Week 14 - Football Game of the Week Preview

No. 2 Northwood (13-0) at Lowell (9-4)
Class 4A Semistate

A USA-365.com Special Report by Mark Smith

11-17-2016

For Lowell play for a second state championship, the Devils must win their final home game Friday night against undefeated Northwood. The same day Lowell defeated Roncalli 28-27 for the 2005 Class 4A state championship, then Class 3A Northwood defeated Bishop Chatard 7-0 for the 3A state crown. Those are the only state football championships in the history of either school. (Photo by Mark Smith)

When:  6:30 p.m. Friday, November 18, 2016
NOTE:
The early starting time is a nod to the Northwood folks, who live in the Eastern time zone. The game begins a half hour later than normal for Northwood people but a half hour earlier than normal for Lowell.
Where:
 Lowell High School
,Route 2 (Commercial Ave.) & Holtz Road, Lowell, IN (3 miles east of I-65 on Route 2).
Tickets:  $
6
Radio-TV: 
WTMK (88.5) FM live, live updates of all local scores all night on WLPR (89.1) FM.

Enrollment: Northwood - 892; LOWELL - 1,187.

Weather:
Okay, here's the problem. It's been warm all week, but winter arrives Saturday with snow flurries and highs in the 30s. The question is: How quickly does it get here? Daytime highs Friday are set to be in the mid-60s, but the winds of change will be blowing by late afternoon and the temperature will be dropping. There may be some rain and this will affect this final outdoor game of the season. Hour-by-hour forecasts have the temperatures in the 40s by the second half and 15-20 mile-an-hour winds. Don't be fooled by how warm it's been this week. It may be very cold Friday night by the end of the game. The field will start the night in good condition because Lowell hasn't played at home in three weeks. But the rain, if heavy, could quickly make things muddy. There is a chance that the huge drop in temperature and the expected rain will hold off until after the game. There is also a chance it doesn't.

Parking: There will be a big crowd at Lowell Friday night. A home semistate game carries the kind of drama that brings out the entire community. Lowell has played three semistate games at home and won all three. Northwood also has great tradition and on this night the son of their greatest coach is trying to lead the team he played for to the state finals. The weather may be bad, but it won't keep the visiting fans away. Reportedly, the Panthers travel well. We will see.

WHAT'S AT STAKE:

CLASS 4A Northern Semistate

Northwood (13-0) at LOWELL (9-4)

CLASS 4A Southern Semistate

(Indianapolis) Roncalli (13-0) at East Central (11-2)

LOWELL (11-18-2016) I'm guessing that both Northwood and Lowell are well aware that top-ranked, undefeated eight-time state champ Roncalli is in the other half of the bracket. The Rebels are led by senior QB Derek O'Connor (6-2, 175) who threw three TD passes in the 42-6 sectional title win over Greenwood. O'Connor, whose father and grandfather both played quarterback for Roncalli, was a perfect 13 of 13 in a 28-21 regular season ending 28-21 win over 3A No. 2 Guerin Catholic.

This was Roncalli's fifth undefeated regular season. In the other four, they won state titles including 2002, 2003 and 2004. Will East Central beat Roncalli Friday? No. Roncallli has played two 6A schools and four other Indianapolis area private schools. East Central did upset Evansville Reitz 33-27 last week, but even at home, they aren't beating Roncalli.


The HISTORY:

Lowell gets kidded in Northwest Indiana as being a rural, farm community. It's somewhat of a joke. You can close your eyes, open them in Lowell and you wouldn't know you weren't in Crown Point or St. John or most of Merrillville. Northwood is a 1970 consolidation of Wakarusa (1916 to 1969) and Nappanee (1911 to 1969) high schools in Nappanee, Indiana in the heart of Amish Country. That's real, down home, 'horse drawn carts in the road' country.

