Week 7 - Football Game of the Week Preview

Lowell (2-4) at Morton (3-3)

A USA-365.com Special Report by Mark Smith



The Devils travel to Hammond's Maurey Zlotnik Field in search of a much needed road win Friday night. Lowell and Morton are not in the same league, but they are in the same Class 4A Sectional. (Photo by Mark Smith)

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

Where:  Hammond High School, 6428 Calumet Ave, 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.

Good news? It was a feel good weather week with temperatures in the upper-60s. The high Friday will be in the mid-60s and game-time temperatures will settle into the low-60s and upper-50s. The bad news: It will probably rain. We might get lucky and see the rain skip the hours of 7-9 p.m., but it doesn't look like it. I've been waiting for cooler weather to see what effect it will have on a team like Lowell, which has some boys play both offense and defense, something that takes a toll on another on a hot, humid night. Lowell has not been good in fourth quarters this season. Let's see if they are a little stronger on a cooler night. But it will be a rainy Thursday and Friday. Morton's Maurey Zlotnik Field has artificial turf.

Parking: There's not much parking at Morton, but you can get very close to the field if you show up at least say, 6:30 p.m. I remember actually walking to my car at halftime at Morton and watching the first few plays of the third quarter from my car because of the weather. The parking lot is that close to Maurey Zlotnik Field, which seats over 4,000. The home grandstand is very large at Morton and, on some past Lowell visits, some Lowell people found their way into the home stands. But let's be honest. Morton has lost their last two and Lowell is 2-4. It's rained all week. There's just not going to be a lot of fans at this game. So those hardy Lowell folks who can make it up to Hammond should find a place to park near the field and plenty of room in the stands.

WHAT'S AT STAKE: Little. Morton and Lowell are not in the same conference, although they are in the same 4A Sectional 17. Both teams need a win so it should be a spirited game. Both sides save the video of this one because they could draw each other next month in sectional play. But, even with some high profile meetings in the last decade and the fact that they played twice a season three times in the last eight years, to me there's no real, long standing rivalry between Lowell and Morton.

THE HISTORY: As I've said before, Morton High School, named after Oliver P. Morton, the first native-born governor of Indiana (hence the school nickname) opened as a four-year school in in 1954 (it actually existed from 1937 on) and was a powerful football school in the 1960s and 70s before the Indiana High School Athletic Association (IHSAA) state tournament began in 1973. The present Morton high school off Cline Ave at 169th Street opened in 1968. It is the second youngest public school in Hammond (Gavit began playing football in 1962).

In the 1990s, declining enrollment (as the city of Hammond got smaller) hurt them in all sports. The Governors had never won more than 10 games in any season before 2002, and 2009 and 2010 sectional championships were the first in the Governors' 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.

But they wouldn't have played Lowell then because the Devils were not a neighbor or an equal. Morton won four sectional titles in a row from 2009 to 2012 and they were 2010 regional champions. Things have trailed off a bit with two coaching changes in two years, but Morton hasn't had a losing season in 12 years.

Morton, Gavit, Hammond and Clark have been joined by East Chicago in the Great Lakes Conference (GLC), which previously was all Hammond schools. I wasn't sure this conference would last very long because I thought that two or three of these schools would consolidate.

Hammond no longer needs four public high schools. The city isn't as large (an estimated 80,000 residents) as it used to (over 100,000 in the 1960s and 70s) be. Consolidation is inevitable. But considering just high school sports in the immediate future, the move of EC to the GLC could (and should) be followed by Gary West Side and Gary Roosevelt, the two remaining true public schools in Gary, creating a 'city' conference that has been talked about for many years.

Like teams in like neighborhoods, many of whom already face each other in the sports they offer, East Chicago and Morton would be the cornerstones of such a league.

The 'Distant' Replay...


Lowell rolls to regional title

Team 1 2 3 4 F
LOWELL (12-1) 7 14 21 0 42
Hammond Morton (11-2) 0 0 0 0 0

Friday, November 13, 2009,  52 degrees, Class 4A, Regional Championship in HAMMOND, IN

1st Qtr LOWELL (7-0) Jordan Juarez, 20-yard interception return.  Boge Pejoski kick.
2nd Qtr
LOWELL (14-0) Brandon Grubbe, 3-yard run. 51-yard drive, 12 plays.  Boge Pejoski kick.  6:25 left.
LOWELL (21-0) Brandon Grubbe, 4-yard run.  50-yard drive, 6 plays.  Boge Pejoski kick.  4:05 left.
3rd QtrLOWELL (28-0) LOWELL (28-0) Jordan Juarez, 45-yard interception return.  Boge Pejoski kick.  10:47 left.
LOWELL (35-0) Brandon Grubbe, 5-yard run.  33-yard drive, 5 plays.  Boge Pejoski kick.
LOWELL (42-0) Brandon Grubbe, 1 -yard run.  __-yard drive, 7 plays after fumbled punt.  Boge Pejoski kick.  0:03 left
4th Qtr No scoring.

