Week 10 - Football Game of the Week Preview

Gary West Side (1-7) at Lowell (5-4)
Class 4A, Sectional 17 Quarterfinal

A USA-365.com Special Report by Mark Smith


Gary West Side senior quarterback Bryce James (11) was a sophomore two years ago when Lowell topped West Side 41-0 in the Class 4A Sectional 17 semifinals on November 1, 2014 in Gary. (Photo by Mark Smith)Gary West Side - 1,267; LOWELL - 1,187

When:  7:00 p.m. Friday, October 21, 2016
 Lowell High School
,Route 2 (Commercial Ave.) & Holtz Road, Lowell, IN (3 miles east of I-65 on Route 2).
Tickets:  $
WTMK (88.5) FM live, live updates of all local scores all night on WLPR (89.1) FM.

Enrollment: Munster - 1,511; LOWELL - 1,187.

The weather takes a big turn this week as we get down into cold. Not just chilly or frisky or brisk. But cold. Daytime highs in the mid-50s and upper 40s by the second half. That's not cold? Let's toss in a 15-20 mile-an-hour wind. It's this kind of night in a single-elimination state tournament where you feel the end of the season coming on for somebody. If you're coming to the game, that wind that was so nice when it was 80 degrees Monday is no joke when it's 50 degrees. Bring more than one coat and one or two warm friends to sit with.

Parking:  Parking won't be an issue on this night because nobody is coming from Gary West Side. A couple of years ago, Lowell played an afternoon playoff game at Gary West Side in 65 degree weather and nobody came from Gary for that one either. Parking won't be an issue. You'll be able to show up at 6:45 p.m. and stroll right on in.


CLASS 4A Sectional 17
Gary West Side (1-7) at LOWELL (5-4)
Gavit (5-3) at Morton (3-6)
East Chicago (7-1) at Munster (4-5)
Clark (0-9) at Highland (4-5)

CLASS 4A Sectional 18
(South Bend) Clay (0-9) at Kankakee Valley (2-7)
(South Bend) Washington (3-6) at Hobart (7-2)
ANDREAN (4-5) at (South Bend) St. Joseph's (2-7)
New Prairie (7-2) at (South Bend) Riley (2-7)

LOWELL (10-21-2016) Here's what Lowell wants to happen Friday night outside of their own game. The Gavit-Morton game is irrelevant because Lowell will be on the road on Oct. 28 if they defeat Gary West Side. The Devils probably want East Chicago to defeat Munster. If Munster plays at Highland in the sectional semifinals and wins, they would host the sectional title game against Lowell. The only way Lowell hosts the sectional championship is if they play East Chicago or Highland. Andrean is in a difficult spot from a home field standpoint. If New Prairie wins Friday, Andrean would go to New Prairie for the Sectional 18 semifinals. Hobart is in the same position. If the Brickies defeat Washington, they would host Kankakee Valley. But were they to defeat KV, they'd play on the road at New Prairie or Andrean.

HISTORY: Opening in 1968, 'the Side' once had about 2,000 students. In 1986, West Side had 1,695 students. Now, they are down under 1,300. A lot of that is the decline in population in Gary. Recently, nearby Bowman Academy (on 5th street in Gary) has taken students who otherwise would have gone to West Side. Technically, the school at 9th and Gerry Street is the 'West Side Leadership Academy' but nobody calls it that. It's Gary West Side and probably always will be.

Gary West Side has always been a basketball school. The Cougar boys are 11-time sectional champs and the 2002 state champs. The Cougar girls are 15-time sectional champs and the 2005 state Class 4A finalist.

No Gary school has won a sectional title since 1989 and West Side has never won a sectional since the IHSAA began the state playoffs in 1973. Until West Side drops in class (they are 4A), it's almost impossible to see them winning a sectional.
Gary schools traditionally don't have the linemen to compete outside of Gary. Some of that is weight room and conditioning facilities that the aging Gary schools lack. Some of it is simply that the priority has been basketball and bulking up (and slowing down) isn't something the top athletes want to do. But three years ago, in one of West Side's finest games, the Cougars scored 18 unanswered points in the second half to roll on Lowell 30-9. The Devils fumbled three times and Cougar QB Ramone Atkins was 10 of 26 for 191 yards and he ran for two other scores. West Side's Jon Vea Johnson caught seven passes for 131 yards and Lowell's George Fields ran the ball 36 times for 189 yards, but it was Atkins, the 6-foot-5 quarterback, who dominated on a cold night when Lowell turned the ball over five times.

