A few weeks back I wrote in this column about the arrival of parity in Region football (Lannin’s Line – Week Four). The questions I was asking at that time were about what that meant in terms of the quality of the level of play of our local prep football.
Did the fact that the Calumet Region lacked a clearly dominant team mean that Region football wasn’t as good overall as it had been in years past? Or did parity mean that Region football had taken a step forward? In other words, was it possible we didn’t have a dominant local team because so many Region teams had reached a higher level of play?
At the time of that writing, I admitted that the topic was subjective and we wouldn’t know either way for a fact until the Region started matching up in the tournament with other teams from around the state. That is as true now as it was then. The proof is in the pudding.
But from my perspective, the verdict is already in. As we approach the conclusion of the regular season, I have watched a lot of prep football and have seen a good portion of the Region’s teams, both haves and have-nots, and I am convinced. No matter what happens from here on out, in my opinion, Region football is pretty good.
To back my argument, just take a look at the races in Northwest Indiana’s two power conferences, the Northwest Crossroads Conference (I still hate that name) and the Duneland Athletic Conference.
In the NCC, at the end of seven weeks of play, there is a four-way tie at the top between Lowell, Hobart, Griffith and Andrean with one conference loss each (Lowell and Andrean have played one less conference game), and that loss came at the hands of one of the other three.
Looking at the combatants individually, Lowell is as physical a team as there is in prep football and this year’s team is way ahead of where the Red Devils were at this point with their 2005 state championship season. Hobart shares the conference lead and is so talented that it makes you wonder how good this team can be because they haven’t even really jelled yet And what can you say about Griffith? Just when everybody was about to write the Panthers off, they righted the ship and are playing like you would expect Griffith to play.
And as I stated above, I think the most interesting thing to note about the NCC race is that Hobart beat Griffith, Griffith beat Lowell, and Lowell beat Hobart. And Andrean has a date with arch-rival Griffith this week. How’s that for competitive parity?
Not to be outdone by the NCC, the DAC has a logjam at the top as well as Crown Point, Merrillville and Chesterton all have just one conference loss. Merrillville beat four-time defending state champ Warren Central to begin the season behind a smash-mouth defense, and now the offense is starting to click, making the Pirates a legitimate threat to make a state run. And Merrillville’s only loss came in conference play, naturally, to arch-rival Crown Point in overtime.
Perhaps Crown Point is not the high-flying, high scoring team they were last year, but they run the ball just about as well as anyone and they have a sound defense, the benchmark of all championship teams. Chesterton boasts an offensive line loaded with D1 talent and has a legitimate D1, two-way threat at quarterback as well. And both Crown Point and Chesterton’s only conference loss came at the hands of Valparaiso, just a game back with two conference losses; and one of Valpo’s losses came at the hands of Merrillville last week.
In fact, the DAC is so competitive that five teams including Lake Central were tied for the conference lead as late as last week, and playing that kind of competition week in and week out makes teams tougher for the post-season. Ask Portage how tough life is in the DAC. The Indians were a team that many had tagged as one of the Calumet Region’s best in the pre-season, a team that had state aspirations; and at this juncture Portage is just one game removed from the DAC cellar.
To get another measure of the quality of Region football, take a look at how the best teams in the two power conferences fared against one another in non-conference play. Crown Point lost to Lowell in the season opener, but beat Hobart a week later. And Merrillville beat Griffith, but just barely.
Even in the smaller school conferences like the Greater South Shore Conference and the Hammond Athletic Conference (Great Lakes Conference?!?), there are some good football teams, and the level of competition is for the most part pretty solid.
In the GSSC, Whiting’s only loss on the field (their three forfeit losses excluded) came at the hands of conference leader Wheeler; and Wheeler’s only loss came at the hands of a 4A school.
And in the HAC, conference leader Hammond High, a winless team in the regular season last year, ran off six straight wins to open the season. While many critics would point to the weak competition the Wildcats played early on, their sixth win came in a thrilling upset over Morton; and they acquitted themselves well in their only loss, which came at the hands of RSN #1 Lowell. There is talent on Sohl Street.
Behind Hammond High, Morton and Clark are just a game off the pace in the fledgling HAC and the Governors only conference loss came against Hammond by a point after a go-for-broke two-point conversion failed. And the Governors other two losses came at the hands of NCC powers Lowell (who else?) by a field goal and Griffith in the season opener, a game closer than the final score would indicate.
But no doubt, there are more than a couple of weak sisters in Region football. I won’t name any names, but there are some very bad teams in Northwest Indiana. Not everybody can be at the top of the heap because somebody has to lose in every ballgame. But on the whole, in my opinion, Region football is good, solid football, played on a highly competitive level.
Could Whiting beat Merrillville? Absolutely not. But remember, Merrillville has thousands of students; Whiting has less than 400. Could Morton beat Crown Point? Not likely, but they might be able to hang with the Bulldogs for a while. But none of that matters because in the tournament, you play schools of comparable size.
So what’s my point? What does all this parity mean when it comes to comparing the quality of Region football with that of the rest of the state? To me, it means that when Region schools play schools of comparable size outside of Northwest Indiana, the tough competition they have played here has them well prepared. I think Region teams can go toe to toe with anyone in all classes, the Indianapolis Catholic football factories notwithstanding.
But just as I stated in this column in Week Four, this is all just my opinion and I happen to love Region football. To me, the fact that we have no dominant team here means that Region football is as good as it gets. Region teams beating up on each other all season means the rest of the state better look out, because we play some good football up here.
But as I stated earlier, until the tournament starts, it’s all conjecture. So as I did in my previous column, I challenge you, the reader. What do you think? E-mail me and tell me what you think, and we’ll publish the best.
Chris Lannin can be E-Mailed at Chris.firstname.lastname@example.org.