LOWELL (49-263 yards, 4 TDs)
Brandon Grubbe (HB) 31 carries, 172 yards, 4 TDs; Ray Skamay (QB) 2-23 yards; Cole Midgett (WR) 3-16 yards; Nate Cleveland (FB) 3-10 yards;
Jordan Juarez (TB) 1-5 yards; Zach Wolfe (HB) 4-14 yards; Nick Tokarz (FB) 1-3 yards; Nick Hamilton (HB) 4-20 yards.

MORTON (24-38 yards)
Kalyn Aaron (HB) 10-36 yards; Chris McCormack (QB) 10 (-2 yards) 4 sacks, Andrew Glidewell (QB) 2 (-4 yards) one sack; Cody Moczynski (HB) 2-8 yards.

MORTON (2-of-10, 17 yards, 3 interceptions) Chris McCormack (QB) 1 of 2, 11 yards; Andrew Glidewell (QB) 1 of 7, 17 yards 3 interceptions; Kalyn Aaron (HB) 0-for-1.

LOWELL (3-of-12, 42 yards) Ray Skamay (QB) 3-1,2 42 yards.

LOWELL: Cole Midgett (WR) 1-13 yards; Nate Cleveland (FB) 1-22 yards; Jordan Juarez (FB) 1-5 yards.

MORTON: Jerry Watson (WR) 1-11 yards; Cody Moczynski (WR) 1-17 yards.

LOWELL: 305 yards, 15 first downs, no turnovers;

MORTON: 55 total yards, 3 1st downs, 4 turnovers (3 interceptions).


HAMMOND: The outcome wasn't a surprise but the score was. This was one of Morton's better teams and one of the school's biggest games. This was a Lowell program that had reached the state championship game in 2007 and 2005 so over 5,000 fans were on 169th Street in Hammond to watch Morton play in the regional title game for the first time since the IHSAA began state tournament play in 1973.

Lowell had defeated Morton 35-26 earlier in 2009, but this game was not close after Brandon Grubbe ran for two second quarter TDs. Jordan Juarez, who would be an all-state selection, ran two interceptions back for touchdowns. Grubbe would run for two third quarter TDs. The score was 42-0 after three quarters.

Morton would come back to win the regional in 2010, winning at Concord before losing the semistate at home to Bishop Dwenger. The Governors were 11-2 in 2011, but that was the last sectional title year for Morton to this day. 2009 was the final year of Lowell's decade-long run of excellence. They lost the state championship game 23-9 to Evansville Reitz two weeks later. It would be five years before the Devils would rise back up to the 'penthouse', winning sectional titles in 2014 and 2015.

Jordan Juarez went on to play at St. Xavier. Brandon Grubbe, who would gain a school-record 2,417 yards on 404 carries in 2009, played on defense at Indiana University and at Butler. Nate Cleveland, who had three quarterback sacks in the Morton game, won a state wrestling championship in the winter of 2010 as a wrestler.

MORTON Update:

- High school teams don't have injury reports, but I've seen in more than one place that Morton senior QB Tevin Armstrong was injured in last week's 40-0 loss to East Chicago. Armstriong completed 6-of-14 passes for 38 yards and ran six times for 28 yards, but he left in the second quarter and did not return. The Governors probably didn't lose because Armstrong was injured. They trailed 19-0 at the half.

But they didn't come from behind almost certainly because Armstrong was out. Morton is in a tough spot because, even with new coach Greg Kinsey (a former assistant at Merrillville) they use three and four wide receivers on every play. Morton's offense and Merrillville's offense have been very similar for the last few years. It does not look like the new coaches changed the offense. It depends on the QB making plays. Without Armstrong, the Governors needs to control the ball and shorten the game which is the opposite of how they've played for years. But I don't know who the backup quarterback is and it might be a mistake to assume they have no one.

QB - Tevin Armstrong (5-9, 170) Senior:
I don't know that Tevin Armstrong is not playing this week. That's just what I've heard. It matters. For the season, Armstrong has carried 58 times for 379 yards and five touchdowns, while completing 59 of 115 passes for 548 yards and three touchdowns. Last year, Armstong 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. I don't know who the backup Governor QB is and teams can always switch players from other positions to QB. Morton may go with a direct-snap, no quarterback attack like Crown Point did against the Devils. But again, you can never assume a starting player isn't playing until you see him in street clothes on the sidelines.

