Week 3 - Football Game of the Week Preview

Crown Point (1-1)
at Merrillville (1-1)

Merrillville welcomes one and all from Crown Point for another match in the long rivalry between the Bulldogs and the Pirates. We'll see how welcome the Bulldogs feel at the end of Friday's matchup, the 80th meeting between the two south Lake County neighbor schools. (Photo by Mark Smith)

A USA-365.com Special Report by Mark Smith


When:  7:00 p.m., Friday, Sept. 2, 2016

Where:  Merrillville High School's Demaree Stadium, 276 E. 68th Place, Merrillville, IN 46410 (2 blocks east of Broadway on 68th Place).

TV/Radio/Internet: No over-the-air radio. Live Internet audio stream on www.USA-365.com.

Enrollment: CROWN POINT - 2,664; MERRILLVILLE - 2,228.

WEATHER: A vast improvement over the last two weeks and frankly, the last two months. After two months of living in 'humidity land', the game time temperature Friday will be about 70 degrees, falling slightly after dark. It should be a very pleasant night to watch a game and not nearly as draining for the players.

PARKING: Merrillville's Demaree Stadium has as much parking as you're going to find at a high school. Those of us of a 'certain age' need to be able to dock close to the field especially if we have things to carry. Merrillville has a 'ponderosa of parking' between the field and the school and more near the visitors' stands. Unless you arrive very late and there is a large crowd, there is no long walk to the field for home fans or visitors.

Since the weather is supposed to be vastly improved over the first two weeks and last Friday's Crown Point game was 90 miles away, I expect a good crowd from Crown Point to make the short trip north this week. The Pirates, who have six home games this year (recently they have always played Andrean at Merrillville), are at home for the third week in a row.

I think Merrillville fans throw out the result of the Penn game (the Pirates lost 35-2) last week the same way they used to discount the nonconference result of their game against Warren Central, who they faced for six years in a row from 2007 to 2012. Merrillville people probably care if they beat Crown Point a lot more than they do about Penn.

WHAT's AT STAKE: It's a big game. Both teams think they have a chance to win the Duneland Athletic Conference (DAC) this year. To be honest, all eight DAC teams probably think they can win the league this season. Merrillville is 7-2 against the Bulldogs in the last five seasons. Since the IHSAA created a 32-team Class 6A for its football state tournament, Merrillville and Crown Point have been football study buddies. In a 4-team sectional, you have a very good chance of drawing any one team. CP and Merrillville are very likely to meet in Class 6A Sectional 1 this October. So Friday's game gets one team off to a good start in the DAC and it's also almost certainly a playoff preview.

The HISTORY: As you probably know, Merrillville, named after early settlers William and Dudley Merrill in the mid-1800s, is a town, not a city. It is the largest town (almost 35,000 residents) in the state of Indiana. It's hard to tell if Merrillville is still growing. The town had 27,000 residents in 1990. For me, it has always been a little difficult to know where Merrillville begins and ends. Let's get local. If you come south across US 30 on Broadway, and you turn left-east on 93rd Avenue, you're still in Merrillville. Those are the Merrillville Little League fields you see there south of 93rd, east of Broadway. If you come back north and go east for 73rd Avenue all the way to US-51 Grand Avenue, which is about a mile east of Broadway. That's Merrillville, too. Up north at the western border, past Turkey Creek golf course. That's still Merrillville.

Did you know that Merrillville is spread out over 33 square miles? By comparison, Valparaiso covers just under 16 square miles. Crown Point, with 27,000 residents, covers just under 18 square miles. Schererville has 28,000 residents squeezed into 15 square miles. If you look at a map, Merrillville is very oddly shaped. probably because it's a piecing together of a half dozen townships with old Potawattomi Indian names like Turkey Creek and Deep River, old settlers names like Rexville and Lottaville. Merrillville's original name was McGwinn Village.

Merrillville high began playing football in 1946 and they played Crown Point that season. Everybody played Crown Point in the first half of the 20th century because CP has been around since the 1800s.

