Week 2 - Football Game of the Week Preview

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

A USA-365.com Special Report by Mark Smith




Blake Jansky (44) got open to catch a touchdown pass in the scrimmage against Merrillville two weeks ago. He might want to do it again this week in Lowell's 2018 home opener against Portage. (Photo by Mark Smith)

When: 7:00 p.m., CDT on Friday, August 24, 2018.

Where:  Lowell High School, 3 miles west of I-65 on US 2 in Lowell.
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 - 2,512; LOWELL - 1,186.

WEATHER: We may avoid another uncomfortable night for the players as a late August cool spell drops temperatures into the low-70s and upper 60s. There is a chance of rain during the game and Lowell’s natural grass field almost certainly will be wet. With Lowell’s roster as small as it is, the cooler game night is the better. Rain would be a mixed blessing. A mushy field favors the slower, bigger team and that’s Portage. But Portage plays all their other games on artificial turf. This ‘grass’ thing would be different for them and wet grass would be even more of an adventure.

I don’t know why, but Portage fans don’t travel far for nonconference games, so there may not be a big crowd at Lowell. Portage has five home games and Lowell is not a rivalry of any kind for them. Losing the season opener at home may have dimmed some interest in the 2018 Indians. We’ll see. On the other hand, this is Lowell’s home opener and, in warm weather, should draw a very good home crowd.


WHAT's AT STAKE: This is obviously the second of three season-opening nonconference games for Lowell and I don't think there’s any real rivalry between these two schools. All Duneland Athletic Conference (DAC) teams like Portage play two nonconference games and then seven consecutive league games. Portage’s game next week (Aug. 31) against Lake Central is much more important to them than this one is. Lowell takes pride in being competitive against the larger Class 6A schools like Portage and they have won two of the last three games between the two schools. But this is just a game to see how much both sides improve between week one and week two.

The HISTORY: These two teams had not met since the 1960s when they resumed playing in the second week of the season in 2015. The games have been close and competitive. Portage spent a few years trying to fill the second Friday of the season with an opponent they 1.) Want to play and 2.) Will bring a good crowd.

Portage played Penn in 2013 and 2014. They got shut out 32-0 and 42-0 and they didn’t sign up for any more games. Portage played Chicago Catholic power St. Rita from 2009 to 2011. They lost all three by lesser scores, but it was worse than playing Penn because nobody’s coming to Porter County from Chicago on an August night to watch a football game.

Portage played Highland in week two in 2007 and 2008 but it was a mismatch. Lowell in week two works for both sides. The Devils played Morton in week two from 2007 to 2014 and I don’t know why that stopped. Kankakee Valley was the ‘week three game from 2007 to 2015. Lowell was lucky that they could add Portage without losing Morton from the schedule.

Lowell’s nonconference games were Crown Point, Morton and Hammond from 2007 to 2014. Hammond was a former conference opponent for Lowell going back to the 1990s. But Hammond didn’t bring any fans to Lowell and the game stopped being competitive. Lowell needed to look for a better foe.

I think the genesis of the game came from a request by Wally McCormack, who coached at Portage after being the head coach at Andrean, a team that Lowell plays every year. He wanted to play Lowell and Lowell wanted to play someone bigger than Hammond.

There were fears that Lowell would face a season like this one where they didn't have a deep roster and opening the year with two Class 6A schools might beat the Devils up for the season ahead. That may happen. Reportedly, Portage has twice as many varsity players as Lowell does.

But when Griffith blew up the Northwest Crossroads schedule by dropping out of the league on short notice, Lowell needed a smaller (than 6A) foe so they wouldn’t create a schedule they couldn’t handle . That turned out to be Clark, which now has lost 32 of their last 33 games. The Clark game won't be such a mismatch (it was a 63-6 game in 2017) this year and it will allow Lowell to play some freshmen and give the shorthanded Devil varsity roster a break that will be much needed by that time.

I think Portage will want to play Lowell for the foreseeable future. The
Indians have a league full of 5A and 6A foes and they need a good, nearby 4A in the ‘pre-season.’ And Clark actually balances Portage on Lowell’s nonconference schedule.


The 'Distant Replay'...

1962 Lowell (1-9,1-6)
Sep 04 (L) WHITING................ 6-8
Sep 07 (L) *at Dyer Central........ 0-28
Sep 14 (L) *MERRILLVILLE........... 13-19
Sep 21 (L) *at Gary Wirt........... 0-12
Sep 28 (W) EAST GARY.............. 21-6
Oct 05 (L) *HIGHLAND............... 0-14
Oct 12 (L) *GRIFFITH............... 7-13
Oct 19 L) vs Crown Point......... 13-32
Oct 24 (L) *at Gary Edison......... 0-6
Nov 02 (L) *at Portage............. 14-18

1962 Portage (7-2-1,6-1-0)
Sep 07 (W) *MERRILLVILLE.......... 21-12
Sep 14 (W) *at Griffith........... 25-13
Sep 21 (L) *DYER CENTRAL.......... 6-14
Sep 28 (W) at River Forest........ 14-12
Oct 05 (W)*at East Gary........... 27-12
Oct 11 (W)*at Gary Edison......... 7-0
Oct 19 (W) *GARY WIRT.............. 12-6
Oct 24 (T) at Valparaiso.......... 19-19
Oct 27 (L) at Chesterton.......... 0-13
Nov 02 (W) *LOWELL................. 18-14


LOWELL: This Friday’s Lowell-Portage game won't decide any league titles, but there was one long ago day when it did. November 2nd, 1962.