Atkins transferred to Merrillville in 2014 and is now a scholarship backup QB at Alcorn State. Jon Vea Johnson is a starting sophomore wide receiver at the University of Toledo where he has 13 catches for 317 yards and five touchdowns in four games. Gary West Side had a high-powered offense three years ago, but they could not sustain a talent flow of players to be competitive. The Cougars are 7-22 in the last three seasons.

(4A) Gary West Side (1-7)
Jason Johnson (23-29) 6th season
4-6 (2015), 2-6 (2014), 7-5 (2013), 6-5 (2012)
8-19 (L) 6-41 @ Hobart (7-2)
8-26 (L) 0-49 @ Valparaiso (5-4)
9-3 (L) 6-56 (Chicago) Mt. Carmel (4-4)
9-10 - bye
9-16 (L) 6-18 Hammond (3-6)
9-23 (L) 6-45 @ Gavit (5-3)
9-30 (L) 0-47 (Detroit, Mich.) Central Catholic (8-0)
10-7 (W) 20-6 Clark (0-9)
10-14 (L) 20-28 Gary Roosevelt (1-7)
Class 4A Sectional 17
10-21 (Fri.) at LOWELL (5-4) 7 p.m.
10-28 (Fri.) Morton (3-6) or Gavit (5-3)


West Side has had very little success this fall, but they've played half their games outside of Northwest Indiana so it's a little difficult to tell how good they are. There's a thought that the Gary schools can't get good competition. That wasn't the case this fall. Mount Carmel of Chicago has had a tough season, but that's the Mount Carmel that's won 12 Illinois state football titles. Detroit Central Catholic (8-0) is playing for the Detroit city title this Saturday. Valparaiso and Hobart are solid teams. West Side uses a spread offense with one running back behind quarterback Bryce James and four wide receivers or three receivers and a tight end.

QB - Bryce James (6-4, 175) Senior:

Bryce James played against Lowell two years ago in the 41-0 sectional loss. James was 5-of-13 for 75 yards and two interceptions, but he knows what he's up against and that will help him this Friday night. James is a mobile left-handed quarterback who is a good roll out passer and a quality runner. If the Cougars can protect him and catch the ball (2 big 'ifs') on a cold night, they should be able to move on Lowell. James is ranked as one of the top-100 college prospects in Indiana and he is very experienced in running the Cougars spread offense. Lowell's seniors like Trevor Espravnik and Austin Giordano have faced him so there will be no surprise about what Bryce James can do.

RB - Ta Jeem Muhammad (5-9, 170) Junior:
I dont thave any real statistics on TaJeem Muhammad as a running back. But that's not his main sport. Muhammad was third in the 100 meter dash (:11.57) and sixth in the 200 meters (:25.02) at the East Chicago Sectional last spring. Muhammad ran on West Side 's 400 meter relay team. There aren't a lot of people who can catch him from behind. Again, it's all about blocking up front. Footing on the natural grass at Lowell as opposed to West Side's artificial turf. Muhammad is listed as a running back, but he could line up in the slot as well. In the season opener against Hobart, Tajeem Muhammad ran back a kickoff 90 yards for a fourth quarter touchdown. Lowell has to know where he is.

LB-RB - Desmond Crews (5-8, 170) Senior:
Desmond Crews is an outside linebacker who has to be a big factor stopping Lowell's running attack. He's over-matched size-wise, but he's quick to the ball and disruptive. Crews also lines up as the Cougars' tailback and he's a factor on special teams. Number eight is always on the field for Gary West Side.

LOWELL Update:

Lowell has won three game in a row by 14 points or more and the Devils also posted their third consecutive road victory. Lowell has gained at least 350 yards in each of their last three games and they improved to 3-0 against Class 4A Sectional 17 rivals.

