Week 11 - Football Game of the Week Preview

Lowell (6-4) at Morton (5-5)
4A Sectional 17 Semifinal

A USA-365.com Special Report by Mark Smith

10-27-2016
 

 

Coach Keith Kilmer talks over strategy at Morton in September. Friday the Devils and Governors meet again in the 4A Sectional 17 semifinals in Hammond, the sixth meeting between Morton and Lowell in three years. (Photo by Mark Smith)

When:  7:00 p.m. Friday, October 30, 2016

Where:  Morton High School, 6915 Grand Ave. (west of Cline Ave at 169th St.), Hammond, Indiana

Tickets:  $6

TV/Radio/Internet: WTMK (88.5) FM live, live updates of all local scores all night on WLPR (89.1) FM.
Enrollment: Morton - 1,337; LOWELL - 1,187.

Weather:
Very good. Mid-60s during the day Friday and no rain. Could be windy 10-15 mph, but not nearly as cold as last week. Morton has artificial turf so the field will be in top shape despite some mid-week rain. This is about as good as it gets this late in the season.

Parking: The parking lot is that close to Maurey Zlotnik Field, which seats over 4,000. I think the crowd will be good this Friday but 'good' does not mean a half-filled home grandstand. I've never totally understood why the Governors, who play a wide open offensive style of football and win doing it don't draw more people to watch, as Lowell does. Different communities, for sure, but Morton has been good for over a decade and the crowd this Friday won't reflect that. One thing I should have mentioned when Lowell played at Morton four weeks ago. The Morton folks will charge (probably $2) for parking in the school lot. It's a fund-raiser for a program that doesn't draw that well, so be ready to pay up with a smile.

One other note: You probably won't be coming east down Ridge Road to get to Morton, but if, and if you are thinking about it, don't. Ridge is under construction and down to one lane for about a 1/4 mile east of Calumet high school. Find another way.

WHAT'S AT STAKE: The winner Friday plays Munster (5-5) or Highland (5-5) for the Class 4A Sectional 17 championship on November 4. Morton would be on the road, no matter who they play. Lowell would play at Munster, but they would host Highland. Highland is obviously rooting for Morton to beat Lowell, because that outcome would keep Highland at home for the third consecutive week of the post-season, a rare opportunity. In Sectional 18, which matches up with Sectional 17 at the regional level, a game between 4A No. 9 New Prairie (8-2) and 4A No. 11 Hobart (8-2) would be at New Prairie.



THE HISTORY: Morton and Lowell never met before 1985. The Governors were champions of the old Lake Shore Conference in 1969, 1970 and they were the undefeated league champ in 1971 and 1972. Coach Maurey Zlotnik (111-82-8 as head coach from 1952-1976), after whom the Governors' home field is named, was voted Indiana coach of the year in 1965 when Morton was 10-0.

He was a center at Hammond high in the 1930s before playing at Indiana State and becoming freshman football coach (colleges didn't play freshmen on their main teams back then) in 1939. Zlotnik then came home to become a teacher and the freshman football coach at Morton from 1940 to 1952. So he was very much ready when he took over as head football coach in 1952 and it showed.

But like in most jobs, Zlotnik's biggest contribution was his longevity in the same community. For 26 years, Maurey Zlotnik was on the field for Morton high football. The same can be said of Roy Richards (119-66) who coached the Governors from 1999-2014 and rallied the program from an 0-9 record in 1996 and an 0-10 record in 1997. Morton won four sectional titles in a row from 2009 to 2012 and they were 2010 regional champions.

Richards' exit from Morton (he'll be coaching defense at Michigan City high Friday) was controversial and it shook up what had been a consistent winning program. Many feel he should still be there and, until they win some kind of championship again, that feeling will remain.

That's why Morton topping rival Gavit to break a five-game losing streak was so significant. And why a win over Lowell would be a reason to celebrate.



The 'Distant' Replay...

 

Espravnik scores 3 TDs as Lowell defeats Morton 33-6
 

Team 1 2 3 4 F
LOWELL (3-4) 7 16 3 7 33
MORTON (3-4) 0 6 0 0 6

Friday, September 30, 2016 - 58-degrees, rainy - non-conference game at HAMMOND, Ind.

