AREA TEAMS GEARING UP FOR SECTIONAL OPENERS
StaceyPageOnline / Sports on Thursday, October 18, 2018
The postseason officially starts Friday, and football teams around the area have built some traction for themselves as they head into sectional play. Warsaw enters 6A play following a two-loss season, NorthWood and Wawasee both host their 4A Sectional 19 openers, and Tippecanoe Valley and Triton enter the 3A and 1A tournament, respectively, after some strong regular-season finishes.
Class 6A Sectional 2
At 7-2, Warsaw’s Tigers have enjoyed their best regular-season finish since 2001 in head coach Bart Curtis’ first year at the helm, even garnering themselves some votes in the AP polls. They’ll be up against perennial powerhouse Penn on the road Friday night, another 7-2 squad that is ranked No. 3 in the 6A polls and enters the 2018 tournament following a run to the state championship game last fall. It’s a tough draw to be sure, but the Tigers are ready to play whoever is in front of them.
“To compete in 6A and win trophies, plates, medals this is the team that has the most of each of these in the northern half of the state. We will never look ahead, and if we had drawn either of the other two schools, we would treat it the same,” explained Curtis. “Gotta win two Friday night games for a trophy presentation.”
Warsaw’s players should be feeling fairly confident coming into the game. After all, the Tigers finished just a four points away from an undefeated regular season and enter Friday’s sectional contest on the heels of a 45-3 pasting of Concord, a game in which the black and orange racked up a school-record 465 rushing yards. Rushing numbers like that could help keep Penn’s offense off the field, but the Tigers will need to execute cleanly to win and they will need to match the Kingsmen’s tempo on the field.
“To beat Penn, you must beat Penn. They will not beat themselves. Defensively, they are fast, solid and sound,” said Curtis. “The game will be played at a pace we have not yet seen.”
The ace up Warsaw’s sleeve is Curtis himself, who spent 10 years helming Northern Indiana Conference program Mishawaka and has gotten to know the Penn program about as well as anyone can.
“This will be the 14th time I have coached against this proud program,” he said. “I believe I have a pretty good idea of what they want to do in all phases of the game. Now doing something about this experience is a different story.”
Chesterton (3-6) will play 10-ranked Valparaiso (7-2) in the other side of the bracket, with the winners scheduled to play in the championship game next week.
Class 4A Sectional 19
It’s always tough to play a team twice in a single season, let alone in back-to-back weeks. That’s exactly the challenge No. 1-rated NorthWood (9-0) is facing when the Black Crunch play host to Plymouth (6-3) this week.
The Panthers had their way in a 56-8 decision at The Rockpile last week, a win that clinched NorthWood the outright Northern Lakes Conference championship. The Panthers are feeling confident but cautious after such a lopsided win.
“Yes, I think (the kids are feeling confident), but this is a level-headed group,” said coach Nate Andrews.
Part of the Panthers’ recipe for success is they’re having fun out on the field. They’re flying around on defense and not afraid to make mistakes, and on the rare occasion things have gone wrong offensively, they’ve kept their composure. This is a team with the firepower to make a deep run in the tournament, but they’re also focused on the task in front of them.
“It’s been a lot of fun. We talk all the time about making this a kids’ game and just playing ball with our buddies,” Andrews said.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the bracket, Wawasee (1-8) will get a rematch with NLC foe Northridge (4-5) at home in Syracuse. The Warriors are coming off their first win of the season, a 13-10 breakthrough opposite Goshen (1-8), and looking to maintain some momentum against the RedHawks. Wawasee is finding some better balance between the run and the pass, which bodes well for the Warriors come Friday.
“Our run game has been slow to improve over the course of the season. But over the last several weeks we feel as if we are being more physical up front, and that has helped open things up that weren’t there at the beginning of the season,” said head coach Mike Eshbach of his team’s recent rushing success. “Both running backs have also done a much better job at reading blocks and being patient.”
The last time the Warriors played Northridge back in Week 3, they lost a 27-6 decision but were competitive through the second half. First string quarterback Julius Graber was injured just two weeks later, and the Raiders lineup has been decimated by other injuries in recent weeks to finish 0-2 over their last two regular-season contests, all positive signs for Wawasee to notch its first tournament win under Eshbach.