It's called the 'Wa-Nee' (Wakarusa- Nappanee) area. Nappanee is said to have about 6,700 residents while Wakarusa has about 1,600. The area's slogan is 'Embrace the Pace' meaning small town, farm living. The first time I drove through Nappanee, I asked the same question you might be asking. How did followers of a 17th Century religion form a community in North Central Indiana? It's still not totally clear to me, but in the 17th Century a man named Menno Simms, a former Catholic priest, moved himself and his followers to Switzerland due to religious persecution that apparently was common during that time. They were (and still are) called Mennonites. In 1693, a group of Mennonites led by Jakob Ammann seperated themselves from the others. Hearing about America and the religious freedom there, the Mennonites took the huge leap, journeying to Pennsylvania. Jakob Ammann's group were (and still are) called Amish people. Why they moved from Pennsylvania to Indiana is unclear, but Nappanee's Amish folks are descendents of the Pennsylvania Amish Community (there are 53 Amish communities still in Pennsylvania) from the 1700s. Maybe they just wanted to be left alone and in northern Indiana (or anyplace else in Indiana) in the the 1800s, apparently you were very much left alone. The first Amish settlement in Elkhart County reportedly came in 1839, Barbara Stahly and her five sons.

'Old order' Amish do not believe in modern technology and they aren't kidding. The older 'old order' folks resist using electricity in their homes and they don't drive cars, although it has become much more difficult to stick to those traditions in recent decades. In Nappanee and Wakarusa (northeast of Nappanee), it is still common to see black carts drawn by large horses in the street. There are more old order Amish in Wakarusa.

You may have been to 'Amish Acres,' a long standing restaurant, religious experience and entertainment complex on US 6 in Nappanee.

I don't think you will see any horse drawn carts in Lowell Friday (I don't know that), but when I drove by Northwood high school regularly many years ago, there were carts and horses in the parking lot.  I'm fairly sure you will see a few girls and women dressed in long skirts with their heads covered with a bonnet. You may see men or boys with black top hats. Those are the old order Amish.
I don't know how old order Amish are allowed by their religion to play sports, but they are. The school has always been successful in football. Northwood was 2-7 in the Panthers' debut season of 1969 and they were 4-6 in 1972 and 2013. That's it. Those are the only three losing seasons in school history.

But Northwood football has changed.

For decades, they ran the ball and rolled up the wins under longtime coach Jim Andrews, after whom the present Northwood football complex is named. Jim Andrews coached Northwood from 1972 to 1992 with a record of 150-67. He died in a car accident in the summer of 1993 and assistant coach Rich Dodson took over. Dodson's 17 seasons (1993 to 2010) saw Northwood go 169-50. Present day coach Nate Andrews is Jim's youngest son. He earned 11 letters at Northwood and the three varsity football teams he played on were 33-3, losing to Roncalli in the 1993 state title game, ending a season where he scored 22 touchdowns.

After a playing career at Ball State, Nate Andrews was an assistant football coach for six years at Zionsville. He was then the varsity coach for three years at Class 1A Lapel before moving up to Western high in Kokomo where he was 15-8 in two seasons. Northwood hired their favorite son in 2014 and he's been 6-4, 8-4 and now 13-0.

Northwood's only state title came in 2005. Long time Lowell fans didn't have to look that up because Northwood won the 3A championship 7-0 over Bishop Chatard and I can still remember the Northwood boys running off the field and the Lowell players slapping hands with them before running on for the 4A championship.

As much as Lowell wants to win this Friday night, with all the history the Devils have, this game means just as much or more to Northwood and the Wa-Nee community.

(4A) Northwood (13-0)
Nate Andrews (27-9) 3rd season
8-4 (2015), 6-5 (2014), 4-6 (2013), 5-6 (2012)

8-19 (W) 46-30 at (3A) Jimtown (7-4)
8-26 (W) 54-6 at (3A) Fairfield (1-9)
9-2 (W) 50-32 (5A) Concord (6-4)
9-9 (W) 35-12 at (5A) Goshen (8-3)
9-16 (W) 53-30 (6A) Wawasee (4-6)
9-23 (W) 14-0 (4A) Northridge (3-8)
9-30 (W) 52-21 (5A) Elkhart Memorial (2-8)
10-7 (W) 61-24 (6A) Warsaw (6-5)
10-14 (W) 43-12 at (4A) Plymouth (5-6)