1st QtrLOWELL (7-0) Trevor Espravnik, 56-yard TD run. Jake Post kick. 56 yard drive, 1 play. 6:21 left.
2nd Qtr: LOWELL (13-0) Trevor Espravnik, 1-yard run. 3 plays aftre Jake Post blocked a Morton punt.
Kick wide. 11:28 left.
MORTON (13-6) Trashan Clemons, 3-yard run. 81 yard drive 11 plays. 2-point run failed. 7:14.
LOWELL (20-6) Trevor Espravnik, 37-yard run. 50-yard drive, 2 plays. Jake Post kick. 4:15
LOWELL (23-6) Jake Post, 25-yard field goal. 46-yard drive, 6 plays. 7:14 left.
3rd Qtr: LOWELL (26-6) Jake Post, 32-yard field goal. 50-yard drive, 11 plays. 4:30 left.
4th QtrLOWELL (33-6) Ethan Igras, 1-yard run. 59-yard drive, 9 plays. Jake Post kick. 10:36 left.

 

RUSHING:
LOWELL (52 carries, 305 yards, 4 TDs, one fumble): Trevor Espravnik (HB) 30 carries, 203 yards, 3 TDs, Jordan Jusevitch (HB) 1 carry, 17 yards, Jaeger Gill (WR) 6 carries, 38 yards, Ethan Igras (QB) 4 carries, minus-5 yards, TD; Robert Miller (HB) 2-9 yards, Austin Giordano (FB) 2-5 yards, Shawn Mooney (QB) 1-0 yards, fumble.

MORTON (31 caries, 87 yards, TD): Tevin Armstrong (QB) 6 carries, 9 yards; Eric Johnson (HB) 16 carries, 57 yards, Trashan Clemons (HB) 11-39 yards, TD.
PASSING:
LOWELL: Dayton Hornickel (QB) 1-for-2, 13 yards, Ethan Igras (QB) 3-for-12, 61 yards;
MORTON: Tevin Armstrong (QB) 6-of-17 79 yards, 0 TDs, one interception.

RECEIVING:
LOWELL: Mitch Wildman (TE) 1-24 yards, Austin Giordano (FB) 3-50 yards.
MORTON: Kashon Prather (WR) 2-53 yards, Dyaln Battle (WR) 1-3 yards, Brendan Jones (HB) 1-4 yards, Trashan Clemons (HB) 2-19 yards.

TOTAL YARDS:

LOWELL: 379 yards, 14 first downs, 1 turnover; MORTON: 167 yards, 6 first downs, 1 turnover.

Interceptions:
Jaeger Gill (LOWELL).

Fumble recoveries:

Tim Johnson (MORTON).


HAMMOND: This game looked close when Trashan Clemons was inserted in the second quarter as an option quarterback and led a touchdown drive to cut the Lowell lead to 13-6. The Devils punted three plays later and Morton had the ball at the Governors' 41-yard-line. On 3rd-and-9, a pass from Tevin Armstrong to Dylan Battle picked up nine yards, so the Governors decided to go for the first down. On 4th-and-2, Morton lined up Trashan Clemons in the 'Wildcat' formation, but he was stopped for a one yard loss, giving the ball back to Lowell at midfield.

Lowell scored two plays later on a 37-yard run by Trevor Espravnik, making the score 20-6. The game was not close from that point on. The Devils won that night and they haven't lost since. Wins over Munster 41-10, Andrean 35-21 and Gary West Side 65-6 have restored the confidence that Lowell had last season.

Morton wants to get back to that point where they had the ball in a one possession game in the middle of the second quarter. You can argue the Governors were one play away from a tie game moments before halftime. This game was a decisive win for Lowell, but except for one big defensive stop, it didn't have to be that way. Something to keep in mind on this night.
 



MORTON Update:

MORTON
- Without knowing anyone on Morton, here is how they have to be thinking this week. In week nine, Morton lost to Gavit 30-7. Then in week 10, Morton defeated Gavit 18-12. In week seven, Lowell topped Morton 33-6. The Governors have to believe that they can 'flip' that Lowell loss as well. Why not?

