Week 5 - Football Game of the Week Preview

Lowell (1-3) at Highland (3-1)

A USA-365.com Special Report by Mark Smith



Highland and Lowell have been rivals in the Calumet Conference, the Lake Suburban Conference, the Lake Athletic Conference and now, the Northwest Crossroads Conference. (Photo by Mark Smith.)

When:  7:00 p.m., Friday, September 16, 2016.

Where:  Highland High School  - 9135 Erie St. (Two blocks east of 42nd and Kennedy), Highland IN 46322.

Tickets:  $6

Enrollment: HIGHLAND - 1,118; LOWELL - 1,187.

TV-Radio-Internet: WTMK (88.5) FM live. Live updates of all local scores all night on WLPR (89.1) FM.

Weather: Last week's steady rain was not predicted and not wanted, but the weather has changed for the better. Much cooler... Mid-60s by the second half. Light winds. But there is a chance of rain again. Hopefully all that practice teams got handling the football in the rain stuck with everyone. Highland still has a natural real grass field so the rain will make the playing surface a little muddy. We have not had one really good football night yet this fall.

There's little parking at Highland for a large event. Like Griffith, Highland high is tucked away in a quiet neighborhood... a couple blocks east of 42nd and Kennedy Ave. Like Griffith, you have to get there early. There are not that many spots to park in near the field. Unlike Griffith, Highland is winning and they should have a good home crowd show up to see if they can beat Lowell this year.

Those of us who drive around in the region know that there is usually a good bit of traffic on Kennedy Ave. on Friday night at 5 and 6 p.m. Traveling on I-65 and the Borman Expressway is also something a lot of people do early Friday evening. If you don't leave for the game early, you can be late.


WHAT'S AT STAKE: Both teams here have one league loss so they must win to have any chance to win the Northwest Crossroads Conference (NCC) this year. In a seven-team league, obviously you play six league games, so two losses means that your goal of a conference title isn't realistic.

Munster and Hobart are already 2-0 in league play. Lowell has not faced either one. So, a win at Highland leaves open the chance that the Devils can tie for the NCC championship. Highland has already lost to Munster, so they need to defeat Lowell and then have Lowell defeat Hobart and Munster. Hobart (3-1, 2-0 NCC) plays Munster (2-2, 2-0 NCC) on September 30.

Lowell has won 14 games in a row from Highland, all by 10 points or more, a subject that almost certainly was discussed at Highland football practice this week.

The HISTORY: Of all the names of Northwest Indiana towns, Highland is the simplest. Maybe Cedar Lake, the town around the "Lake of the Red Cedars" (named after the red Cedar trees on the shoreline) is as simple. Highland, Indiana, is what it's name says it is. Or was. Long before any of us were around to talk about it, Highland was lakefront property.

Lake Michigan had a daddy, called Lake Chicago. To make a long story short, everything north of Ridge Road used to be under water, a difficult concept to grasp now. Ridge Road is named because it was the 'ridge' where prehistoric Lake Chicago ended. Highland is officially 623 feet above sea level. Slightly higher than Hammond, Gary, Whiting and East Chicago. It is high land. It's my understanding that's how the town got its name.

Highland has had 20-25,000 residents for 50-60 years now. There's no land to expand that I know of, so the town isn't about to get any larger. It's a suburb right in the middle of Lake County and, for the foreseeable future, it is what it is. A nice 'bedroom' community. The high school isn't getting any bigger any time soon, either. 30 years ago in 1986, one year before Indianapolis Colts general manger Ryan Grigson was a player at Highland (and they went to the state football finals), Highland had 1,416 students, according to the IHSAA.

Highland first played Lowell on October 6, 1961, with the Trojans winning 19-13. The Trojans played Lowell every year up to 1992 when Lowell joined the short-lived Northwest Hoosier Conference. Lowell was back on the Highland schedule in 1998, when the Trojans were 10-2, and they have met every year since then. Highland leads the series 30-25, but again, has not defeated Lowell in 14 years.

The 'Distant' Replay:

Devils wear down Highland

Team 1 2 3 4 F
Highland (2-3) 6 0 0 7 13
LOWELL (5-0) 6 7 6 13 32

Saturday, Sept. 19, 2015 - 61 degrees, humid at LOWELL, IN


1st QtrHIGHLAND (6-0) Hunter Rycerz 13-yard run. Kick blocked by Jaeger Gill. 76 yard drive, 10 plays. Kick blocked by Jaeger Gill. 7:27 left.
LOWELL (6-6) Darion Hornickel, 50-yard run. 62 yard drive, 3 plays. Kick wide. 6:14 left.
2nd QtrLOWELL (6-13) Jordan Jusevitch, 40-yard pass from Darion Hornickel. 82-yard drive, 9 plays. Robbie Smetana kick. 6:22 left.
3rd QtrLOWELL (6-19) JT Thomas, 22-yard pass from Darion Hornickel. 62-yard drive, 7 plays. Kick wide. 7:12 left.
4th Qtr: HIGHLAND (13-19) Charlie Gerstner, 9-yard pass from Hunter Rycerz. 80-yard drive, 13 plays. Alec Foundos kick, 11:54 left.
LOWELL (13-25) Darion Hornickel, QB sneak 1-yard. 30-yard drive, 7 plays after fumbled punt recovered by Zac Galvan. 2-point pass play sacked. 8:22 left.
LOWELL (13-32) Austin Giordano, 8-yard run. 20-yard drive (after Lowell takeover on downs). Robbie Smetana kick. 1:40 left.


HIGHLAND (32 carries, 104 yards, 1 TD, 1 fumble): Hunter Rycerz (QB) 19 carries, 73 yards, TD; Charlie Gerstner (HB) 6-12 yards, Caydon Hillegonds (HB) 7-19 yards, fumble;
LOWELL (41 carries, 181 yards, 3 TDs): Ike James (HB) 27 carries, 108 yards; Darion Hornickel (QB) 9 carries, 53 yards, 2 TDs; Austin Giordano (FB) 2 carries, 12 yards, TD; Trevor Espravnik HB) 2 carries, 8 yards; Jordan Jusevitch (HB) 1-0 yards.

HIGHLAND: Hunter Rycerz (QB) 6 of 14, 93 yards, TD, interception;
LOWELL: Darion Hornickel (QB) 6 of 10, 94 yards, 2 TDs 0 interceptions.

HIGHLAND: Jarrod Thiele (TE) 4 catches, 76 yards, Caydon Hillegonds (HB) 1-7 yards, Charlie Gerstner (HB) 1-9 yards, TD; LOWELL: Ike James (HB) 2 catches 25 yards, Jordan Jusevitch (HB) 1-40 yards, TD, JT Thomas (TE) 1-34 yards, TD, Jaeger Gill (WR) 1-23 yards, Ryan Bottos (WR) 1-9 yards.

LOWELL (0) HIGHLAND (3) 2 fumbles, interception.
Interception: Ben Sekuloski (L)
Fumble recoveries: Zac Galvan (L), JT Thomas (L)


LOWELL: Last year, Highland was on the comeback trail, but Lowell was on a roll. The weather man delayed this game one day with some heavy thunderstorms and it was unusual to see a varsity game in daylight. The undefeated Devils won big, but they were up just 19-13 in the first minute of the final quarter. The Trojans weren't happy going home certainly, but when you haven't defeated a school since 2002, you had to be pleased just to be in the game late.

Highland did hold Lowell to 181 yards rushing and tight end Jarrod Theile, who caught four passes on this day, is still around and ready to do more this coming Friday night. This might have been Darion Hornickel's best game with two TD runs and two TD passes. Ike James, who rambled for 100 yards that night, is now a backup running back and kick returner at Division II St. Joseph's College in Rensselaer with fellow 2016 graduate Robbie Smetana, 2015 graduate Lowell QB Zach Bobos and 2014 grad Tony Lopez.

Highland was 4-6 last year and 6-5 the year before, their only winning season since 2001. In staying close to Lowell 12 months ago, it felt like the Trojans were on the first few steps of that stairway to football heaven until that 41-point home loss to Munster. They can start 'movin' on up' again if they can finally beat Lowell this Friday.

HIGHLAND by the numbers:

HIGHLAND - The Trojans won their first two games, but in a rivalry showdown with Munster, the Trojans got defeated 47-6. It had to be a shock. Highland came back last week with a 42-8 win over Clark, but in the interest of full disclosure, Clark has lost 16 games in a row. There was no parade.

Highland lines up in a double wing offense, often with just one wide receiver. They run power plays and pitchouts. It's an old school offense. The Trojans have thrown 32 passes in four games, including 15 against Munster. They don't want to throw the ball more than a few times. They want to play like Lowell does.

I don't know how much the Highland 47-6 loss at home to Munster affected them. Munster rolled up 459 yards and seven TDs in a game Highland thought they would win. The Trojans can't be afraid of Lowell, considering the Devils' recent results. But Munster was 0-2 when they won by that 41-point spread two weeks ago. This could be a playoff preview in Class 4A Sectional 17 so Highland may get two chances to top the Devils. They may also get a second chance to beat Munster. But is this a team that has doubts? We'll find out Friday.

QB - Angel Mata (6-0, 175) Senior:
Mata has been productive in his debut as the Trojans starting QB after transferring from Bishop Noll. Unofficial numbers have him completing just 13 of 32 passes, but for 338 yards and six TDs. That's 26 yards per completion. Angel has also run 43 times for 189 yards and he's more a runner than thrower. But he has tossed six TDs in four games.