Class 4A Sectional 19

10-21 (W) 52-13 Columbia City (3-7)
10-28 (W) 44-13 Northridge (3-8)
11-4 (W) 52-24 at East Noble (8-3)

Class 4A Regional
11-11 (W) 52-28 New Haven (11-1)

Class 4A Semistate

11-18 (Fri) at LOWELL (9-4)

Class 4A State Finals
11-25 (Fri) 2:30 CST/3:30 EST
at Lucas Oil Stadium


The 'Distant' Replay...

Lowell picks off Richard, McCutcheon

Team 1 2 3 4 F
McCutcheon (8-5) 0 6 0 14 20
LOWELL (12-1) 0 6 20 12 38

Friday, November 12, 1999 in LOWELL, Ind.

1st Qtr: No scoring.
2nd Qtr:
McCutcheon (3-0) Evan Zimmerman, 22-yard field goal.
LOWELL (3-6) Chris Patterson, 16-yard interception return. Kick failed.
McCutcheon (6-6) Evan Zimmerman, 33-yard field goal.
3rd Qtr: LOWELL (6-12) Joe O'Connell, 39-yard run. Kick failed.
LOWELL (6-20) Chris Goult, 2-yard run. Matt Van Duersen, 2-point pass from Joe O'Connell.
LOWELL (6-26) Joe O'Connell 68-yard run. Kick failed.
4th Qtr: McCutcheon (13-26) Treber Royer, 22-yard pass from Clayton Richard. Evan Zimmerman kick.
McCutcheon (20-26) Matt Boston, 31-yard pass from Clayton Richard. Evan Zimmerman kick.
LOWELL (20-32) Chris Goult, 2-yard run. Kick failed.
LOWELL (20-38) Mike French, 21-yard run. Kick failed.

LOWELL (11-12-1999) Lowell and Northwood have never met. But there was a night a long time ago when Lowell faced a 3,000-yard passer. In 2008, Lowell was 2-8 and they were shut out three times. But in 2009, the Devils started 7-0, lost 7-3 to Munster and then swept three sectional games. Here comes McCutcheon high school rolling into Lowell, first time ever, with their all-state senior quarterback. In front of a sellout crowd, Chris Patterson intercepted McCutcheon quarterback Clayton Richard and returned it for a TD in the first quarter and the Devils suddenly led 6-3 after a scoreless first quarter.

Lowell scored 20 third quarter points and won the school's second regional championship by 18 points. The Devils had been resurgent since the early part of the 1990s, but this was the first time they'd taken down a powerhouse from another area of the state. Lowell took over on the ground, rolling up 333 yards rushing with O'Connell, Chris Goult and Mike French, who would finish the season with 1,338 yards on 280 carries. Chris Goult ended the 1999 season with 943 yards on 157 carries. Joe O'Connell now coaches all those passing quarterbacks at Merrillville high school.

If the name Clayton Richard sounds familiar it should.

After losing to Lowell in the final game of his career, Richard accepted a scholarship to play quarterback at the University of Michigan where he switched to baseball after one season. You may know that Clayton Richard played for the Chicago Cubs for a couple of seasons, including 2014. A left-handed pitcher, Richard is now 33 years old, still trying to get back into the major leagues. But Clayton Richard is also one of only five players to throw for 10,000 career yards in Indiana high school football. Richard, a 2003 McCutcheon graduate and
the 2003 Indiana state player of the year, passed for 10,777 yards in four seasons, fourth all time in the state of Indiana.

That includes the 13 completions in 34 attempts for 238 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions that night 17 years ago in Lowell.


NORTHWOOD Update:

NAPPANEE
- The Panthers play a spread offense similar to what Patrick Reardon and Andrean showed Lowell. It's an offensive set that requires the QB to make big plays and Northwood has scored 604 points (46.8 per game). Three-year starting QB Trey Bilinski has been making those plays. Northwood has a halfback and slotback who have carried the ball over 100 times so they try to spread the defense with the run game as well. The point totals for the Panthers are overwhelming, but they have allowed 20 or more seven times. That could simply be a result of scoring so often, so quickly.

