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FOOTBALL: Three & Out – DAC

Regionsports.com’s Three & Out” will take a look at each team in a football conference and identify three things to look for as the 2011 season approaches and reflections of the 2010 season. This week we focus on the  Duneland Athletic Conference.


Chesterton


1st Down:
What kind of look will the Chesterton Trojans offense feature in 2011? Coach John Snyder has played to the strengths of his quarterbacks in recent years, with a pass happy offense when Alex Beierwalter was under center and an option based ground attack with Jon Watson the past few seasons. The Trojans have been able to adapt relatively well with a variety of schemes and opposing defensive coordinators might be scratching their heads wondering what they are going to see from Chesterton this season.


2nd Down:
We may not know exactly what the Trojan offense is going to look like, but we know that if they get the ball within their opponent’s territory that they have a chance to put points on the board thanks to the leg of kicker Kyle Schmidt. One of the top kickers in his recruiting class, Schmidt will be a big weapon in all facets of special teams from Chesterton. Not only will he be relied upon to kick some long field goals, but his kickoffs and punts can help the Trojan defense out in a major way by pinning opponents back.


3rd Down:
Is this the year that the Trojans finally break through in the post-season? With no sectional championships to speak of and a 14-26 playoff record, Chesterton can never seem to carry the momentum of a positive regular season in to the tournament. Sectional #1 isn’t the easiest place to make a living, but if the Trojans want to be considered up there with the top teams in the Region, they are going to have to bring home some hardware one of these days.


Crown Point


1st Down:
The 2010 season featured a resurgence of sorts for the Bulldogs. Winning a combined six games in the 2008 & 2009 seasons, Crown Point eclipsed that mark in the regular season alone on their way to a sectional championship appearance. So are the ‘Dogs back for good? Is this the beginning of another stretch like we saw between 2005 and 2007 where they went 31-5? It’s too early to say that they are going to be that good, but I think the 3-7 seasons are behind them.


2nd Down:
One of the reasons for optimism in “Crown Town” is the return of starting quarterback Joe Hopman who will be setting up under center for the third straight season. Hopman’s development from 2009 to 2010 was a big reason for the increase in wins for the ‘Dogs and if they are looking to take the next step, he’ll have to play even larger as a senior.


3rd Down:
Crown Point is going to have to learn how to win close games. Four of their 12 contests were decided by 10 points or less and the ‘Dogs ended up losing three out of those four. Playing in the DAC and in Sectional #1 there are going to be a lot of tight contests, and if CP can’t pull out a majority of them, maybe we won’t be seeing that resurgence.


LaPorte


1st Down:
The Slicers finished the 2010 campaign with a 4-6 record. Not good, but not terrible. But, take a look at who they played and most importantly who they beat. With wins over New Prairie, Elkhart Central, Lake Central & Michigan City, the Slicers didn’t beat a team that finished at or above the .500 mark. In fact, the combined record of the opponents they beat was 7-34. There’s a lot to be said about beating the teams you are supposed to, but you also have to beat some of the other teams on the schedule too…


2nd Down:
…and that is one thing that the Slicers didn’t do. With six games against teams that finished at or above the .500 mark, LaPorte did not fare too well, finishing 0-6. And only one of those was within single digits – an overtime loss to Merrillville. The Slicers are going to have to learn to hang with some of the contenders in the DAC race, or else another four win season is on the horizon.


3rd Down:
With realignment, LaPorte is Northwest Indiana’s sole representative in Sectional #2, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing for the Slicers. Outside of the Penn Kingsmen, the rest of the sectional teams just scream “average”. With no other powerhouses around, it’s not inconceivable to think that LaPorte can make a sectional championship appearance…depending on the brackets.

Lake Central


1st Down:
We’ve heard it year after year after year, will this year finally going to be the year that Lake Central fulfills their potential? Just based off of student body numbers alone, the Indians should be one of the top teams in the Region, if not the northern part of the state, but to say that hasn’t come to fruition is a vast understatement. So, without sounding like a Cubs fan, that still leaves the question – is this the year? That’s not going to be decided in this column, or any other pre-season preview, we’ll just have to wait until August.


2nd Down:
If this is going to be the year that the Indians take a step forward, they seemingly have the right head coach in place. Few expected Brett St. Germain’s first year in charge to have an immediate turnaround, but in 2011 we should start to see his impact on the program. With St. Germain at the helm, the Indian offense averaged 18 points a game last year, not a great number by any stretch of the imagination, but it was their highest point per game average since the 2006 season. Whether that says more about the direction that this team is headed in or about the futility of the past teams has yet to be determined.


3rd Down:
A thread on our messageboard was created a week back about LC’s scrimmage against Warren Central and how successful the Indians were, which prompted the “do scrimmages even matter” discussion. While I, along with many of the posters think that they really don’t, isn’t any piece of good news regarding LC football, no matter how small or how much in might not matter in the long run, something positive that St. Germain can build on?


