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  1. Welcome to The Gridiron Digest Indiana Football Report. This weekly feature will run throughout the season and highlight big games and big storylines throughout Indiana. This brings us back to the roots Tim Adams began this site with, as a place to bring together and presenting news from around the state. "Battle of Broadway" a matchup of No. 1 vs. No. 1 By Andrew Smith The Gridiron Digest One and a half miles of Broadway is all that physically separates Merrillville and Andrean High Schools. But when the two meet up in the aptly-named “Battle of Broadway” matchup Friday night at Merrillville’s Demaree Stadium, the matchup won’t just pit neighbors against each other. It will also pit No. 1 vs. No. 1. Merrillville begins the year as the No. 1 team in Class 5A after winning three straight regional titles in Class 6A, while Andrean begins atop the 2A poll as the defending state champion. “There will be a lot of excitement for the ‘Battle of Broadway’ as expectations are high for both programs. It's always a fun physical game where both teams play hard,” Merrillville coach Brad Seiss said. “We both have a lot of respect for each other's football teams.” Andrean ran the table in Class 2A last season, ending with a 21-9 victory over Evansville Mater Dei in the State Finals. But the 59ers have quickly turned the page. “We haven't talked about last year much except maybe in the context of prepping the body for the grind of a season,” Andrean coach Chris Skinner said. “The seniors are motivated to leave their own unique mark on the program. Everyone is stepping into at least a slightly different role compared to last season. It's a new team with a new leadership group.” Merrillville moved to 5A during the summer’s reclassification due to the school’s enrollment. The Pirates have had recent success, going 33-5 over the last three seasons and advancing to the semistate each year, but falling one step short of Lucas Oil Stadium. “Everyone wants to talk about us going into 5A because of the success that we've had over the last few years in 6A,” Merrillville coach Brad Seiss said. “We aren't really concerned about that until we get to the tournament. We've got the same 2 non-conference games in Andrean and Hobart then we get into DAC play. Getting better weeks 1-9 is the most important thing we can do as we prepare for the tournament in October.” Meanwhile, the entirety of Andrean’s schedule consists of teams in the top three classes. Merrillville is a premier opponent to begin the year. “I love competition. It doesn't matter if it's competition within our program or against competitive opponents,” Skinner said. “I believe in the ‘iron sharpens iron’ mantra. There are certainly challenges in playing a schedule like ours in which every opponent is at least two classes higher than us, but our players accept those challenges. We will certainly be exposed in certain areas by playing that level of competition, but it allows us to make adjustments that end up in growth down the road. I have a lot of respect for Merrillville specifically. Coach Seiss has been able to reload year after year. It's a fantastic Week 1 game that typically draws a good crowd and gets the attention of college coaches and scouts as well.” The scouts will have plenty of top players to see - Merrillville sports two of the top seniors in Indiana in Colorado State commit Justin Marshall - who had 1,088 receiving yards a year ago - and safety Phillip Roche. Andrean features Notre Dame commit Drayk Bowen, who had 965 rushing yards, 105 tackles and three interceptions a year ago. Andrean also has junior QB Scott Ballentine returning after completing 68 percent of his passes for 2,860 yards and junior WR Patrick Clacks, who had 753 yards last year. “Drayk is an amazing talent and certainly one that does a lot for us,” Skinner said. “He rarely comes off the field. He's also a great role model for how to train, how to prep, how to take care of the body.” Opening the year in Indy Another cross-town rivalry will kick off 2022 - but 70 miles down the road at Lucas Oil Stadium. For the first time since 2004, Harrison and West Lafayette - two schools less than five miles apart - will meet on the gridiron. The 6 p.m. kickoff will begin the IHSAA football season at the annual Horseshoe Classic. Beginning the season at Lucas Oil Stadium is always a treat, but both programs have designs on finishing it there, too. “We are excited to start the season in Lucas Oil Stadium,” said West Lafayette coach Shane Fry, whose teams are 94-18 in nine seasons. “This is the first time we have played Harrison since 2004. It is a fierce rivalry in other sports, and most of the players know each other. It is a unique situation with our football fields being two miles apart and us traveling 65 miles to play on the big stage and kickoff the 2022 season. This is a great opportunity for our program, both to play at Lucas Oil and to matchup against Harrison.” Fry’s squad won the 2018 state title and was the 2015 3A runner-up. The Red Devils posted a 9-1 record last season and have won at least seven games in each of the last nine years. Harrison is coming off an 8-2 season. The Raiders won sectional titles in 2018 and 2019, but