Linebacker Drew Minnich (5-10, 185) has 100 tackles and 13 tackles for losses. Undersized defensive tackle Ingle Will (5-5, 180) has 12 tackles for losses and undersized defensive end Dylan Brough (5-11, 170) has 11 tackles for losses. Northwood is a very small 4A school and they seem a little small defensively on video, but they must be very quick to survive. They seem built for shootouts and that's the type of game their offense has to create.

QB - Trey Bilinski (6-3, 195) Senior:
Trey Bilinski changed the face of Northwood football in his time. For decades, they ran the ball with a power-running offense similar to what Lowell has used. Then came Bilinski, who was 122 of 198 for 1,311 yards, 13 TDs and eight
interceptions in 2014, 173 of 262 for 2,095 yards, 20 TDs and 10 interceptions in 2015 and 189 of 304 for 3,217 yards, 38 touchdowns and five interceptions in 13 games this fall. He's also run 63 times for 331 yards and five TDs, but his longest run reportedly is 15 yards. I don't think the Panthers call many running plays for Trey, but he averaged 6.7 points per game on Northwood's 23-4 basketball team last year so he can run. On video, Bilinski doesn't appear to have a rocket arm, but he has a soft touch and is very accurate. He has good feet to escape the rush, but he doesn't look to run. Comparing him to Andrean's Patrick Reardon, probably the top duel threat QB Lowell has faced, he is not as good a runner but a better passer.

RB - Brayton Yoder (5-8, 155) Junior and WR-SS Bronson Yoder (5-10, 160) Sophomore:
Lots of folks in Amish Country are named Yoder (Yoder is an Americanized spelling of the Swiss last name Joder, which is short for Theodorus, a name that has Amish and Mennonite roots back to the 13th Century), but Lowell better figure out which is which here. Brayton Yoder has run 122 times for 1,154 yards and 14 touchdowns and he carried 24 times for a career best 248 yards and four TDs in last week's 52-28 win over New Haven. Bronson Yoder has carried 152 times for 813 yards and 12 TDs and he's caught 51 passes for 985 yards and eight more TDs. Bronson also has 60 tackles on defense as the strong safety. Northwood makes you cover their third and fourth best receiver with your third and fourth best defensive backs. Most high school teams don't have four good cover guys.

WR-DB - DeAndre Smart (6-2, 170) Junior:
I don't think DeAndre is a traditional Amish name, so I'm guessing he's from the south side of Nappanee. Smart averages 17 yards a catch and he's caught 55 passes for 1,022 yards (18 yards a catch) and 15 TDs. Northwood appears to use three wide receivers on every play, so they certainly run a lot of picks and screens to get their guys open. But Smart has the size to go up and get the ball deep down the field or near the goal line. DeAndre Smart appears to be Northwood's biggest and best pass catching threat.


LOWELL Update:

LOWELL
- Lowell has rushed for over 200 yards seven games in a row and they have held the opposition under 100 yards rushing the last five games. The Devils gave up a season high 23 first half points at Hobart last week, but they held the Brickies scoreless in the second half. Lowell has run 562 times for 3,038 yards and 45 touchdowns and there is no reason to think that, with bad weather expected, that they will do anything but pound the ball at the Northwood front this Friday. To do that, the Devils can't turn the ball over. Turnovers turn into touchdowns against Northwood very quickly and Lowell is not a great come-from-behind team. In wet conditions, ball security is a big deal.

WR-RB-Safety - Jordan Jusevitch (6-0, 201) Junior:
Northwood will throw the ball and Lowell will try to intercept it. The Devils have 11 pass interceptions and Jordan Jusevitch, who has missed two of the Devils' 13 games, has five of the interceptions. Panther QB Trey Bilinski has thrown just five interceptions all season, but Lowell's secondary, led by Jusevitch and Jaeger Gill, has allowed just 95 completed passes and 1,080 passing yards all season. The teams that defeated Lowell in August and September ran the ball on them. Only three teams (Highland, Munster and Andrean ) have thrown for over 100 yards against the Devils and Jordan didn't play in the Highland game. Jusevitch will be in the on the runway as the Northwood 'air force' tries to land in Lowell Friday night.