In 1949, under coach Dick Demaree, for whom the present day stadium is named, Merrillville went 10-0 including a 7-0 win over The Bulldogs. The two schools didn't meet every year, but once the IHSAA began its state tournament, Crown Point and Merrillville were understandably placed in the same sectional. With the building of I-65 (in 1956) and Southlake Mall (1974), Merrillville has more than doubled in size from 1970 (15,973) to 2010 (35,246). With that the high school has grown from 1,484 (in 1986) to 2,278 (2016) now. In a lot of respects, Merrillville, Schererville and Crown Point, with a combined population of almost 100,000 are the new center of Northwest Indiana.

So Merrillville, Crown Point and Lake Central high schools (combined enrollment of over 8,000) have also become the new 'center'. For those of us who watch the boys and girls play sports, games involving any combination of those two schools are highlights of the local football season.

Including Merrillville's two-game sweep in '85, Crown Point and Merrillville have met 45 times in 32 seasons with Merrillville leading 28-17. Merrillville swept two games from CP in 1985, 92, 93, 2012 and 2015. CP swept the Pirates in 1987, 95 and 2006.

Merrillville has won seven of the last nine meetings to pull ahead in the all-time series 45-33-1, but these teams point to this game as the launching pad of the season. Before Crown Point joined the Duneland Athletic Conference in 1992, CP opened the season against Merrillville. Since '93, this has been the third game of the year and the DAC opener on the Friday of the Labor Day weekend.

If you are just a casual fan just going to games to support your town. If you have kids who you'd like to introduce to high school sports and community events. If you only go to one high school football game, this big school matchup that dates back to the middle of the 20th century is the game you should attend.

The 'Distant' Replay

Bulldogs run over Merrillville for sectional title

A USA-365.com report by Mark Smith


1 2 3 4 F


0 14 14 14 42

Merrillville (8-4)

7 7 0 7 21

Friday, Nov. 4, 2011,  44 degrees - Class 5A, Sectional 1 Championship at Demaree Stadium in MERRILLVILLE, IN.

1st Qtr MERRILLVILLE (7-0) Jake Raspopovich, 1-yard run. 15-yard drive, 7 plays following William Isabell's interception of a Jake Jatis pass. 1:46 min. time of possession (TOP). Matt Warren kick. 4:14 left.
2nd QtrMERRILLVILLE (14-0) Dylon Collins 4-yard run. 60-yard drive, 8 plays. 2:07 min. TOP. Matt Warren kick. 11:10 left.
CROWN POINT (7-14) Tristan Peterson, 1-yard run. 77 yard drive, 10 plays. 4:27 min. TOP. Brett Bayer kick. 6:37 left.
CROWN POINT (14-14) Tyler Smith, 60-yard interception & return of Jake Raspopovich's pass. Brett Bayer kick. 1:00 left.
3rd Qtr: CROWN POINT (21-14) Tristan Peterson 3-yard run. 72-yard run, 12 plays. 5:09 min. TOP. Brett Bayer kick. 6:41 left.
CROWN POINT (28-14) Tristan Peterson 5-yard run. 23-yard drive, 3 plays following Brendyn McKinnon's interception of a Raspopovich pass. Bayer kick. 5:35 left. 

4th QtrCROWN POINT (35-14) Pete Parks, 6-yard run. 1st play following Jordan Krajci's interception of a Raspopovich pass. Bayer kick. 7:51 left.
CROWN POINT (42-14) Tristan Peterson 1-yard run. 2nd play following Conner Andras' interception of a Raspopovich pass and 35-yard return to the 15 yard line. Bayer kick. 5:22 left.
MERRILLVILLE (21-42) Dylon Collins, 1-yard run. 73-yard drive, 10 plays. 2:59 min. TOP. Matt Warren kick. 2:16 left.


CROWN POINT (29 carries, 242 yards, 5 TDs): Tristan Peterson (HB) 37 carries, 195 yards, 4 TDs, Pete Parks (FB) 8-36 yards, TD, Jake Jatis (QB) 2-7 yards; Tyler Wells (WR) 2-4 yards;
MERRILLVILLE (31 carries, 203 yards, 3 TDs): Dylon Collins (HB) 11 carries, 113 yards, 2 TDs; Darryl Peppers (HB) 10-71 yards, Jake Raspopovich (QB) 10-19 yards, TD.