After a five-game losing streak, Morton rejected Hammond city rival Gavit and restored some of the pride for a school that hasn't had a losing season since 2004. The Governors' offense has issues. Morton has averaged just 14.3 points per game and just 8.3 per game in the last six weeks. The offensive line had some good moments against Lowell on Oct. 7, but they seemed to tire. Morton has a problem they can't get away from. Against a team like Lowell, they'd do best to run the ball and eat up the clock. The Governors have the backs to get that done. But their spread offense doesn't do that well. Even when the Governors have success passing, Lowell wins time of possession and eventually wears the home team out. Look for the no-QB 'Wildcat' attack from Morton some of the time this Friday.

Defensively, Morton has to jump around and gamble to confuse Lowell's blocking. Dare the Devils to throw. The Governors got three QB sacks, but no turnovers and they won't beat Lowell if they get no turnovers this Friday. This will be the sixth meeting between Lowell and Morton in three years. The Governors don't have to look at any video to know what Lowell will try to do.

QB - Tevin Armstrong (5-9, 170) Senior:
Tevin Armstrong makes it all go for the Governors. He's played QB for three years under three different head coaches and his biggest game may have been last week. Against a team that topped the Governors 30-7 the week before, Armstrong ran the ball 12 times for 66 yards and added 123 yards passing. For the season, Armstrong has rushed 87 times for 445 yards and six TDs. And he is 94 of 205 passing for 948 yards and 6 TDs. Last year, Armstrong carried 102 times for 525 yards while completing 68 of 129 passes for 925 yards and nine TDs. Tevin is a big play QB, a kind that you can stop six plays in a row and then watch him break a 50-yard gain. In a game against Kankakee Valley on August 26, Tevin threw TD passes for 66 and 74 yards and ran for TDs of 35 and 90 yards in a 26-24 victory. Armstrong sometimes lines up with no back along side because the Governors can trust him to evade the rush long enough to find a receiver. Morton usually lines up a back alongside Armstrong (or brings a back in motion towards him) with four receivers. Coach Sean Kinsey played and coached previously at Merrillville and this looks like Merrillville's offense, but Morton played this way before Kinsey got there. 87 runs and 205 passes. Some body on Lowell has to go get Tevin Armstrong on every play.

WR - Trashan Clemons (5-9, 155) Senior:
This is one of Morton's biggest threats and Lowell saw him three weeks ago. Clemens, a slot receiver in Morton's four wide receiver offense, lined up and took some direct snaps on Morton's only TD drive in the 33-6 loss to Lowell on October 7. Clemens is a run-catch threat. Against Lowell, he ran 13 times for 62 yards and caught two passes for 20 yards. He runs back kicks as well. The Governors will use any excuse to get Trashan the ball. Clemons grabbed a 73-yard TD pass against Kankakee Valley, caught eight passes against Highland. He started last season as the Governors averaged 30 points a game. Morton has had this kind of perimeter player for years now. No doubt he'll be ready.

RB - Eric Johnson (5-10, 181) Sophomore:
Eric Johnson carried 13 times for 113 yards last week in the Governors' 18-12 overtime win over Gavit. It was only his third game of the season. Eric's 2016 debut was the Lowell game where he carried 12 times for 31 yards. Johnson and Trashan Clemons give the Morton offense multiple backfield threats and some depth. If the Governors are to beat Lowell, they need more than the 104 yards on 34 carries they gained in the last meeting. Published reports said that 'EJ', who wears No. 1 was highly-regarded in the pre-season. He missed seven games due to injury. Lowell has seen him in person and on video. Johnson is a good runner with some power. After last week, Morton may try to establish him as a threat and work off him.


LOWELL Update:

LOWELL
- The Devils have a four game winning streak and they are playing averaging 43 points a game. The Devils have allowed 129 points (just 15 TDs vs. the defense) in 10 games. Lowell has not faced a lot of good passing quarterbacks, but they have allowed just four passing TDs all season. Lowell's losses, 9-3 to Crown Point (4-5), 28-27 to Portage (6-3), 18-12 to Hobart (8-2) and 17-9 to Griffith (6-4) were all games where they have had the ball with a chance to go ahead in the fourth quarter.

Is there a common thread in the games Lowell has lost? Not really.