Lowell (1-8) had stumbled all season with only a mid-season 21-6 win over Lake Station. Portage (6-2-1) had held all opponents to 20 points or less in 1962, losing two and tying (yes there were ties in those days) Valparaiso, which was in the Northern Indiana Conference (so were most of the Gary and Hammond schools) in those days.

So with seniors playing their final game (there were no state playoffs in the 1960s), a Lowell team that averaged six points a game met a Portage team which had lost just twice all year. Portage needed a win for the outright Calumet Conference. Lowell had nothing to play for.

When I get curious about high school football history I can waste a surprising amount of time on-line with Internet searches that turn up absolutely nothing. All I knew about the 1962 Lowell team was that the head coach was Dan Molchan.

But last Sunday, I remembered that the Lowell yearbook is called ‘the Lowellian’ so I casually looked up the 1963 Lowellian on the slim hope that it would be on-line, to find out anything about the 1962 Red Devils. Just because that first place Portage team 56 years ago barely beat that last place Lowell team 18-14.

Guess what? The 1963 Lowell yearbook is online. There are faded black and white photos of a school and students who live largely only in memory. The 1962 football team is mentioned. And so, surprisingly, is that long forgotten November game. Below a black and white picture of 35 boys in old style white Lowell uniforms, in old school typewriter print style are the words of an unknown yearbook contributor, from another era.

It reads in part: “The last game of the (’62) season was a real thriller against Portage who ended up as Calumet Conference champions. Lowell dominated play in the first three quarters. We held onto the lead all game long despite having a touchdown called back for clipping on the opening kickoff. But in the fourth quarter, our completely exhausted team gave up the lead with only two minutes left to play. After the game, many fans, including those from Portage, came out of the stands to congratulate the Red Devils on a great game.”

“I think coach Molchan summed up our season very well when he said, 'I am very proud of the football team this year. Although we had a losing season, we never quite trying. They were always trying to win the game.'”

The unknown writer, possibly a player, continues:

“A few weeks after the season ended, all of the seniors on the ball club gathered at (senior) Tom Beckman’s home and from there proceeded to the home of coach Molchan. There they presented him with a trophy with the inscription, “To the greatest coach a team could ever have.”

That game was 56 years ago.

Portage vs. Lowell. Just like it will be this Friday night.


 1962 Conference Points, Overall Points

PORTAGE............. 6 1 0 116 71 .857 7 2 1 149 115
Merrillville............ 5 2 0 116 60 .714 7 3 0 162 99
Highland............ 5 2 0 80 39 .714 6 3 1 110 77
Griffith................. 4 3 0 104 91 .571 5 4 1 172 134
Gary Wirt......... 4 3 0 80 64 .571 4 5 0 93 98
Dyer Central........ 4 3 0 81 68 .571 4 6 0 94 140
Gary Edison........ 2 5 0 62 65 .286 3 6 0 80 103
East Gary............ 1 6 0 36 156 .143 1 8 1 64 211
LOWELL.............. 0 7 0 55 116 .125 1 9 0 74 156


(6A) Portage (0-1)
5-6 (2017), 6-4 (2016), 1-10 (2015), 1-9 (2014)
Coach Darren Rodriguez (3rd year) 11-11, all DAC games in CAPS
8-17 (L) 14-35 (5A) Mishawaka (1-0)
8-24 (Fri) at (4A) Lowell (1-0)
8-31 (Fri) LAKE CENTRAL (1-0)
9-7 (Fri) (6A) MERRILLVILLE (1-0)
9-14 (Fri) at (6A) CROWN POINT (0-1)
9-21 (Fri) at (6A) CHESTERTON (0-1)
9-28 (Fri) (5A) MICHIGAN CITY (1-0)
10-5 (Fri) at (6A) VALPARAISO (0-1)
10-12 (Fri) (5A) LaPORTE (0-1)

6A Sectional 1
10-26 (Fri) vs. Crown Point, Lake Central or Merrillville




PORTAGE – Portage graduated seven starters on both offense and defense from the 2017 team and it wasn’t a shock that they lost the season opener 35-14 to 4A No. 5 Mishawaka last week.
There’s no way to know how they’ll play this week on the road. The Indians' offensive line is led by senior left tackle Brandon English (6-6, 263) in front of senior halfbacks Jalen Smith (5-8, 180) and Michael McGregor.

