Week 12 - Football Game of the Week Preview

Griffith (10-1) at 4A No. 1 Lowell (11-0)

A USA-365.com Special Report by Mark Smith


Safety Jordan Jusevitch (6) and Lowell's high-powered defense takes on Griffith QB Fred Winston and the Panthers' high-scoring offense in the 4A Sectional 17 championship Friday night in Lowell. (Photo by Mark Smith)

When: Friday, November 3, 2017

Where:  Lowell high school, 3 miles east of I-65 on US-2, Lowell, Indiana.

Tickets:  $6 - (for everybody).

Kickoff:    7:00 p.m.
WTMK (88.5) FM live, Live updates of all local scores all night on WLPR (89.1) FM.

Enrollment: Griffith 805; LOWELL - 1,210.

WEATHER: Cold. Looks like it will be about 45 degrees at kickoff. There is no rain forecast for Friday but heavy rain Wednesday and Thursday will leave the natural grass field more than a little muddy. I don't know who this favors. Griffith plays home games on artificial turf, but most of the Greater South Shore Conference (GSSC) has natural grass fields. Be wary of the cold. You know those hand warmers you can buy for a dollar at the drug store? Get yourself a half dozen. Two hours outdoors in November. You can imagine what that's like.


PARKING: Griffith will bring a big crowd. The Panthers have won 10 games in a row and anyone who isn't new to the athletic department this year is very used to coming down to Lowell. You're going to have to show up before 6:30 or you may be parking in the Strack and Van Till supermarket lot south across Route 2. The game is on the radio (all Lowell games are) so you can show up early and listen until it's time to head for the stands.


WHAT's AT STAKE: It's big. Griffith is going for the schools' 16th sectional championship and the Panthers' first title since 2008. Lowell is playing for the school's 14th sectional football title and the Devils' fourth in a row. Both Lowell and Griffith would host New Prairie (10-1) in regional championship play on November 10. Griffith would also host St. Joseph's (5-6) in the regional title game. Lowell would play St. Joseph's in South Bend. But, at most schools, the season's goal, the barometer between a successful and unsuccessful season, is winning the sectional championship.

That's what's at stake on Friday.

Class 4A Sectional 17
Final - 10-20-17
No. 10 Griffith (10-1) at No. 1 LOWELL (11-0)

Class 4A Sectional 18
Final - 10-20-17
(South Bend) St. Joseph's (5-6) at No. 6 New Prairie (10-1)

Class 4A Sectional 19
Final - 10-20-17
No. 5 Angola (11-0) at Culver Academy (10-1)

Class 4A Sectional 20
Final - 10-20-17
(Fort Wayne) Wayne (5-6) at No. 8 Bishop Dwenger (8-3)

NOTE: Most of the remaining ranked teams in Class 4A are in the northern half of the state tournament bracket. Angola is high-powered, averaging 42 points a game. But their schedule is a little soft, including no teams larger than Class 4A.

But it was also my understanding that the Cubs would play the Cleveland Indians in the World Series. The same is true of Culver Academy. They do not play any 5A or 6A teams. 23-time sectional champ Bishop Dwenger is one of the 'contract players' of Indiana high school football. They're in the running for trophies every year. The Saints, who play four Class 6A schools (Dwenger was 1-3 against the 6A teams) have won four state titles and they are in a good position to reach the semistate level.


HISTORY: Anybody who's been stuck by a train at the south end of town knows that Griffith is an old railroad town. Take away the tracks and Lowell and Griffith (official population a little over 16,000) and Lowell (population a little over 9,000) are very similar. But Griffith is a smaller school than Lowell and getting smaller.

That's why they left the Northwest Crossroads Conference (NCC) for the Greater South Shore Conference (GSSC) to play schools their own size, for the good of the young people who compete. What everybody notices is that this move was made while Griffith was still competitive in the Northwest Crossroads Conference (NCC) in the highly publicized boys team sports (football, basketball baseball). Lowell won the NCC title this year. Griffith won it last season. Griffith is the defending NCC basketball champ, too.

But in time, many will see that Griffith could not continue playing Class 5A Munster, and Class 4A schools like Lowell and Highland and Hobart and give all sports a fair chance. On paper, I understand the decision. Why they gave the NCC no notice in dropping out of the league in football, leaving holes in everyone's schedule, I do not understand.

Griffith football was not really successful on the scoreboard until coach Tom Kurth (43-30-5) arrived in the late 50s. Us old-timers recall the long run of Les Thornton (133-56) who won four of the old Lake Suburban Conference titles and five sectionals from 1975 to 1992 with a running option 'wishbone' attack. Then came Russ Radtke (171-64) who continued the Panthers' success seamlessly from 1993-2011, establishing Griffith as a state playoff power. Griffith football was the place to be to the tune of over 300 wins in 25 seasons including the 1997 4A state championship.