WR - Trashan Clemons (5-9, 155) Senior:
Clemens, a slot receiver in Morton's four wide receiver offense, grabbed a 73-yard TD pass against Kankakee Valley and caught eight passes against Highland. He started last season as the Governors averaged 30 points a game. Trashan is a game-breaking player, a small body big time pass catcher and kick returner. I'm not sure exactly what they will do to get Clemens the ball if Armstrong doesn't play, but Morton will get him the ball somehow, even if they have to line him up in the backfield and hand it to him. Two weeks ago, they did and Trashan carried 10 times for 56 yards. Watch out for Number '3'.

RB-WR - Eric Lowe (5-8, 168) Senior:
Eric Lowe has carried 55 times for 299 yards and six TDs this season. Like Trashan Clemens is a wide receiver who can line up in the backfield, Lowe is the starting Morton halfback who occasionally lines up as a wide receiver. It looks like he missed the Munster game two weeks ago, but came back last week with 17 carries for 57 yards in the loss to East Chicago. If Tevin Armstrong is not playing, Lowe will get his share of handoffs.

LOWELL Update:

The Devils need a fast start and strong finish this week on the road to get back to winning games. Last week, a 6-0 lead evaporated on Nick Ray's 85-yard run in the final two minutes of the first half or the Devils would have led at the half. But the truth is, Hobart outplayed Lowell in the first quarter, holding the ball for nine minutes. Look at the defensive front and whether they can make plays on third down to get the offense on the field.

Lowell is only allowing 14 points a game defensively and they did make a couple of big plays on offense last week. The Devils are averaging 5.4 yards per carry on offense. They just need to stay in reasonable third down situations and converting.

Junior Jordan Jusevitch, the Devils' leading tackler the last two years, has missed two games with a shoulder injury. I think he will be back, but I doubt it will be this week. This night should see the first rush of playoff weather. Cold, windy and wet. Let's see if Lowell can play the conservative 90% run and short pass game they traditionally make work on a night when little else may work.

LB-QB - Ethan Igras (5-8, 163) Junior:
Igras was credited with 13 tackles in the 18-12 loss to Hobart last week, including a quarterback sack. For the season, Igras has been in on 39 tackles and has two sacks among seven tackles for losses. Ethan also played part time at quarterback with 2-of-3 passes for 38 yards, including a 24-yard TD to Mitch Wildman. Lowell is used to boys playing on both sides of the ball, but it's difficult to be a linebacker-quarterback. Still, Igras was fairly successful last week at both.

FB-LB - Austin Giordano (5-10, 197) Senior:
Giordano was in on a career-high 15 tackles last week against Hobart as the Devils battled to stop Hobart star Nick Ray. Austin also picked up 42 yards on three carries including a 33-yard run from the fullback position. For the year Giordano leads the Devils with 56 tackles, including two QB sacks while running the ball 15 times for 85 yards. A three-year varsity player, Giordano is and will be in the middle of a lot of things for Lowell.

Punter - Zack Buss (6-0, 156) Junior:
Even though Lowell lost, Zack Buss helped the Devils stay in the game with four punts for a 40.5 yard average. Buss had a long punt of 51 yards and his booting forced Hobart to go the length of the field time and time again with the result that the Brickies only scored two touchdowns. For the year Buss has punted 25 times for a 32.4 yard average. Lowell's ball control offense requires the punter to give them 30-40 yards a boot, especially on the road, and lately that's what Zack Buss has been giving them.

LOWELL (2-4) at MORTON (3-3)

at Maurey Zlotnick Stadium: capacity 4,000


The 42-13 loss to East Chicago is probably the reason for this big spread. Lowell defeated Highland 41-14. The computer does not know about injuries to Morton's Tevin Armstrong or Lowell's Jordan Jusevitch. It just deals with results and Morton lost 40-0 last week. Lowell also has faced two Class 6A schools while Morton has played no school larger than Class 4A.



HAMMOND (09-30-2016) Obviously, this game swings on whether Morton's 3-year starter at QB, Tevin Armstrong plays, which makes any game projections difficult. But with the weather very questionable, this should be a Red Devil night. The Devils keep the ball on the ground for first half TDs by Austin Giordano and Trevor Espravnik. Expect a couple of fumbles on both sides if any of the predicted rain is in the air.


Morton will try some reverses and halfback passes. They have nothing to lose, especially if Armstrong does not play. Trashan Clemens will get into the clear one time for a second half TD. But Jaeger Gill gets loose for a late TD run and the defense wraps it up in the rain. This is a night when you can't prove a lot in a late season nonconference game.


But the Devils badly need a win. You just want to play hard, get the win and get back on the bus. A business trip.


LOWELL 21, Morton 7


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Revised: September 29, 2016 .