game. Defensively Post was in on 10 tackles, including a quarterback sack for a six yard loss. That's very good, but to kick that field goal in a make-it-or-lose situation showed that Lowell may have a place kicker again this year.

RB-LB - Austin Giordano (5-10, 197) Senior:
Giordano did not play last week and I don't know for sure if he'll be able to go this Friday. But he'll make a difference if he does. Not that the Devils can do a lot better than holding Crown Point to 181 total yards and nine points. But Austin at fullback chipped in 106 yards last year on 23 carries. Defensively, he was in on 78 tackles. Giordano's presence improves Lowell's depth significantly.

FS-RB Jordan Jusevitch (6-0, 201) Junior:
Jusevitch had a game that was probably very unsatisfying last week. He was in on 15 tackles, blocked two kicks, broke up two passes and intercepted another one. But Lowell never scored a touchdown and Jordan was stopped at the 1-yard-line on fourth down in overtime. The Devils' dilemma with Jordan is that they can't play him every down on offense, defense and special teams this early in the season. There won't be anything left of him by November. Facing less of a passing attack this week (I believe) Jusvitch may play on offense a little more than his 10 carries last week.

CB-WR Jaeger Gill (5-11, 185) Junior:
I'm guessing that Lowell will find a way to get sprinter Jaeger Gill a few chances with the ball. The junior, who ran a 100-meter dash of 11.07 seconds (7th place) at the Valpo Regional last year, is a wide receiver and kick returner. Gill got the ball once at Crown Point, on a wide receiver reverse for two yards. Gill isn't a running back like Jordan Jusevitch or Trevor Espravnik and Lowell isn't going to throw 25 passes, especially deep in their own territory. But Gill runs track like somebody's chasing him. His speed is something Portage has to respect. I'm guessing Lowell tries to get him in a couple of different ways this week.

6A PORTAGE (0-1) at 4A LOWELL (0-1)

Lowell Stadium ("The Inferno") Capacity: 2,500


SAGARIN RATIGS: Lowell by 4. This game is hard to call. There is a lot of feeling that Portage is better than the team that went 1-10 last year. To lose to Mishawaka is no knock on your quality. But the Indians are on the road here and that probably accounts for the spread. When you have won two of your last 22 games, it's hard to favor you, no matter how many returning starters you have.


LOWELL (08-26-2016) These are still two running teams. Portage has to look at 24 passes on the record last week and say, we can't be doing that. The Indians have to see if they can make the option work against the Devils. Lowell isn't going to get out of character on this night. They will rely on the defense to get them good field position and it may take a while. Could be another scoreless first quarter.

Josh Gonzalez gets the Indians on the board with a second quarter field goal. the Devils get going with a long run by Jordan Jusevitch, setting up a short TD run by quarterback Dayton Hornickel. A pass from Anthony Maceo to Angel Sanchez moves the ball deep into Lowell territory where a second field goal cuts the lead to 7-6 at the half.

The Devils force a fumble and Jusevitch scores on a short run early in the third period after a drive of less than half the field. Hornickel finds Jaeger Gill with a short pass that he breaks free to the end zone to put Lowell up 20-6 late on the third quarter. David Herrod scores on an option run to pull the Indians within 20-16 in the fourth quarter, but a long Lowell drive leads to a Trevor Espravnik TD to finish the scoring.

I think the strength gap between the Devils offensive line and the Portage defensive front won't be anywhere near what it was last year. But Lowell has too many good runners to be stopped for the second week in a row. This is Portage's first trip to Lowell in this era and the Devils certainly have an advantage playing at home on this night.


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Revised: August 24, 2016.