The good old days.

And we have this one year 'throwback' nostalgia game. Lowell had played Griffith every season since the Panthers began playing football in 1934. The Devils did not face Lowell this year and that 'streak' seemed over.

But here they are in the sectional championship game. Griffith leads the 83-year series 51-34-2 and they meet again. It's a 'feel good' story. But only one side will feel good by 10 p.m. Friday.

Griffith (10-1)
8-4 (2016), 4-7 (2015), 1-9 (2014), 3-8 (2013)
Coach Ben Geffert (3rd season, 22-12)

8-18 (L) 20-25 at (5A) Michigan City (7-3)
8-25 (W) 48-9 (2A) Whiting (6-3)
9-1 (W) 42-0 at (2A) River Forest (4-6)
9-8 (W) 60-0 (3A) Calumet (3-7)
9-15 (W) 48-0 at (3A) Wheeler (5-6)
9-22 (W) 55-12 at (3A) Boone Grove (8-3)
9-29 (W) 53-10 (1A) South Central (6-5)
10-6 (W) 62-0 (2A) Lake Stataion (2-8)
10-13 (W) 56-21 at (3A) Hanover Central (5-5)

Class 4A Sectional 17
10-20 (W) 55-0 Hammond (3-7)
10-27 (W) 35-21 Morton (8-2)
11-3 (Fri.) at LOWELL (11-0)

SCHEDULE: Griffith's schedule is not what they want it to be. I have heard that in future years, the Greater South Shore Conference (GSSC) will not require its teams to play eight league games, leaving only one nonconference opportunity. Whatever happens this Friday, playing eight schools smaller than the Class 4A enrollment bracket is not a way to get ready for the Class 4A playoffs.
And it's fun to win 60-0 every week, but nobody really wants to watch it. The school needs people to come to the games. The problem for Griffith will be how they go back to the schools they dropped last year and ask one or two of them to rejoin the Panthers' schedule. It will take some negotiating talent.


- Griffith has had a great season ruled by a big time offense. The Panthers have scored 72 touchdowns from scrimmage, including 51 rushing TDs. Senior quarterback Fred Winston (6-1, 175) is the main man with 62 completions in 113 attempts for 1,632 yards, 21 touchdowns and five interceptions. Winston, a three-year starter, has also run 89 times for 743 yards and 14 TDs. To be brief, most Griffith offensive plays begin and end with the quarterback.

The Panthers' fullback Khadafi Coleman (5-11, 210) is a key man on the Panthers option runs with 428 yards on 52 carries. Halfback Tayvien Walkler (5-10, 183) has 724 yards and 14 TDs on 54 carries, but he did not play last week in the win over Morton. I do not know why and I do not know if he's available this Friday. Junior halfback Ernie Johnson (5-10, 162) has 42 carries for 366 yards and eight TDs.

The Panthers use two or three wide receivers on every play, but a lot of that seems to be designed to take defenders out of the middle of the field. Griffith puts a man in motion on most plays and he is often involved in the play.

The Panthers aren't big physically and they have faced teams that have been smaller and slower than they are. Coleman is a solid middle linebacker with 102 tackles. Two way senior Jarred Cottrell (5-9, 175) has 87 tackles on defense and 12 pass receptions for 217 yards on offense.

If Tayvien Walker (5-10, 183) cannot play, that is a big loss. He is an outside linebacker with 61 tackles, including seven tackles for loss. Speedy junior Cole Cervantes (5-8, 165) has 14 catches for 399 yards and 6 TDs. He is also a starting cornerback.

Griffith appears to have at least five players who start on both sides of the ball. The Panthers QB Fred Winston is the punter. Griffith hasn't tried a field goal all season. They haven't needed to.

