You can cancel the funeral in Whiting. As sad as any graduation has been to the little city by the lake, the Oilers are still alive. Make no mistake, Matt Kobli was a stud, a superstar, a talent that a lot of places never see (and Whiting doesn’t see often). But I have to admit I smiled a little when I was scouting out the Highland 7-on-7 passing camp this past summer. Some people were saying Whiting was going to be down, or the Oilers would struggle without all-everything Matt Kobli behind center. This was also the first time I saw Will Dumezich throwing the ball, and throwing it pretty well. As tough as it is to lose your franchise QB, Whiting is still alive and well.
One of the smallest schools in the area – and only one of two Class A teams in the LAC Blue – Whiting is still the class of the conference. You don’t win 18 straight conference games with luck. Coach Jeff Cain and company have established one of the best programs in Northwest Indiana, regardless of school size. At Whiting, you learn how to play numerous positions, and do whatever needs to be done for the team, because platooning isn’t in the game plan.
“Jeff has done a great job of instilling a wonderful program there,” said Noll coach Mark Peterson, whose Warriors became victim No. 18 Friday night in a 32-0 loss at Gallivan Stadium.
Besides Lake Station, Whiting is playing bigger schools every week. Calumet (3A), Gavit (3A), Clark (3A) and Kankakee Valley (4A) are teams the Oilers have beaten on a regular basis. I’m not going to hand over the LAC Blue trophy just yet, but Whiting hasn’t dropped a league game since Oct. 17, 2003 at the hands of KV. You’d think a 4A or even 3A school would be running the table every season in the LAC Blue, but it’s Whiting – the small-school wonder – that’s been dominating the division for the past 2 ½ seasons.
The Oilers are like the Energizer Bunny, they keep going … and going … and … (winning).
Cain is 87-47 in his 12th season at Whiting. During that time the Oilers have played bigger schools on a regular basis. Some might even know of a team named Griffith that Cain’s Oilers played four times during his early years. Whiting never beat the powerful Panthers, but they did score the second most points (19) on Russ Radtke’s squad during its 1997 Class 4A state championship season. Only Hobart and Fort Wayne Dwenger (21) got more on Griffith that season, but that’s pretty impressive to say the least.
This season, the Oilers still have an inspired and improving Clark team left on the plate, and the Battle of 119th Street just might be a game this season. And we can’t forget about KV, a team that most have picked to win its first league crown. But that Week 9 matchup sure looks good right now, and if both teams do what they’re supposed to do, it could be for all the marbles in the regular season finale down in Wheatfield.
Whiting had its 19-game regular season winning streak snapped in Week 2 against South Bend Riley – a 5A school, by the way. Cain pointed the finger at himself for that one, too, saying his players weren’t fundamentally sound tackling or blocking. But the Oilers went back to work and have continually played better. Most people thought with a new quarterback in place, it would be baby steps for the offense, but the Oilers are averaging 31 points a game. And a pretty stout defense, which only allowed 3.9 points a game up to this point a year ago, is giving up only 7.5 now, including pitching three shutouts – all in the Blue.
It helps that Cain has some loyal assistants like defensive coordinator Rob “Scoot” Segudovic and Whiting product Brett Jennings, among others, on staff. It also helps that you have blue-collar kids who will step up and do whatever it takes to win. Standout receiver and defensive back Mike Halajcsik knows all about that. He was thrown into the backfield in the 20-7 victory over Wheeler two weeks ago, and finished with 79 yards on 10 carries. Not bad for his first stint as a running back.
I remember a couple of years ago when Mike Keith, the starting center, showed some promise with his hands and was going to be moved to tight end. But since Cain couldn’t find anybody to fill the hole on the line, Keith was back snapping the ball instead of catching it. Kids playing out of position – or playing a few of them — isn’t anything new at Whiting.
“We do what we have to do in (Class) A football,” Cain said. “(With) injuries we’ve moved a corner to linebacker and another kid who wasn’t playing defense is now playing defense. Some kids have to learn things on the fly real quick.”
In the victory over Wheeler, the Oilers ran the ball 60 times and passed it only five. Cain said he couldn’t remember ever doing that before and telling the kids so. But that’s another example of how you do it at Whiting – you do what you have to do to win.
Like I said before, there’s still three games to go before the sectional and Whiting has some tough ones on tap. But the rumor of Whiting being “down” was greatly exaggerated. Don’t bother sending flowers or mailing a sympathy card, either.
The Oilers are still alive and kicking.