DE - Blake Jansky (6-0, 185) Sophomore:
Blake Jansky had a sack last week in Lowell's 44-23 win over Hobart and he'll be part of the Devils' pass rush this week against 3,000-yard passer Trey Bilinski. Jansky has been in on 87 tackles, including 22 tackles for losses and seven quarterback sacks. A lot of this game will come down to how much time Northwood has to throw the ball. My math skills aren't great, but when the Northwood QB has thrown 303 passes in 13 games, that's about 23 times a game. Lowell has faced a few run-heavy teams, but they still have 21 quarterback sacks and Jansky has 1/3 of them. Northwood has to make sure boys like Mitch Wildman (89 tackles, 3 sacks), Max Steward (13 tackles for loss, 3 sacks) and Jansky stay off their quarterback.

RB-LB - Trevor Espravnik (5-10, 184) Senior:
Trevor Espravnik gained 186 yards on 42 carries last week at Hobart, sparking his team to the 44-23 regional victory. For the season, Espravnik has 1,760 yards gained on 285 carries, the 10th largest total in the history of Lowell football. Trevor has scored 27 touchdowns and he averages 6.2 yards per carry. The numbers speak for themselves. I always wonder if Lowell's tailback is going to make it through the season. Everyone keys on him. He's hit on almost every play. Espravnik, after 285 carries, starts his final home game Friday night with a chance to go to the state finals. That speaks for itself, too.

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 = 285 carries, 1,760 yards, 27 TDs // 32 tackles (6 tackles for loss)
Career = 371 carries, 2,143 yards, 31 TDs, 141 tackles, 18 tackles for loss (39 games)


Northwood (13-0) at LOWELL (9-4)
at 'The Inferno'  -  capacity: 2,500

 

Sagarin ratings:  Lowell by Northwood by 14.

This spread surprises me. Northwood should be favored and they have not lost, but the 6A Warsaw (6-5) team that the Panthers defeated was probably not as good as the two 6A schools Portage (6-4) and Crown Point (6-6) that Lowell narrowly lost two. I'm guessing that the computer judges your entire schedule so Lowell's state tournament victory over a team (Hobart (10-3) that beat you during the regular season carries limited weight. Northwood did take down an undefeated New Haven team last week. For the record, Lowell was a one-point favorite at Hobart last week and they won by 21.


WHAT WILL HAPPEN...

LOWELL (11-18-2016) This figures to be a high-scoring game. Northwood will start fast with a quick hitting drive and Brayton Yoder zipping in for an early TD. The Devils will come back with a long run-dominated drive to tie the game on a short run by Jordan Jusevitch. Look for Trey Bilinski to hit the sophomore wingback Bronson Yoder for a breakaway score and a 14-7 lead and Lowell rallies on a short punt and another drive, ending in a Trevor Espravnik TD.

Late in the second quarter, Lowell takes the lead as Ethan Igras scores on a QB option play. The conditions will have an effect on the game and that will favor the Devils. A third quarter fumble sets up a second Espravnik TD and a Northwood fumble will lead to a third rushing TD by Espravnik. Northwood's Bilinski hits the younger Yoder for a second TD to cut the lead to 28-21, but Jaeger Gill runs the kickoff back for a Red Devil TD. A pass interception leads to another TD run by Igras at the end of a long drive. The Panther's Billinski passes for a late TD, but Northwood isn't going to be able to score at will on the Lowell secondary as they have on other teams in the Northern Lakes Conference.

I think there is a size and strength advantage here, which is accentuated on a bad weather night. The Devils have dominated the line of scrimmage for six weeks and, after taking some early strikes, Lowell will pull away to win the final home game.

LOWELL 42, Northwood 28

 

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Revised: November 17, 2016 .