Region football fanatics (like me) have been anxiously awaiting the opening of the prep football season since the final gun sounded in Griffith’s loss to Norwell in the 3A semi-state last November.
To football junkies, it seems like it takes forever for a new season to arrive. And given the seemingly endless basketball season, I can understand why they feel that way.
But to me, even though it doesn’t, it just seems like the football season starts earlier every year; because now that week one has come and gone I just know that it’ll all be over before I know it. But things just feel different to me this season.
Every year, graduation changes the names and the faces of Region gridiron squads, and there are always at least a few coaching changes. But the 2007 campaign brings with it changes in conference alignments, changes in class and changes in sectional assignments.
Of all these changes, conference realignment has had probably the biggest effect to date as the opening night schedule had some compelling match-ups this year instead of the usual powerhouse versus cupcake openers.
Griffith played Morton. Portage tangled with Andrean and Munster finally got Lake Central back on their schedule. And better yet there was even a Saturday game! Merrillville was going to be four-time defending state champ Warren Central’s sacrificial lamb. It all had a different feel. Different, but good.
But some things still felt the same. Crown Point played Lowell at the Inferno in the annual “Old Leather Helmet Game” and there’s something special, almost sacred, about that.
The Devils and Bulldogs were strapping it on for the 103rd time; renewing the longest football rivalry in the state and there aren’t many legal ways I can match the feeling I got from being there. It felt great. I’d be willing to bet there are more than 5,000 other Region football fans that felt the same way.
But best of all, the action on the fields was pretty good too. In what has developed into a pretty good rivalry, Griffith rallied to beat Morton. Someday the Governors may actually beat the Panthers, but not this year.
Portage relied on a stud defensive effort as the red Indians battled back and overcame an early deficit to nip always tough-to-DAC foes, Andrean. And a late score pushed the resurgent blue Indians of Lake Central past potential sectional rival Munster.
But the game of the night saw Lowell scoring 23 unanswered points after falling behind by two touchdowns in the first quarter to manhandle Crown Point and end the Bulldogs regular season winning streak at 18 games. The Devil’s defense was the story of the night and would have been the story of the weekend if it weren’t for what happened Saturday night at Demaree Stadium in Merrillville.
Saturday night in Merrillville had a different feeling too. After all, it’s not everyday a national power comes calling. But whether the crowd was held down by the rain or everyone figured Warren Central would crush Merrillville, the crowd in attendance certainly received their money’s worth as the Pirates forced six turnovers and were just good enough offensively to defeat Warren Central, winners of four straight 5A state championships and ranked #4 in the nation by USA Today going into Saturday’s game.
Granted, this is a new season and perhaps this is not the same Warren Central team as the last four years, but nonetheless Merrillville made a statement for Region football with good, old fashioned, physical play. And a win like that should give all Region football fans a good feeling.
So yeah, it felt different. But you know what, it still felt pretty good. I can’t wait for next week.