CROWN POINT: Jake Jatis (QB) 2-12, 47 yards, 2 interceptions;
MERRILLVILLE: Jake Raspopovich (QB) 13-26, 85 yards, 4 interceptions.

CROWN POINT: Zach Plesac (WR) 2-47 yards;
MERRILLVILLE: Aaron Dye (WR) 3-25 yards, Cortez Sims (WR) 3-29 yards, Dylon Collins (WR) 3-7 yards:
Danny Jankulowski (TE) 2-14 yards, Cleveland Lomax (WR) 1-7 yards; Greg Brousseau (WR) 1-3 yards.

CROWN POINT: 288 yards, 10 first downs, 2 turnovers;
MERRILLVILLE: 288 yards, 6 first downs, 4 turnovers.


MERRILLVILLE: This was one of those years when Merrillville had defeated Crown Point in the third week of the season. The Pirates won 21-20 in September on a 2-yard run by Darryl Peppers after an 80-yard drive with 1:12 left in the game. It was a thrilling game, if you were from Merrillville. The rematch looked like a big Merrillville win when the Pirates jumped to a 14-0 lead early. But Tyler Smith's interception and 60-yard TD just before halftime tied the game and changed it. CP dominated the third quarter, including a TD set up by linebacker Brendyn McKinnon's interception.

In the fourth quarter, CP scored twice, both times after pass interceptions by Conner Andras and Jordan Krajci. The four interceptions were the heart of the game sparking the Bulldogs to their fourth sectional championship. It was Tristan Peterson's best game with 195 yards rushing and four touchdowns, and even though the Bulldogs lost 16-6 at Penn in the regional the next week, this win made the 2011 season a big success.

It was hardly the end of an era for Merrillville. The Pirates would bounce back the next two seasons with records of 11-3 and 9-2. Pirate QB Jake Raspopovich finished with over 2,000 yards (173 of 292, 2,057 yards) in 2011 and soared with 196 of 297, for 3,154 yards and 32 TDs in 2012. He then chose to play basketball for Texas-Pan American, a decision that still surprises me. Crown Point's Tristan Peterson finished with 983 yards rushing and a team-high 10 TDs in 2011 and 1,066 yards rushing and seven TDs in 2012. Petersen then played football for Carthage College. Jacob Krajci led CP in 2011 with 127 tackles. Jake Jatis, filling in for injured starter Joe Hopman, completed just two passes in the victory over Merrillville. He then went on to throw for almost 2000 yards (149 of 270, 1,941 yards) and 13 TDs in 2012.

Zac Plesac caught those two passes. He would catch 60 passes for 862 yards in 2012 and then become a full time baseball player at Ball State, where he went 12-2 with a 2.11 ERA in 2014. Zac was drafted last summer in the 16th round by the Cleveland Indians major league baseball organization.


- I think that, while they would not say anything like this, the Pirates could not care less about losing to Penn last week. It won't define their season. What they do against Crown Point and Lake Central will, because it almost has to, with those three teams in 4-team Class 6A Sectional 1. Merrillville has allowed only 227 yards rushing and only one TD on 65 carries in two games so far. But the Pirates have rushed for only 202 yards on 62 carries.

Kicker Megan Wise, a soccer team captain who plays two sports, was 5-of-5 on point-after boots against Andrean on Aug 19. Linebacker Moses Johnson, who made 120 tackles in 2015, grabbed a fumble and ran 13 yards for a TD against Andrean. In their spread offense, the Pirates are always a team that wants its playmakers in open space, spreading out the field. But you don't know how quick they really are until the game starts.

WR - Kejaun Thomas (5-11, 183) Senior:
Thomas caught 10 passes last week for 71 yards against Penn. That's a season highlight right there, but in two weeks, Thomas has 16 catches for 162 yards and one TD. I'm guessing Thomas is getting the ball because of the defensive concentration on all-area Pirate star James Kirklen (8 catches, 130 yards), who caught 54 passes for 692 yards in 2015. To frame what Thomas has done so far. In 2015, Kejaun caught only 20 passes for 391 yards. Obviously, Crown Point's secondary has a big challenge Friday.

