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Gridiron Digest Indiana Football Report - Week 4

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Whiteland moves up to top spot
By Andrew Smith

For several years, the Whiteland Warriors have quietly been one of the top teams in the Mid-State Conference and in South Central Indiana. 

But now, the Warriors have a new designation - No. 1. 

After beating then-No. 5 Decatur Central 28-7 last week to improve to 3-0 on the season, the Warriors were elevated to the top spot in both Class 5A polls. 

This week, the Warriors face another fifth-ranked team in 3-0 Franklin in the Golden Work Boot rivalry game. 

“We look at it as a sign of respect for our entire program and football family members past and present,” Whiteland coach Darrin Fisher said of the No. 1 ranking. “It is a source of pride knowing that others believe as we do that the Whiteland Warriors are capable of beating anyone, anytime, anywhere. This recognition, however, was given to us by someone else. Now we must go out to work each day and earn the right to call ourselves No. 1 down the road.” 

Whiteland went 6-4 last season and was the sectional runner-up to New Palestine, but has a 31-member senior class that has led the way. 

“We refer to them as the ‘Dirty Thirty,’” Fisher said. “One advantage to an experienced team is that they know the level of physicality to expect to win tough games. They have risen to the challenge thus far in 2022.” 

The Warriors’ run-heavy “fly” offense has averaged 315 yards per game so far this season, led by senior Peyton Emberton, who has 426 yards and four touchdowns on the ground. Fellow senior Jonathan Crowley is averaging eight yards per carry. Defensively, senior Brady Stanifer leads the Warriors’ defense with 25 total tackles. The Warriors are allowing 10 points per game. 

But the Warriors are hosting a Franklin squad that is on the rise. The Grizzly Cubs are 3-0 for the first time since 2019 - when they won eight games and posted the program’s first winning season in 23 years. Under coach Chris Coll - who was a state championship coach at Tri-West before heading to Franklin in 2017 - the Grizzly Cubs risen as a program to the top five in Class 5A. 

“Any success we are having this season is the product of multiple components,” Coll said, citing the example of former players, the coaching staff, booster club and administration, as well as this year’s players. “It takes a great deal of effort and resources to develop a successful high school football program. It's never just one person or one group, and I think that is what we are starting to see here in Franklin.” 

The Grizzly Cubs are getting a lot of production from a multifaceted ground game led by junior quarterback Clay Pinnick, who has run for 143 yards and thrown for 345 so far. 

Senior Max Clark has 111 receiving yards and two touchdowns. In addition to being a standout on the gridiron, he also is the nation’s top baseball prospect in the senior class. 

“Max is an elite athlete. His physical abilities allow him to do some things on the football field that are not typical. Max has also been extremely dedicated to taking care of himself when it comes to the weight room, nutrition and overall care for his body. We know he is going to spend the majority of his time with baseball, but when he does get to us, he is going to be in great physical shape and ready to contribute. I think the most important example Max sets for all of our athletes, and not just football athletes, is the dedication and hard work he commits to being an elite athlete,” Coll said. “And Max loves football. Obviously he knows baseball is going to take him to the highest levels, but he is passionate about football and he loves playing with the teammates he grew up with here in Franklin.” 

This week’s matchup is an important one for positioning in the always-tough Mid-State Conference - Whiteland opened league play with a win over Decatur Central last week, while Franklin beat Perry Meridian 42-0. 

“I think it is an important match-up for us primarily because they are the best overall team we have faced to this point in the season,” Coll said. “We are still a program trying to prove we can compete in the Mid-State Conference and in the 5A playoffs. That's the biggest aspect for us as a team/program this week. The rivalry is special and the implications for the conference race are important. But this is only week 4. We have five more conference games after this one, and they are all important and big games for us.” 

“The challenge of coaching is to have your team improve Mentally, Emotionally and Physically throughout the season,” Fisher added. “Fight for three more feet of ground than you had the week before.  Good opponents magnify the need for this to happen.  We see the Franklin Game as an opportunity to take another step toward Earning what we want and needing to play our very best to do it.” 

Mudsock rivalry features neighbors, friends

In southeastern Hamilton County, a unique rivalry has developed as Fishers and Hamilton Southeastern meet in the Mudsock rivalry game - Mudsock being one of the city of Fishers’ early names. 

The rivalry began when Fishers was created in 2006, dividing the rapidly-growing southeastern Hamilton County community into one with two high schools. 

Not only do the two schools share a community and school district, they also share a youth league and feeder program - the district’s three junior high schools feed into the two high schools - so players grow up knowing and playing alongside each other. 

The programs have a lot of mutual respect for each other. 

