I’m not saying I told you so because Griffith (and LaPorte) can still make me eat my words, but I said a month ago this was going to happen – we would not have a Northwest Indiana team playing on carpet this season.
Don’t get wrong, I’d love nothing more than to see the Panthers and Slicers cutting a rug (so to speak) on Turkey Day weekend, but I have a bad feeling about these two games. Norwell looks to be as good as advertised and LaPorte will have its hands full traveling to Carmel.
I’m going on record saying both teams are heavy underdogs in their respective Northern Semistate matchups.
Before we move on, let’s recap last week and give some shout-outs to Lowell, Crown Point and Rensselaer. First, Kirk Kennedy’s crew is still a year away, but the Red Devils still did things nobody outside of their program thought were possible. I guess if I’ve learned anything over 10 years of doing this, it’s to never (ever) count out a Kennedy-coached team. That being said, watch for the Red Devils to make some noise for the next couple of things. Much like Griffith, I hear both programs have plenty coming up.
CP marched through the Duneland season unscathed for the second consecutive year. That’s a milestone in itself when you look at the competition you get in this league. Portage and LaPorte are solid programs, but the Bulldogs got it done under Chip Pettit and came within a 24-yard field goal of getting to the semistate. It obviously wasn’t meant to be for the Dogs, but here’s one guy who was totally impressed by what they did this season. Throw in wins over Lowell and Hobart to start the season and that was one whale of a schedule to go unbeaten for 12 weeks with.
Rensselaer has one of the better young coaches in Chris Meeks. If you’ve never met him he’s a great guy and always happy to talk about his team or his players. The Bombers were left for dead after both 1-4 and 2-6 starts, but came back to win the Class 2A Sectional 25 championship and went down swinging in a 13-9 loss to Jimtown in the regional.
Fast-forwarding to the week at hand, everything I’ve seen or heard about Norwell is impressive. The Knights are the state’s top-scoring team, outscoring opponents 636-111, have a Division-I quarterback leading the charge, and they’re playing at home.
Norwell (13-0) will host Griffith (12-1) Saturday night at 6:30 p.m. and it can be heard live on regionsports.com or on the air at 1270-AM.
We know Griffith plays at the Boneyard. For those of you who don’t know, the Knights’ home field is called The Courtyard.
Chandler Harnish, Norwell’s quarterback, is a 6-foot-4, 205-pound Northern Illinois recruit. He’s thrown for 1,434 yard and 18 touchdowns, and rushed for 1,288 yards and 24 touchdowns. I’ve asked coaches from Griffith and other places and they say he’s more than the real deal. I’ve asked media people who cover Norwell and they say the same thing. I’ve also been told by two guys who know what they’re talking about and they tell me Norwell is one of the top five teams in the state – regardless of class.
Now before I put Norwell in the Super Bowl, let’s get one thing straight – its schedule is very questionable. You have the 56-18 victory at 5A Homestead, but you’ve also got nine opponents out of those 13 wins who had losing records. Adding it all up, Norwell’s opponents’ records are a combined 61-82.
Griffith played the likes of Hobart, Andrean (twice), Morton (twice) and Lowell, but the Panthers’ combined opponents were only 68-77.
Norwell coach Jeff Miller, a former QB at Indiana State who ironically played college ball with Griffith alum Scott Bridges, said his Knights have played a handful of option teams this season.
“We see quite a few in our conference (the Northeast Hoosier), but not necessarily the wishbone, and especially a team like Griffith,” Miller said. “You can’t make a mistake – you have to have guys responsible for their gaps, because if they miss big plays are going to happen. It is definitely a tough offense to defend.”
Turnovers – surprise, surprise – will be the key to this game. Miller said his team is plus-15 in that category and thrived off turnovers in last week’s 49-20 victory over New Prairie – another option team – in the regional. The Cougars actually led 14-7 in the first quarter, but then all of a sudden you have a couple of turnovers – and like Griffith coach Russ Radtke said “all heck broke loose,” and the Knights roll off 22 second-quarter points and run away with it.
Griffith can’t turn the ball over. Once again, this is the state’s No. 1 scoring team at 48.9 points a game we’re talking about. They know where the end zones are and they know how to play defense (allowing only 8.5 points a game).
I said before I didn’t see a Region team getting to the Dome this season and I’m sticking to it. Hopefully I’m eating my words (with a lot of turkey) next week, but here it goes anyway:
Norwell 42, Griffith 28