FB - Shawn Rogers (5-8, 185) Senior:
Rogers gets the hard yards for the Trojans with 52 carries so far for 202 yards and three TDs, one in every game except the 47-6 loss to Munster. Rogers carried the ball 14 times in that Munster game, indicating that when things go bad, the Trojans feel safe with the ball in his hands.

OT - DE - Gannon Grider (6-6, 256) Junior:
Grider has to win some battles on the lines against Lowell for the Trojans to pull the upset. With Munster junior transfer Avery Poelinitz (6-4, 300) on the lines with him, the Trojans have size up front to run and stop the run. Highland wants to be a power team and Grider is a big part of that.

LOWELL Update:

LOWELL - Want some facts about Lowell (1-3) that don't make sense? The Devils have not trailed at halftime all season. (They were tied 0-0 at Crown Point.) Lowell's defense has allowed five touchdowns (2 others were scored turnovers) in four games and they have not given up a touchdown pass. Lowell has held three teams to less than 100 yards rushing, but they're 1-3. Lowell has held four teams to less than 250 total yards, but they're 1-3.

Compounding the '1-3' thing is: Lowell's next three opponents (Highland, Hobart and Morton) have record of 3-1. They're riding high while Lowell is 1-3 and wondering why. The Devils have not been able to control the ball the way they typically do. The Devils would like to see a little less of junior Zack Buss on offense. Zack is the punter and he has punted 20 times already. Lowell punted only 37 times in 13 games last season.

The Devils have just 30 first downs in four games. That's just not enough and they all know it. I will say it one more time. The Devils were 1-3 in 2013 and won the sectional championship.
All their season goals are still out there to be won.

But Lowell's boys certainly know now that they are every team's 'big game'. Everybody is playing them very hard and celebrating wildly after defeating them. That's a back-handed compliment, one they are probably tired of receiving.

Guard-Defensive end - Gavin Summers (6-1, 216) Senior:
Summers was in on 15 tackles last week at Griffith, including two tackles for 16 yards in losses. Gavin had not played that much on the defensive side of the ball until week four. Summers had not had more than four tackles in any of the Devils first three games. On the Lowell depth chart, he's listed as the starter at both right tackle and defensive end. That's a tough assignment, but it's traditionally what Lowell asks of seniors late in their senior years.

WR-DB-KR - Jaeger Gill (5-11, 185) Junior:
Gill caught two passes for 16 yards last week at Griffith. He ran back four kickoffs for 71 yards. He even tossed a pass. The Devils are making an effort to get Gill, an athletic runner with good speed, the ball. Defenses have done a decent job of keying on senior Trevor Espravnik and junior Jordan Jusevitch. For the season, counting a fumble return, kick returns, catches, and runs from scrimmage, Gill has only touched the ball 19 times, less than five a game. I think that average is about to go up.

Defensive end - Blake Jansky (6-0, 185) Sophomore:
Blake was in on 10 tackles last week at Griffith, including two for five yards in losses. Jansky has been in on 33 tackles, including a team-leading seven tackles for losses. Highland has connected on five pass plays of 20 yards or more, but they run a double wing formation which puts an extra blocker on both ends of the line. They're coming for the defensive end, in Lowell's case Summers and Jansky.

LOWELL (1-3) at HIGHLAND (3-1)

at Highland - capacity: 2,500 

Sagarin computer ratings:  Lowell by 23

HIGHLAND - The computer does not accept that Lowell is a bad team. Even though they are 0-2 on the road, the Devils are  favored to beat a Highland team that is 3-1 overall. The reason is the schedule. Clark and Hammond are both 0-4 and are among the two lowest rated teams in the state. Lowell has lost to Crown Point (2-2) and Portage (2-2) two teams that have significant wins.




HIGHLAND (09-16-2016) This looks like another low scoring road game for Lowell, which has lost 9-3 and 17-9 away from home. After a scoreless first period, the Devils get a pass interception and score on a short run by the QB Dayton Hornickel. Near halftime, a long drive ends with Zach Bertossi booting a short field goal, cutting the lead to 7-3 at the half.

The Devils convert a drive of over 50 yards in the third quarter with Trevor Espravnik scoring for a 14-3 lead. After a couple of interceptions, Angel Mata finds Jarrod Thiele for a late TD, but Highland doesn't get another chance.

The Trojans have played better the last two years and this is a big chance for them to knock down a Lowell team they've lost to for 14 years. But Highland's passing game won't be able to get the best of a Lowell secondary that has been strong all season.


LOWELL 14, Highland 10


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Revised: September 14, 2016.