“It's a game like none other,” HSE coach Michael Kelly said. “The environment, enthusiasm and excitement make the game fun. Most of our players and the Fishers players played youth league and junior high football together.They know each other well. The parents have been on the sidelines supporting one another over the course of that time. It's neat to see how players and our community support one another all year long with the exception of this one game.  “What makes the game unique is how well they know their opponent. Most of the time the unknown creates question marks.  They know our players well and our players know them well, so there are no questions. It's more about which team will execute their game plan the best.”

HSE, currently ranked No. 6 in Class 6A, has won the Mudsock game 12 times in 17 meetings, including a 42-13 victory in last season’s meeting. 

Offensively, Donavan Hamilton has 220 receiving yards and four touchdowns receiving and junior Jalen Alexander has 297 rushing yards. But the defense has also shone, allowing 11.3 ppg in three games. 

“We have leaned heavily on our defense to start the season,” Kelly said, noting his team has eight returning starters on that side of the ball, with the line of Evan Sherrill, Dominic Burgett and Jack Seyferth leading the way by getting pressure up front. 

Led by coach Curt Funk, Fishers is 3-0 for the second consecutive year. It’s the second straight season the two teams have met with unblemished records. 

The Tigers have been led by their two-pronged rushing attack of junior Khobie Martin - who has 300 yards and three TDs - and senior Carson Dunn, who has scored five TDs and has 224 yards. 

The contest is not just a backyard rivalry, but also an important one in the Hoosier Crossroads Conference race - a league that features four teams in the top 11 of the IFCA Class 6A poll. 

Crown Point rallies for a signature victory

Last week was a tough one for teams ranked No. 1 in the state, as four teams atop their respective classes’ polls were defeated. 

One of those was 5A No. 1 Merrillville, as Crown Point rallied from a 14-point halftime deficit to beat the Pirates 48-40 in a wild game. The Bulldogs relied on their power running game to outscore Merrillville 27-6 after halftime. 

Quarterback J.J. Johnson ran for 182 yards, while running back Elijah Taiwhan ran for 137 for the Bulldogs. Taiwhan’s two third-quarter touchdowns erased the 34-21 halftime deficit and put the Bulldogs on top. Crown Point added two more scores before allowing a late touchdown. 

“There were two big keys to our success on Friday,” Crown Point coach Craig Buzea said. “After giving up 34 points in the first half, making some schematic adjustments defensively, but even more importantly, understanding the speed of the game in which they played. Once our guys figured that out, we were able to shut them out in the second half other than a Hail Mary pass with a minute to go. 

“Probably more importantly, we stuck to our gameplan on offense. It would have been very easy to abort the plan, falling behind by two touchdowns early in the first quarter, but we felt our only chance to negate their tremendous speed was to play power football and run straight at them with three and four tight end sets while mixing in some play action shots along the way.” 

The Bulldogs rushed for almost 400 yards in the game, which Buzea said “is nearly unheard of against a Merrillville defense.” 

It’s Buzea’s second season in Crown Point after winning more than 200 games at Portage and in Illinois - and a full offseason allowed the coaching staff to put their plan to work after taking over in spring 2021. 

Crown Point is 3-0 and receiving votes in the Class 6A poll, its best start since 2014. After beating Lowell and Andrean the first two weeks, the Bulldogs host neighbor Lake Central this week in a Duneland Athletic Conference contest. 

“It’s going to be a challenge each and every week in the DAC and we must be able to answer the bell every Friday,” Buzea said. “It’s very important that we take care of ourselves. The plan is in place. We need to keep the main thing the main thing and block out the noise.” 

North Decatur putting up zeroes

In Class A, No. 6 North Decatur has been dominant through three games, with a defense that is unscored upon. Last week, the Chargers beat then-No. 4 Monroe Central 43-0, and they have outscored opponents 140-0 through three games. 

They can clinch at least a share of the Mid-Eastern Conference title this week at home against Shenandoah. 

The Chargers have had success in recent seasons, but they are 3-0 for the first time since 2015, which was their first under coach Steve Stirn. After going 6-5 last season, they’ve been impressive on both sides of the ball this season. 

“From day one we have been trying to build a program that could be successful,” Stirn said. “The last few years we have begun to reap the rewards of those early efforts.  The sectional championship is 2019, was the first in 21 years, it sorta raised the bar for expectations.  Success has allowed to push our kids and to be even more demanding.  They have answered the call.  This year is the culmination of a lot of hard work by many people.” 

Defensively, the Chargers’ depth has led to their success, as they rotate 20 players on that side of the ball, led by seniors Carson Parmer and Jake Kinker up front, as well as the brother tandem of James and Josh Evans at linebacker, Reid Messer at safety and Evan Howell at cornerback leading the way. Howell is the leading tackler with 17 stops. “The sum is only as good as its parts,” Stirn said. “This collection of young men love to play defense and take a tremendous pride in it.” 

