Week 8 - Football Game of the Week Preview

Lowell Red Devils (7-0)
at Andrean 59ers (7-1)

A USA-365.com Special Report by Mark Smith


Andrean's Ryan Walsh (8) blocks for 59er quarterback Zack Merrill (7) in Lowell's game at Andrean in 2018. Almost 4,000 rushing yards later, Walsh will be ready to go against Andrean Friday night in Merrillville. (Photo by Mark Smith)

When:  7:00 p.m. CDT on Friday, October 16, 2020

Where:  Andrean High School, 5959 Broadway in Merrillville, Ind.


TV/Radio/Internet:  Live internet feed on RRSN.com (pay per view). The RRSN Lowell games you got for free last year are now (as many state broadcasts now are) pay-per-view.


ENROLLMENT: Andrean - 387; LOWELL – 1,107.

In 1996, Andrean had 822 students. In 1986, Andrean had 1,083 students. In 1986, Bishop Noll had 1,217 teenagers. Noll now has 465 teens. A little shocking, isn’t it?

By the way, Indianapolis Cathedral has 1,014 boys and girls.

WEATHER: Remember how warm and wonderful it was last Friday? Well, that was then. This is now. The big chill heads for Northwest Indiana this Friday with daytime highs in the mid-50s and a 7 p.m. kickoff temperature of about 45 degrees. Temperatures will drop like the Indianapolis Colts' playoff chances and by the end of the game, we MIGHT still be at 40 degrees. With a west wind at 10-15 miles-an-hour, you’ll be wanting to wear much more than a mask this Friday night.


PARKING/TICKETS: Andrean really does not have much parking, so if you want to stay out of the shopping mall lot southwest of the school, you need to get there by 6:30 p.m. I do not know how many tickets Andrean will give Lowell, but the visitors' bleachers at Andrean’s Father Eckert Stadium aren’t that large anyway. This is a big game so the Andrean side will have a good crowd. I’ll see you in the mall lot with the other late comers.


THE SITUATION: By now you know that Lowell has had to forfeit their first five wins due to an ineligible player. Lowell is officially 1-5 according to the IHSAA, although the real Red Devil on-the-field record is 7-0.

I don’t think this will affect the boys the rest of the way. Just between you and me, Lowell has always cared much more about sectional play than they have about conference championships.

On October 23, Lowell will begin the quest for their 16th sectional title in their last 30 years (and sixth in seven years), and if they get it, the boys will not care what their won-loss record is.

I don't think the forfeits will slow down Lowell at all. The big games are yet to come.


Northwest Crossroads Conference (NCC)
Past NCC champs: Hobart (5-0) in 2019, ANDREAN (5-0) in 2018, LOWELL (5-0) in 2017
NCC record Overall record Points scored- allowed

ANDREAN 4-0 (7-1) 296-98
LOWELL 3-0 (7-0) 212-95
Hobart 2-1 (5-2) 220-91
Kankakee Valley 1-3 (5-3) 257-133
Highland 1-3 (3-4) 122-183
Munster 0-4 (1-7) 57-303


NCC OUTLOOK: This is the point of the preview where I mention that Lowell has forfeited five games due to an ineligible player. Officially, Lowell’s record is 2-5 with a 2-1 league record. But for purposes of this matchup, Lowell is 7-0 which is what they actually are on the field.

It doesn’t matter. If Andrean wins Friday, they win the NCC. If Lowell wins, they tie Andrean (officially) for the championship and since there are no standing tie-breakers in high school football, Lowell would be co-champs of the NCC.