The Devils, like every other team, are dealing with injuries. Some are minor and not obvious to outsiders. Some are apparent. Lowell junior two-way regular Jordan Jusevitch is obviously playing through some injuries, but he was in on seven tackles last week at Andrean, forced a fumble and scored on a 12-yard touchdown run. Lowell was without center Mitch Sacco last week, but he will be back. The Devils have also played two weeks now without offensive coordinator Jim Carlson, who hasn't been able to be on the sidelines due to a bad back. Lowell had 25 rushing touchdowns in the nine game regular season. Lowell has allowed 31 passing first downs and four passing touchdowns all season.

OL - Max Steward (6-0, 230) Senior:
I incorrectly credited last week's Lowell blocked field goal against Andrean. Lowell's official statistics show it was senior Max Steward, who has 20 tackles and five tackles for loss on defense. Max also stepped in at center last week in place of injured center Mitch Sacco. I can't judge offensive line play from the sidelines, but there were no fumbled snaps or false starts penalties, so I'd give Steward high marks. He also had four tackles, including a quarterback sack on defense. Max is clearly following the path of former Lowell seniors who end up doing time on both sides of the ball late in their final season.

DE - Blake Jansky (6-0, 185) Sophomore:
Blake Jansky was credited with three quarterback sacks in last week's Lowell win at Andrean. Jansky was in on a career-high 15 tackles including five tackles for losses, including those three QB sacks. In comparison, the Devils leaders in 'tackles for loss' were now graduates JT Thomas and Josh Knoblich, who both had 17 tackles for loss in 13 games. For Jansky to have 15 tackles for loss in just nine games is a standout total. Blake Jansky has 15 tackles for losses in nine games, far and away the Lowell team leader. He'll be challenged this week as West Side quarterback Bryce James is a hard man to catch.

RB-LB - Trevor Espravnik (5-10, 184) Senior:
Trevor Espravnik became the 22nd 1,000-yard rusher for Lowell football in the past 25 years when he gained 161 yards on 34 carries in the 35-21 Lowell win at Andrean. It was Espravnik's fifth 100-yard game in nine starts and his sixth game of two or more touchdowns. He averages 6.3 yards per carry. Trevor's played three years and I've watched many of his games, but I was considerably more than a little surprised at the numbers he has quietly rolled up before anyone outside of Lowell could pronounce his last name.

Trevor Espravnik:

2014 = 56 carries, 231 yards, TD // 32 tackles (6 tackles for loss)
2015 = 30 carries, 152 yards, 3 TDs // 77 tackles (6 tackles for loss)
2016 = 165 carries, 1,045 yards, 15 TDs // 13 tackles
Career = 251 carries, 1,428 yards, 19 TDs, 122 tackles, 12 tackles for loss (35 games)

Gary West Side (1-7) at LOWELL (5-4)

at 'The Inferno'  -  capacity - 2,500


Sagarin ratings:  Lowell by 52

I don't know if I have to explain why Lowell is such a big favorite. The only team that West Side has defeated is Clark, a school that has lost 21 consecutive games. Lowell has played a slightly superior schedule. Hobart, Valparaiso, Detroit Central Catholic and Chicago Mount Carmel are quality programs, but Lowell doesn't have any teams like like Clark (0-9) or Gary Roosevelt (1-7) on the schedule this year. Lowell has scored four touchdowns or more in a game six times. West Side has not scored four touchdowns in any game.


LOWELL (10-21-2016) The problem on this night for Lowell is that they will be looking past this game. The Devils know how little success that Gary West Side has had and they will find it very hard to play with the intensity that they have had the last three weeks. Watch when Lowell scores their first touchdown, which should come early Friday, certainly on a running play, probably a TD by Lowell senior Trevor Espravnik. The game then turns into a one man show with the Devils trying to stop Bryce James from making plays.

A blocked punt will set up a second Lowell TD for a 14-0 lead and a second TD from Espravnik will extend the lead to 21-0 at the half. James will get loose for some first downs and a third quarter TD run puts a little scare into the home team.

But the Devils will put the game away in the second half. Espravnik and Austin Giordano will score second half TDs and Tyler Wildman will get into the end zone in the late going. Lowell will be warned again and again not to take Gary West Side lightly and they won't. The Devils will gain big yards on exchanges of punts and, unless they fumble three or four times, Lowell will advance.

LOWELL 42, Gary West Side 6


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Revised: October 20, 2016 .