Offensively, Parmer is completing 71 percent of his passes for 558 yards. Messer has 272 rush yards, 173 receiving yards and seven total TDs. James Evans is averaging 9.6 yards per carry and has four scores. 

Warsaw led by its D

Another program putting up impressive numbers early in the season is Warsaw. Coach Bart Curtis’ squad is 3-0 for the first time in 21 years. They’re led by a defense that has allowed 14 points in three games - beating Michigan City 35-7 and Chesterton 24-7 in the opening two weeks before a 70-0 shutout of Plymouth in Week 3. 

The defense has led the Tigers so far, with nine returning starters. DL Russ Winchester, LBs Nick Katris and Jonn Burritt and DBs Trey Koontz and Theo Katris are all three-year starters. DL Isaac Beam, LB Jette Woodward and CB Colt VanHouten are all two-year starters. 

Beam and Katris both had defensive scores last week against Plymouth, and the Warsaw defense has scored more touchdowns than it has allowed this season. 

“Several two and three-year starters have returned on defense and have played inspired defensive football for most of their snaps,” Curtis said. “We lost our starting quarterback early in our opener, so our defense will continue to play hard and well as we bring along our new quarterback. We have also improved each week on the offensive line while trying to find an offensive identity.” 

For decades, Curtis’ teams identity has been the option offense. Grady Nolin has taken the helm  and rushed for 99 yards and a touchdown and threw for 58 yards last week against Plymouth. Running backs German Flores and Bryson Brown are two of the three returning starters. 

The Tigers travel to Concord this week in a Northern Lakes Conference matchup. Warsaw hasn’t won at Concord since 2009. 

“Concord’s is extremely well-coached,” Curtis said. “Craig Koehler and his staff have had us dialed in for years. Their current record is extremely deceiving, with losses to undefeated Elkhart and NorthWood.”  

Rough week for No. 1s 

In addition to Merrillville, three other No. 1s fell last week. 6A Center Grove dropped a 29-28 2OT game at Louisville Trinity - a Kentucky powerhouse that defeated Carmel in Week 1. Brownsburg took over the top spot in the 6A poll. In Class 3A, Indianapolis Chatard lost on a last-second field goal to 4A No. 2 Roncalli by a 20-17 score. While the Trojans remained No. 1 in the IFCA poll heading into this week’s game at 6A No. 3 Cathedral, West Lafayette moved up to No. 1 in the AP poll. In 2A, Evansville Mater Dei fell 31-28 to Vincennes Lincoln, allowing Linton to move to the top spot. New Palestine (Class 4A) and Indianapolis Lutheran (Class A) remain in the top spot of their respective classes. 

Brownsburg plays its first game at No. 1 at home against rival Avon. New Palestine travels to its arch-rival, Mt. Vernon, ranked No. 9 in Class 4A. West Lafayette hosts 2A No. 6 Lafayette Central Catholic. Linton hosts Sullivan, while Lutheran meets Lapel. 

Other key games this week

  • 6A No. 2 Center Grove at 6A No. 4 Ben Davis
  • 6A No. 3 Indianapolis Cathedral at 3A No. 1 Indianapolis Chatard
  • 5A No. 7 Fort Wayne Dwenger at Homestead 
  • 5A No. 8 Decatur Central at 4A No. 10 Martinsville
  • 4A No. 2 Roncalli at Columbus North
  • 4A No. 7 Brebeuf at 3A No. 5 Guerin Catholic
  • 3A No. 2 West Lafayette at 2A No. 6 Lafayette Central Catnolic
  • 4A No. 7 New Prairie at 3A No. 10 Mishawaka Marian
  • South Warren (Ky.) at 3A No. 3 Gibson Southern
  • Western Boone at 3A No. 6 Tri-West
  • River Forest at 3A No. 8 Hanover Central
  • Sullivan at 2A No. 1 Linton
  • 2A No. 10 Triton Central at Monrovia
  • Lapel at 1A No. 1 Lutheran
  • Jay County at 1A No. 2 Adams Central
  • 1A No. 3 South Adams at Heritage
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While not a game of two ranked teams, #9 5A Harrison and 5A McCutcheon play a rivalry game in the Battle for the Sword.

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On 9/7/2022 at 5:38 PM, crimsonace1 said:

The Tigers travel to Concord this week in a Northern Lakes Conference matchup. Warsaw hasn’t beaten Concord since 2009. 

Not completely accurate here. Warsaw has not beaten Concord AT Concord since 2009. The Tigers have had many wins over the Minutemen at home since that time however.

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53 minutes ago, NLCTigerFan07 said:

Not completely accurate here. Warsaw has not beaten Concord AT Concord since 2009. The Tigers have had many wins over the Minutemen at home since that time however.

I'll blame that one on my misreading of the info Coach Curtis gave me. Thanks for the correction. 

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