Friday, October 16
Hobart at Munster
Kankakee Valley at Highland (cancelled)
(end of the season)

Class 4A Sectional 17 on Friday, October 23

East Chicago (0-5) at Gary West Side (2-5)
Hobart (5-2) at Gavit (2-0)
Griffith (4-2) at Highland (3-4)
Morton (2-0) at LOWELL (7-0)


SECTIONAL 17 Outlook: I like where Lowell is, obviously. Morton will come to Lowell with a 3-0 record, but they do not have the team they would have had, had the 2020 season began for them in August. Hobart figures to dominate the Brickies' first two playoff games. (That’s going out on a limb isn’t it?) Lowell is favored, but Griffith (4-2) gave them trouble in September and a rematch would be at Griffith on October 30. I don’t know what Morton has, really. A Lowell-Hobart Sectional 17 championship game would probably be in Lowell on the night of November 6.

2020 (2A) Andrean (7-1)
10-4 (2019), 10-2 (2018) 8-4 (2017) 5-6 (2016)
Coach Chris Skinner (6th year) 1-6 ... Northwest Crossroads Conference (NCC) games in CAPS

8-21 (L) 13-40 at (6A) Merrillville (6-1)
8-28 (W) 28-0 at (6A) Lake Central (1-7)
9-4 (W) 42-14 (4A) New Prairie (5-3)
9-11 (W) 47-0 (4A) East Chicago (0-5)
9-18 (W) 52-10 (4A) HIGHLAND (3-4)
9-25 (W) 35-24 at (4A) HOBART (5-2)
10-2 (W) 44-3 at (5A) MUNSTER (1-7)
10-9 (W) 35-7 at (4A) KANKAKEE VALLEY (5-3)

10-16 (4A) LOWELL (7-0)

2A Sectional 33
10-23 at Boone Grove (2-6)
10-30 vs. Whiting or at Bishop Noll


SECTIONAL CHANGES: I sass-talk Andrean a lot saying that it's unfair to 2A public schools that Andrean is a Class 2A school, but its ‘truth time’. Andrean is not just a 2A school. They are a small 2A. Boone Grove (495 kids) is bigger than Andrean (387). So is Whiting (494 teens). So is Rensselaer (510 kids). So is Wheeler (536). All those schools are in 2A Sectional 33 with Andrean. Still, if Andrean reaches the state championship game in Class 2A (and they lost in the semistate last fall), the 59ers will move up to Class 3A for the 2021 season because of the IHSAA’s ‘success factor.’


ANDREAN - Andrean looks like a No. 1 team. They average 37 points a game and that number is shrunken by the 40-13 loss to Merrillville in the season opener. Two players stand out on offense. One is running back Ryan Walsh (78 carries, 772 yards, 13 TDs) who has run for over 100 yards five times in eight games. Walsh (5-11, 190), an all-state caliber player. Walsh carried the ball 278 times last season for 2,251 yards and 27 TDs. For his career, Walsh has carried 41 times and gained 3,860 yards and 49 touchdowns. Yes, that means he averages 8.8 yards a carry for his career. One of his biggest strengths is his stiff arm. If he gets you with that ‘jab’ you won't bring him down. The senior scored four TDs two weeks ago in a 35-7 victory over Kankakee Valley. Walsh has played varsity for four years and he’s also a starting linebacker with 45 tackles (28 solo tackles) this year. The 59er star has played 45 games and is a four-year varsity player. He’s seen it all.


But he might not be the best player Andrean has. Senior football and basketball star Nick Flesher (5-10, 180) has caught 29 passes for 421 yards and six TDs and those totals are also deceptive. Flesher was hurt and missed most of 2019 (24 catches, 303 yards), but in 2018 he caught 79 passes for 952 yards and 12 TDs. Flesher has scored 35 touchdowns in 38 games and is a three-year starter at defensive back.

The 59er quarterback is senior Joe Cimino (6-2, 165), who is 75 of 112 passing for 1,018 yards and 15 TDs and just three interceptions. Junior Alonzo Paul (5-7, 145) has caught 28 passes for 327 yards and five TDs. Junior tight end Dominic Ditola (5-11, 225) has caught just seven passes all season but five have gone for touchdowns, all near the goal line. Defensively, outside linebackers Dhmari Wright (6-4, 211) and Drake Bowen (6-3, 200) are impressive to watch with a combined 82 tackles and eight sacks. Ditola and Walsh are the inside linebackers and Jayden Lynon (6-2, 205) is a strong defensive end. Big Jake Anderson (6-4, 265) holds down the middle. Flesher and Paul are the corners and Danny O’Shea (6-3, 195) is the free safety.