LOWELL (11-0)
9-5 (2016), 12-1 (2015), 8-5 (2014), 6-4(2013)
Coach Keith Kilmer (8th season, 62-29)
Northwest Crossroads Conference (NCC) games in CAPS

8-18 (W) 27-13 (6A) Crown Point (6-4)
8-25 (W) 20-7 at (6A) Portage (5-5)
9-1 (W) 19-0 at (4A) Morton (8-3)
9-8 (W) 63-6 (3A) Clark (1-9)
9-15 (W) 27-13 at (4A) KANKAKEE VALLEY (4-6)
9-22 (W) 27-0 (4A) HIGHLAND (4-7)
9-29 (W) 28-9 at (5A) MUNSTER (3-7)
10-6 (W) 16-0 (3A) ANDREAN (8-3)
10-13 (W) 30-9 at 4A HOBART (6-4)

Class 4A Sectional 17
10-20 (F) 41-0 Gary West Side (2-8)
10-27 (F) 35-0 Highland (4-7)
11-3 (Fri) Griffith (10-1)

SCHEDULE: Lowell has had a favorable draw so far and they have taken advantage of it. But anyone they see now will be formidable. There is a good chance that every likely Lowell opponent from this point on will be ranked in the state top ten. Meanwhile, forget what I said last week about how Lowell would play a regional championship game with New Prairie at New Prairie. Wrong? Lowell would host New Prairie. They would play potential regional opponent St. Joseph's in South Bend. The problem with that is: A potential Lowell semistate game would likely be on the road and far away.

LOWELL Update:

If Lowell is healthy, they are ready. Lowell played without junior defensive end Blake Jansky (16 tackles for losses and nine QB sacks) the last three weeks. I do not know if he can play this Friday. Other than that, Lowell seems strong. QB Ethan Igras is 49 of 94 for 902 yards, 11 TDs and five interceptions. That's 20 TD passes for Igras (44 of 77, 65 yards 9 TDs, 5 INTs) last season.

Last week, the concept of spreading out all-staters Jordan Jusevitch and Jaeger Gill so the threat of big plays could aid the Devils running the ball worked as well as it has all year. Igras hit both Jusevitch and Gill with 50 yard passes and halfback Tyler Wildman gained 110 yards on 19 carries. What Lowell has found in recent weeks is fullback Cedric Caschetta (5-8, 190), who gained 46 yards and a TD on 12 carries. Caschetta has 66 carries, 338 yards and seven TDs. On a wet field, he may be a big factor.

In the last three weeks, Lowell has run 127 times for 718 yards. There is a thought that the offensive line is also improving. Senior Mike Hutton was 5-for-5 on extra points last week.


Defensively, it's still there. Lowell has allowed 55 points all season and they have two shutouts in a row. The Devils have 13 pass interceptions and 17 quarterback sacks. Opponents have 64 first downs all year.

If Blake Jansky is back, the Devils are at full strength and going for a fourth consecutive sectional title. They've been here before.

Griffith (10-1) at 4A No. 1 LOWELL (11-0)

Lowell Stadium, 'The Inferno' capacity: 2,500 (est.)




This game is rated even on the computer and I'm surprised. Griffith has not faced the schedule Lowell has, even when you throw in Lowell wins over Clark (1-9) and Gary West Side (2-8). The Panthers lost to Class 5A Michigan City (7-3) and all eight of their other regular season foes were Class 1A, 2A or 3A. Both teams have recorded five shutouts, but Lowell has defeated two Class 6A teams (Crown Point and Portage), both of whom are still playing. Lowell has defeated Class 3A Andrean (8-3), which is still playing this Friday. Griffith did defeat Boone Grove by a 55-12 score and they topped Morton 35-21.

For the record, Lowell was a 33-point favorite over Highland last week and they won 35-0. But Lowell has defeated every opponent by 13 points or more. I don't see how they are 'even' with Griffith based on results. Lowell should be favored by 10-14 points.




LOWELL (11-03-2017) I'm going to assume that neither Lowell end Blake Jansky or Griffith running back-linebacker Tayvion Walker will be able to play in this game. Lowell gets off to a quick start with a long sustained drive and TD run from Ethan Igras for a 7-0 first quarter lead. A Red Devil fumble sets up the Panthers and QB Fred Winston ties the game with a second quarter run.

Lowell gets a pass interception from Jordan Jusevitch and the Devils lead 14-7 at the half after a TD run by Cedric Caschetta.

In the third quarter, a short toss to Jager Gill breaks loose for a long TD and a 20-7 Red Devil lead. Winston will make scrambling plays to move the Panthers in close for a Khadafi Coleman TD run. But a second pass interception sets up Lowell in the fourth quarter and Mitch Wildman scores the Devils final TD on a pass from Igras.

When you watch Griffith highlights you see a lot of Panther runners breaking free off guard and tackle from scrimmage. I just don't see that happening often on a muddy field in Lowell. The Devils are also a larger team up front and Griffith has a lot of two-way players. I want to see how Griffith blocks Lowell's changing defensive fronts. Winston is a scrambler who is hard to hold, but Lowell hasn't allowed many big plays this fall. Lowell moves on to host New Prairie in the regional title game.


LOWELL 27, Griffith 14


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Revised: November 02, 2017 .