fell to eventual 5A state runner-up Zionsville in the sectional each of the last two years. The second game will be another marquee matchup, as last year’s 3A runner-up Brebeuf Jesuit faces 3A No. 1 Bishop Chatard in a matchup of top teams from the Circle City Conference. Chatard, which has won 15 state championships, returns to 3A after spending a year in Class 4A due to the Tournament Success Factor. The two squads have been frequent sectional foes, but they will not meet in the tourney this year, as Brebeuf has moved to Class 4A and begins the season ranked No. 5 New coach in Columbus One of the most high-profile coaching changes over the offseason came in Columbus, where Tim Bless retired after 22 years at the helm of the Columbus North Bull Dogs. Logan Haston, a former standout quarterback at Avon and Manchester University, takes over. It’s Haston’s first head coaching position, but he had previously been on staff at Hamilton Southeastern, Fishers and his college alma mater, Manchester. “I am very thankful to be taking over such a well-established program,” Haston said. “Coach Bless has built a strong reputation at Columbus North with tough, hard-working athletes who play the game the right way. I am excited to build upon the tradition & success that has come before me, while also implementing my own cultural identity that meshes with the players & coaching staff.” Haston played for two standout coaches at Avon - Dave Shelbourne and Mark Bless - Tim’s brother - before matriculating to Manchester, where he played for Shannon Griffith. “I'm not sure if I'd be where I am today without my experience at Avon,” Haston said. “Between two years with Dave Shelbourne, to my final two years under Mark Bless, I was mentored by some incredible coaches. I learned what the standard of excellence looks like, and how to compete in a first class manner. I will forever be grateful for my time as an Oriole.” Haston takes over a squad that went 6-4 last season and won its second straight Conference Indiana title. It has a strong non-conference schedule, beginning with a Week 1 matchup at Decatur Central. “I'm very pleased with our growth this summer as a team,” Haston said. “Our players have really bought in to what we're trying to accomplish, particularly the seniors. Their leadership has thoroughly impressed me, and we're going to lean on it during the season. Decatur Central is well-coached and will be a very tough Week 1 opponent, but we're excited for the challenge.” Marauders building off a title Another defending champion is Mt. Vernon (Fortville), where first-year coach Vince Lidy led the Marauders to a 14-1 record and the Class 4A title. It was the Marauders’ first football State Finals appearance after advancing to the regional and semistate the two years prior. MV graduated several key players, but has a pair of building blocks in WR George Burhenn - a Purdue commit - and QB/WR Eli Bridenthal to lead the way. The duo combined for 1,064 receiving yards a year ago. Burhenn and senior linebacker Kellen La Belle are the top returning tacklers, each with 44. La Belle also had eight tackles for loss. “The success of last year is a result of great work and weekly improvement from the players and coaches as we worked through each week,” Lidy said, noting the Marauders’ 37 wins over the last three seasons are third-most in the state behind Center Grove and Cathedral. That has built as the Marauders have more than 110 players in four grades on the roster this fall. “A huge benefit of playing so long in the postseason is the amount of reps and practice our younger players were able to experience as we moved through the tournament. The success was also a great springboard into winter training. Excitement has stayed at an elevated level and this next group of players wants to continue to build on the success of the past three seasons and add to their legacy in the MV football program.” The Marauders open the season at Noblesville, which gave them their lone blemish last season, a 57-36 defeat in Week 1. It will be the first game in the Millers’ new stadium. Lidy said the Millers will bring a challenge with their power running game and large offensive line. “We always aim to play the 'perfect' game each Friday, but the most important thing in Indiana high school football is to find ways to get a little better each week and be playing your best football towards the end of the season. “I feel as though you don't win the state championship based on the result of Week 1. Our program lived through that in 2021. Before we can worry about conference championships, sectional and playoff championships, we have to take care of ourselves and focus on week 1 first.” Other key games 6A No. 5 Warren Central at 6A No. 1 Center Grove 6A No. 4 Brownsburg at 6A No. 7 Ben Davis 6A No. 6 Westfield at 4A No. 2 New Palestine 5A No. 8 Mishawaka at 3A No. 5 Mishawaka Marian 4A No. 6 Evansville Memorial at Jasper 3A No. 3 GIbson Southern at Terre Haute South 6A No. 2 Cathedral at Lafayette Jeff 1A No. 1 Lutheran at Beech Grove 2A No. 2 Evansville Mater Dei at Evansville Central Louisville Trinity at 6A No. 3 Carmel Elkhart at 5A No. 9 Concord 3A No. 6 Lawrenceburg at 4A No. 7 East Central
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