The only drawback on Andrean is that almost all the players I’ve mentioned except for the quarterback Cimino seem to go both ways much of the time. Offense and defense. Junior Nicholas Tovar is 21 of 21 on extra points and he has a 24-yard field goal, but the 59ers haven't needed three-point boots. Andrean drew six 15-yard penalties last week against KV and that can't happen this week or Lowell wins.
The Niners use one running back most of the time with three wide receivers and they sit in a 3-4 defensive front. Watching video of them, Andrean is very impressive.


2020 (4A) LOWELL (7-0)
7-5 (2019), 10-3 (2018), 14-1 (2017) 9-5 (2016)
Coach Keith Kilmer (11th year, 89-38) North Central Conference (NCC) games in CAPS
8-21 (W) 6-0 at (6A) Crown Point (3-3)
8-28 (W) 37-19 (6A) Portage (2-5)
9-4 (W) 6-13 (2A) Wheeler (4-4)
9-11 (W) 47-28 at (4A) Griffith (4-2)
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 MUNSTER (1-7)

10-16 at (2A) ANDREAN (7-1)

Class 4A Sectional 17
10-23 (Fri) vs. Morton (3-0)
10-30 (Fri) vs. Highland (3-3) or at Griffith (4-2)


SECTIONAL CHANGES: The unknown here is who will win the Highland-Griffith game. A Griffith win means they host Lowell, but a Highland win, I believe, sends Highland to Lowell. Late word has Highland’s week nine game with Kankakee Valley postponed due to a Covid-19 situation at Highland. I do not know if the Trojans will be able to play their 4A Sectional 17 quarterfinal against Griffith.

LOWELL Update:


LOWELL – Lowell is playing as well as they have all year and they need to because Andrean is the best team they will see this side of Hobart. The Devils win by running the ball and limiting the possessions of the other side. In their last two games, the Red Devils have 613 yards rushing and 24 rushing first downs on 87 carries. Lowell has won the time-of-possession battle 31:06-16:54 against Highland and 29:22-18:38 against Munster.

The Devils must win this statistic this week.

The Devils have 291 rushing plays and 82 passing plays this season. In a 27-7 win at Highland, Lowell ran the ball 42 times and passed 13 times. That’s the mix that would win against a defense like Andrean which will work all week to stop top rusher Joe Heuer (139 carries, 892 yards, 11 TDs). Obviously, the Devils know this and look for them to use Ryan Marx (48 carries, 369 yards, 7 TDs) and Heuer in the backfield at the same time to slow the Andrean defense. Don’t tell anybody, but linebacker-tight end Kyler Newcomb has touched the ball five times on offense all season, but he has two runaway defensive TDs. If they could get Newcomb and the ball beyond the line of scrimmage on offense, he could run like the wind.

Quietly, QB Cam Stojancevich (38 of 47, 520 yards, 5 TDs, 3 interceptions) has improved this season and receiver Michael Havel-Ericks (17 catches, 290 yards, 4 TDs) must draw the other teams top defensive back (Flesher) which could allow Lowell to go to the Bank, as in senior receiver Adam Bank.

Lowell’s Caden Britton (17 of 22 extra points) has improved as a placekicker, but the Devils do not have a field goal this season. Don’t look for them to kick on fourth down when they are in 59er territory.

Lowell had another very strong game defensively, albeit against an overmatched Munster team. Newcomb recorded two quarterback sacks while junior Jaxon Skinner and senior William Chapman recorded pass interceptions. In seven games, Lowell has lost the ball seven times (4 fumbles) in even games while the defense has taken the ball away 19 times, including 10 interceptions.

The Devils have to slow down Ryan Walsh and make the 59ers put the ball in the air on a cold, windy night.