The Devils lost three fumbles in the loss to Portage, but they had no turnovers in the loss to Crown Point. Griffith intercepted two passes in their win over Lowell but Crown Point didn't get any turnovers. CP held the Devils under 100 yards rushing, but Lowell ran for two TDs in the loss to Portage.

Let's over simplify things. If we say that Hobart and Portage defeated Lowell because Portage's 1,000-yard rusher Anthony Maceo ran 28 times for 121 yards and two TDs and Hobart beat them because the Brickies 1,000-yard rusher Nick Ray ran 30 times for 220 yards. Who can that guy be on Portage this Friday?

Lowell also may be healthier than they've been in some time. The 65-6 win over Gary West Side was a short scrimmage for the starters. Senior Mitch Sacco and junior Jordan Jusevitch, who had missed time, started last week.

WR-DB - Jaeger Gill (5-10, 185) Junior:
Gill has carried 33 times for 327 yards and three touchdowns and he has caught six passes for 112 yards. Jaeger has 13 kickoff returns for a 23.5 average and six punt returns for a 17.8 yard average. Tonight's big task for Gill and the Lowell secondary will be to figure out what Morton QB Tevin Armstrong is going to do. Morton has nothing to lose and they'll be cranking out every play in the playbook to try to fool the Devils for big plays. Jaeger Gill will be on duty on the last line of defense for Lowell.

PK - Jake Post (5-9, 173) Junior:
Jake Post was 7 of 7 on extra points last week in the win over Gary West Side and he's 24 of 28 for the season. He's been good on three of four field goal attempts. In the last meeting between Lowell and Morton, Post converted on field goals from 25 and 32 yards out. It's harder to make field goals on the road, obviously. It's not the field you practice on. In the post-season, games tend to be closer and you might need the kicker. Jake Post, who was 5-for-5 on conversions in the season finale at Andrean, has missed very few times. Kicker was a question mark when the season began for Lowell. The question appears to have been answered.

Defensive end - Blake Jansky (6-0, 185) Sophomore:
Morton's quarterback Tevin Armstrong is going to be throwing the ball sooner or later Friday night. Is he going to be comfortable or rushed as he throws? That's up to the Lowell defensive front and Jansky, the Devils' biggest statistical trouble-maker. In his debut season as a sophomore Blake has 16 tackles for losses including four quarterback sacks. If you have 16 tackles for loss, the other team has to worry about you. Lowell doesn't have to sack Armstrong, but they have to 'hurry' him and Jansky has shown he can do a little bit of that. If Morton wins it will be because they made big running plays outside the the tackles or rolled up good passing yardage. Blake Jansky is one of those assigned to not let that happen.


LOWELL (6-4) at MORTON (5-5)


at Maurey Zlotnick Stadium: capacity 4,000

SAGARIN RATINGS: Lowell by 29.

You don't have to get too deep into results to figure this out. Four weeks ago, Lowell defeated Morton by 27 points. Lowell has also won four of their last five, while Morton has lost four of their last five. For the record. Before the earlier Lowell-Morton game on October 7, the computer favored Lowell by 27 and the Devils won by 33-6. Strange but true.

WHAT WILL HAPPEN:

 

HAMMOND (10-28-2016) I think Morton comes out trying to run the sophomore Eric Johnson with some of those one-back read option plays and they will have some success. Armstrong scores on a scramble for a 7-0 lead. Lowell gets started with a quick pass to Jager Gill who runs it deep into Morton territory. Trevor Espravnik scores to tie the game 7-7 after one quarter.

Lowell has been very close to blocking several kicks and they get one here. Espravnik scores a second TD and it's 14-7 at the half.

Morton fumbles on a running play and a Jake Post field goal ups the count to 17-7 in the third quarter. But Trashan Clemons catches a short pass and runs away from the defense to cut it to 17-14.
Eventually Lowell runs a kickoff back all the way and tonight is the night as Jordan Jusevitch gives Lowell a 24-14 lead. A sack fumble sets up Lowell again and they pull away with a third TD from Espravnik.

In good weather, at home, the Governors will make a couple of big plays. But turnovers will aid the Devils and Lowell is just well-equipped to face a spread offense. The Devils advance to play Munster, which will beat Highland 27-21.
 

 

 

LOWELL 31, Morton 14

 

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Revised: October 27, 2016 .