Two linebackers Teangelo Rayner (5-10, 205) and Jordan Warner (6-2, 170) were quality players in 2017 with over 100 tackles combined. The Portage defense last week allowed 351 yards on 57 carries including 217 yards on 27 carries to Mishawaka halfback Chris Harness (5-7, 175).

Coach Darren Rodriguez has played a 4-2-5 defensive formation in past years, but giving up 351 rushing yards means the safeties and corners are going to be creeping up to the line. It looks like the Indians have a size advantage, especially in the offensive line. I assume they’ll run left a lot behind English and I’d guess they’ll eventually challenge Lowell’s all-new secondary. But I saw very little video on the Indians and reports on the Mishawaka game were not flattering.

(4A) LOWELL (1-0)
14-1 (2017) 9-5 (2016), 12-1 (2015), 8-5 (2014)
Coach Keith Kilmer (8 years, 66-30), NWC Conference games in CAPS

8-17 (W) 17-7 (6A) Crown Point (0-1)
8-24 (Fri) (6A) Portage (0-1)
8-31 (Fri) (4A) Morton (1-0)
9-7 (Fri) at (3A) Clark (0-1)
9-14 (Fri) (4A) KANKAKEE VALLEY (0-1)
9-21 (Fri) (4A) at HIGHLAND (0-1)
9-28 (Fri) (5A) MUNSTER (0-1)
10-6 (Fri) (3A) at ANDREAN (0-1)
10-13 (Fri) (4A) HOBART (1-0)

Class 4A Sectional 17
10-20 (Fri) vs. East Chicago, Griffith, Gary West Side, Morton, Gavit, Hammond or Highland.
10-27 (Fri.) sectional semifinals
11-3 (Fri) Sectional 17 championship


LOWELL Update:

The question we won't know from a distance all year is: How healthy is the Lowell roster? Quarterback Ethan Igras and lineman/ linebacker Bryan Schantz both left the field with apparent injuries last week at Crown Point. With the short roster situation it will take a lot to keep those seniors out of the game. An injury to anyone hurts Lowell. Of the 42 players I saw dressed for the Devils, 18 made at least one tackle and eight different Devils caught at least one pass. Lowell needed everybody last week and they will all season.

Igras was officially 9-of-15 for 104 yards, he ran nine times for 421 yards, he punted four times for an average of 37.8 yards and he made two tackles. Lowell’s back up quarterback is speedy sophomore Adam Bank (5-9, 149) who is also a defensive back. He wears the number ‘6’, a digit of honor in Lowell football so he has as much promise as a 149-pound sophomore can have. I think the plan was to use him solely in the secondary this year but plans change.

Lowell is going to look to one and all to go in for a few plays and give the starters a little rest. Especially against another big school that has twice as many boys in uniform.

The Devils were held to 107 yards rushing by Crown Point and they’ll need more than that this week. Except for the one interception in the fourth quarter, Igras was very good hitting short passes out of Lowell’s double slot (4 wide receiver) formation, but Portage was hurt by Mishawaka’s option runs. The victorious Cavemen tried only two passes all night and won easily.

One more note. Kicker Nate Gard quietly came through at Crown Point, converting the Devils’ two extra points and booting a 29-yard field goal. It's almost certain he’ll be called on again for key kicks against Portage.

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

Lowell Stadium "The Inferno" Capacity: 2,500


SAGARIN RATINGS: Lowell by 27.

Lowell isn’t going to beat Portage by 27. But the computer only reads wins and losses and Lowell won by 10 last week on the road at a 6A school while Portage lost by 21 at home to a 4A school.
Put Lowell on their home field and, while the 27-point spread is outrageous, I can see where Lowell is favored in cyberspace. For the record. Last year’s season-ending Sagarin ratings had Lowell beating Crown Point by eight points. Lowell won over Crown Point last week 17-7.


LOWELL (08-24-2018) I don't know. Lowell beat a bigger, stronger team last week and I’m still not sure how they did it. I’m also a little suspect of Portage getting smoked at home against Mishawaka. Portage has lost to the Cavemen five years in a row now. They may not spend much (if any) time preparing specifically for the option offense Mishawaka runs. Portage has very good size in the offensive line and I expect them to run the ball at the Lowell front with some success.

But this game may be scoreless for a while. Tyler Wildman gets into the end zone for the second week in a row and the Red Devils lead 7-0 at halftime.

Jalen Smith breaks a long run for Portage to tie the game 7-7 in the third quarter, but this certainly looks like a defensive struggle with multiple turnovers by both sides. I guess I hinted at this earlier, but I can see this game coming down to a late field goal attempt.
Two teams that will struggle on offense and the game is decided when Nate Gard makes a short field goal in the fourth quarter.



Copyright © 2018 USA-365.com and Meyer Multimedia Services, a division of Meyer Broadcasting Corp.  All rights reserved.
Revised: August 23, 2018 .