Andrean has not been in a lot of close games.

One surprising weakness Lowell has shown is on kickoff returns. The Devils have allowed 14 touchdowns to be scored against them this season. Three of them have been on kickoff returns. The Devils know that Andrean veteran Nick Flesher can easily go all the way on any kick, but the 59ers know that Heuer has run back four kickoffs for TDs in two seasons. Look for a lot of short squib kickoffs Friday night.

Despite the five forfeits and losing several players on and off to Covid-19 ‘temporary layoffs’, I think it's been a good year on the field for the Devils. I do not know if everyone is available for this Friday night, but everyone needs to be.

And, most likely, everyone wants to be. The unpredictable and aggravating 2020 Lowell regular season is almost over and the state playoffs have not begun. Friday is a night when, for two hours, you can forget about both. The Red Devils are facing one of the six top-ranked teams in Indiana on the road. This is the biggest game in this part of the state this Friday. This game means nothing in the ultimate goal of state tournament trophies. But this type of game is why you came out for football.


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 carries, 1,280 yards

21. Tyler Wildman (2018) 293 carries, 1,270 yards
22. Sean Anderson (2001) 242-1,048 yards
23. Nick Holley (1997) 131-1,014 yards
24. Joe Heuer (2020) 139 carries - 892 yards


LOWELL – I admit this is my favorite graph that has to do with Lowell history. But I need you to accept a couple of facts as I bring it back for this fall.

I highly doubt this graph is complete. Lowell had all losing seasons in the 1970s and 1980s but, in the first half of the 20th Century, Lowell could beat the Devil out of people on the football field. For example, in 1936 (8-0-1) and 1935 (9-0), Lowell was undefeated and throwing the football was almost a Communist plot back then. You just didn’t do it very much. The 1935 Lowell team outscored the opposition 215-38. Somebody ran for 1,000 yards in the old days, I’m sure. I just cant find a record of it.

2. Also the totals of the backs who played in the 1990s are newspaper reported totals. I don't have the game-by-game totals. I don't doubt the 1990s totals of Matt Pernick and Michael Pickett because they were all-area players and their numbers were printed public knowledge. I just don’t have their game-by-game numbers.

3. I should be careful saying this, but Lowell is guaranteed at least two more games in 2020. The Devils obviously could play many more than that but, at a minimum of two more, junior Joe Heuer needs only 54 yards a game to become Lowell’s 24th 1,000-yard rusher in the state tournament era (since 1973).

4A No. 6 LOWELL (7-0) at 2A No. 1 ANDREAN (7-1)
Father Eckert Stadium: Capacity 3,000

SAGARIN RATINGS: Andrean by 14.

This spread is not a big surprise because Andrean has been that good. I think if the 59ers, who lost 40-13 to Merrillville in August, played Merrillville now, it would be a one score game. Lowell is 7-0 and they appear to be improving, but they have not played anyone like Merrillville or Hobart. For the record, Lowell was a 44-point favorite over Munster last week and the Devils won 41-7. 




MERRILLVILLE (10-16-2020) On a frisky weather night, both team will crowd the line of scrimmage and dare the other side to throw the ball. Hard riding running backs Joe Heuer and Ryan Walsh will see seven and eight man fronts and blitzing linebackers until quarterbacks Cam Stojancevich and Joe Cimino complete some passes with the temperatures in the high 40s and a 15-mile an hour wind.

This is the part of the preview where I look for a path to victory for the team that isn’t favored. Lowell needs turnovers. Without them, the Devils will have a very difficult time scoring on this defense.

Andrean’s Nick Flesher will score two TDs and the 59er defense will hold Lowell under 150 yards rushing. The Red Devils won't be able to wear down the 59ers as they might have done on a warmer night. Lowell has scored just 31 points total in the Devils’ last three games against Andrean. Unless the 59ers overload on penalties and fumbles, Lowell takes their first loss of the year.




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Revised: October 15, 2020 .