RB - Davion Irvin Poindexter (5-10, 180) Junior:
Making his varsity debut, Daveon has gained 87 yards on 19 carries in two weeks, a good total for a team that throws 20-30 times a game. The only thing I know about Poindexter is that he played well enough to earn the starting spot and, with 4.5 yards per carry. So far, so good. Crown Point finds out about 'DIP' Friday night.

QB - Cameron Wright (5-9, 145) Sophomore:
Here's the key player in Friday night's game. Wright was 15 of 21 for 262 yards and four touchdowns in the season opener against Andrean. Then he was 12 of 22 for 101 yards and two interceptions last week against Penn, both of which were run back for touchdowns. As a sophomore quarterback, he's gearing up for a long run in that purple uniform and he won't find any more pressure playing against CP than he did the first two Pirate foes. Wright is small, but very mobile, although he has been sacked six times in two weeks. There's no real way to predict how successful Cam will be this week.


- I know Crown Point lost 10-6 at Mishawaka last week and I know it was a tough loss. But they don't care about Mishawaka. That game was probably forgotten on the two-hour bus ride home. The Bulldogs just couldn't score a touchdown when they needed it, despite 233 total yards and 14 first downs. But a CP team that struggled badly on offense in 2015, now has 28 first downs in two weeks. No big deal except that Crown Point gained just 121 first downs in 10 games last season. Defensively, the Bulldogs are doing all they can, allowing 13 points, only 3.6 yards per rush and just 14 first downs in two games against two good rushing teams. After 25 turnovers in 10 games last season, CP has just two turnovers in two games this fall. CP has had two field goal attempts blocked and the kicking game needs a little work.

WR - Shane McCormick (6-6, 195) Senior:
McCormick is off to a good start with 10 catches 97 yards, mostly short ball control possession passes, but five catches a game is good production. Like everyone else, he needs a touchdown, but if the yards keep getting gained, the points will come.

LB - Caden Watson (5-11, 185) Junior:
Now I know when a number like this pops up it gets checked. So I'm going to repeat from the CP statistic sheet that Caden Watson made 15 tackles last week against Mishawaka, including 13 solo tackles. Some players don't make 13 solo tackles in a season. After two weeks, Watson is CP's leading tackler with 25 tackles and 18 solo stops.

QB - Grayson Lynk (6-4, 180) Senior:
The Bulldogs didn't win and they scored a grand total of six points. But Grayson Lynk moved the team with 8-of-17 passes for 79 yards and six carries for 51 yards. After two weeks, the tall QB has 64 yards rushing and 166 yards passing. I know. I know. No points. Not yet. But it's coming. The numbers suggest a breakthrough on the scoreboard is coming.


at Demaree Stadium - Capacity: 8,000 in Merrillville


SAGARIN RATINGS: Merrillville by 8.

MERRILLVILLE - It's hard to argue with this spread because CP has only scored 15 points in two games after scoring just 94 points in 10 games last season. Plus Merrillville has faced Penn (2-0), ranked 6th in Class 6A while Crown Point has faced two smaller schools.

In review: Last week's Bulldog game spread was Mishawaka by 14 ... and the Cavemen won by 4. Early season games are unpredictable and that adds intrigue to this Friday's game in Merrillville.
Especially when one team (CP) scored six points last week and the other team (Merrillville) scored two.


MERRILLVILLE (09-02-2016) More likely than not, here comes a third consecutive low-scoring game night for Crown Point. This game is scoreless into the second quarter before Cam Wright fires a short TD pass to James Kirklen for a 7-0 lead. CP rallies in the third quarter after a Pirate fumble. Tyler Gomez scores on a short run to tie the game and that tie may last till the end of the third period.

Merrillville pulls ahead early in the fourth quarter on another pass from Wright to Kirklen and, after a CP turnover, look for Davion Ervin-Poindexter to get into the end zone to make it 21-7.

CP mounts a late rally and scores on a short pass from Grayson Lynk to Gomez out of the backfield. But the onside kick fails and Merrillville prevails. The Bulldogs can harass Wright and the Pirate offense but Merrillville can do the same to Lynk. This is a matchup of two teams that have better defenses right now than they do offenses and the Pirates have a difficult pass attack to cover for four quarters. CP needs turnovers to help out the offense, but Merrillville hasn't lost a fumble through two games.



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