“Seven weeks later, we feel as if they have been hit with the injury bug a little with Graber being out for the season and a few other guys that played the first time not playing or playing in a different position. With that being said, we still have to be able to run the ball, get first downs and get off the field on defense,” Eshbach said. “Mistakes have been a real concern for us, and I think that had some mistakes against Memorial that they are telling their guys they need to fix this week. I think the team with the least amount of mistakes will be a key for both teams this Friday.”
East Noble (8-1) plays DeKalb (5-4) in the other semifinal bracket opposite NorthWood-Plymouth, while No. 5 Angola (9-0) plays Culver Academies (6-2) in the bottom half of the bracket with the winner slated to play the Wawasee-Northridge winner next Friday night. It’s a loaded field, and whoever emerges will have been battle-tested by regional time.
“Sectional 19 is loaded, no doubt. In fact, I feel that 4A and especially 4A north are very underrated,” Andrews said.
“Sectional 19 is one of the top sectionals in the state with a surplus of teams that have had postseason success,” said Eshbach. “I do think it makes a difference to have some familiarity with teams that we have played before, but in some cases I think it is also good to play some different teams too. I think we are pretty familiar with everyone in the sectional other than Culver Academy.”
Class 3A Sectional 27
Tippecanoe Valley (5-4) enters the postseason having already played in championship atmospheres each of the past two weeks. First, the Vikings topped Wabash 35-27 to win the Three Rivers Conference North Division and earn a berth opposite Southwood in the TRC title game, which they only lost by a narrow 21-20 margin. While the ball didn’t bounce their way last week, playing in those two games should help prepare the team for the one-and-done stakes of the tournament.
“I feel like that our team is starting to come together. The team has heart and fight in them,” said head coach Steve Moriarty. “They will be ready for the sectional. I think that the last couple of week in bigger game has prepared us for the sectional. But it’s still one game at a time.”
After a winless regular season, Peru (0-9) will test Valley’s focus this week. Should the Vikings take care of business and advance through the Tigers, they’ll play the winner of a semifinal between John Glenn (1-8) and Maconaquah (7-2). In the bottom championship bracket, Knox (6-3) travels to Jimtown (5-4), while Mishawaka Marian (5-4) plays Fairfield (0-8) with the winners advancing to play next week.
“Peru is a dangerous team to play in the first round — they have nothing to lose. They have two backs that could break it at any time,” said Moriarty.
“We have a very difficult sectional, and there are many good teams in it. I think we had as good as draw as we could hope for, but we have to get by a dangerous Peru team first.”
Class A Sectional 41
Triton (6-3) seems to be back at full strength and really clicking as it enters the tournament at Hoosier North Athletic Conference rival Culver Community (2-7) this week. The Trojans closed out the regular season with three straight wins, including a big, 14-12 victory over Knox in Week 8 and will be looking to back up an earlier, 35-21 win over Culver all the way back in Week 5.
“I feel that Culver and Triton are polar opposites, and that Culver’s offense gives them an advantage the later they play into the year,” said Triton coach Ron Brown. “It’s always a difficult place to play at when we travel to the pond. I absolutely hate playing teams twice in a year, but we will game plan and execute to the best of our ability the rest of the week and see what happens on Friday.”
Two more HNAC teams will play in the bottom half of the Trojans’ Sectional 41 bracket as Winamac (4-5) travels to Caston (0-9) Friday. North Judson (4-5) plays defending-champion LaVille (6-3), while South Central (2-7) takes on West Central (4-5) with those winners slated to meet next week. Last year, the Trojans finished just three points away from the program’s first sectional championship since 2008. But if the senior-heavy squad feels like they have some unfinished business, they’re playing more for the memory of Cameron Scarberry, who the team lost to a car accident last season, and they’re not looking ahead to any possible championship match-ups.
“We do have a lot of our guys returning to this tournament, but our larger goals are more about an individual person and fulfilling what we want to accomplish for him,” explained Brown. “We are not looking past any teams. Right now it’s not about a sectional championship — it’s about advancing one more week to extend this team’s season.”