Merrillville


1st Down:
Winners of five out of the previous sectional titles, the Merrillville Pirates couldn’t capture title #6 in 2010 as they fell to Valpo in the semi-finals. In fact, the Vikings were a major thorn in Merrillville’s side all season long as two out of the three Pirate losses came to the hands of “Gang Green”. We know that Valpo has a lot returning this season and will be at or near the top of the DAC rankings and one of the favorites to win the sectional title, but if the Pirates want to be in that discussion as well, they are going to have to perform better against the Vikes.


2nd Down:
Which of course is easier said than done considering that Merrillville is losing some key contributors from last year’s team, especially at skill positions. Running back Denzel Pierce, one of the Region’s best backs the past three seasons, has graduated and his big-play ability is sure to be missed by the Pirate offense. Merrillville probably has a few other players waiting in the wings to get their chance to be the big threat out of the Pirate backfield, but Pierce was a special player and will not be easy to replace. The same can be said for Zach Raspopovich, who takes with him two years of starting experience. Raspopovich wasn’t the best quarterback in the Region, but he ran Merrillville’s system well and his experience helped the team late in games.


3rd Down:
Don’t get me wrong, the Pirates roster still has loads of talent and is as deep as any team’s in the Region, so there will be no shortage of playmakers on both sides of the ball for Merrillville. They may not be the household names that we’ve seen wearing the purple and black in recent years, but don’t be surprised if they are by the time the 2011 season is all said and done.


Michigan City


1st Down:
It was only a short two years ago that hope and optimism reigned supreme in Michigan City when Craig Buzea was in charge and the team was on their way to their best season in years. But at the end of the season, a nasty flu virus circulated around the team – key contributors missed games at the end of the season and another first round exit marred what could have been for the Wolves. Plus, to make things worse, Buzea left for Illinois and the glimmer of hope was dimmed.


2nd Down:
Following one forgettable year with Eric Schreiber as head coach of the program that saw the Wolves win their opener against Roosevelt and nothing else over the course of the season, Michigan City looks to rebound with new coach Michael Karpinski. A City native, Karpinski is looking to instill some home town pride in his team. He’s got a lot of work to do and history is not on his side. Since consolidation, the Wolves haven’t won a sectional title and have only made on title game appearance and that came in their first year – 1995.


3rd Down:
Sectional realignment was not kind for the Wolves as they left the relative mediocrity of Sectional #2 for the meat-grinder that is Sectional #1. While familiarity may help Michigan City as many of the teams they could potentially see in the post-season are also conference foes, there is no doubt that the Wolves are going to need a good draw if they want to even think about advancing.


Portage


1st Down:
The Indians finished at 5-5 last season, but I don’t think anyone would put up too much of a fight if you listed them as one of the more disappointing teams in 2010. With Zach Huston and Jake Dixon in the backfield, the Portage offense was supposed to be one of the most lethal attacks in the Region, but they never found consistency on the year with offensive outbursts one week followed by single digit efforts the next.


2nd Down:
In his second year, Portage head coach Jeromy Flowers is going to have to find that consistency his team lacked last year if he wants to compete in the DAC. It’s not going to be easy, especially with the departure of Dixon and Houston, but having his system around for another season will only help the returning players as they look to find a rhythm.


3rd Down:
Portage might still have a bad taste in their mouths with the way the 2010 season end. Looking like they were going to advance to the second round of the post-season for a date with Munster and a potential trip to the championship game, the Indians lost on a last second play to the Crown Point Bulldogs and made an early exit. This is one of those moments that Coach Flowers has to teach his team not to forget, but not to dwell on as well. If they focus too much on how that game and their season ended, 2011 won’t be able to get started on a positive not, but by using it to fuel the fire, he could have a determined tribe on his hands.

Valparaiso


1st Down:
Not too many people had Valpo on their radar as the best team in Northwest Indiana going in to the 2010 season (checked in at #7 in the RSN Poll, 15th in the Coaches Poll to start the season), but the Vikings aren’t going to have the luxury of flying under the radar this year. This team is stacked and everyone knows it. They are going to be playing with a target on their backs all season long. Whether that motivates them or puts too much pressure on them is something we’ll find out.


2nd Down:
It all starts in the backfield for the Vikes with Andrew Kittridge and Bryon Duncan both return. Kittridge eclipsed the 1,000 yard mark in 2010 and Duncan was just below it. Combine that powerful running attack with the return of quarterback Paul Andrie who really developed as the season went on last year, and the Viking skill position players are going to be able to put up plenty of points this season.


3rd Down:
It’s been nine years since the Region has had a 5A team make it all the way to state, and the last team to make it is the team with the best shot this year – Valpo. While winning the DAC, a sectional title and a regional title for the second consecutive year would be a big accomplishment for the Vikes, the expectations are a trip to Indy. Can they be the team to finally get the Region over the semi-state hump that has bogged us down since 2002? They have a tough road ahead, but they might be as well prepared for that journey as any 5A team we’ve seen in awhile.

Three & Out will return next week as we profile the teams of the GSSC.

Send your questions or comments about “Three & Out” to nathan.laird@regionsports.com

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