Teams leaving past behind them as football tourney starts tonight
It’s a new day.
Area teams are putting the past behind them, whether good or bad, as they enter the first round of the 39th Annual IHSAA Football Tournament tonight.
It’s been a rough year for Plymouth. The Rockies finished the regular season with the program’s worst record in recent memory at 3-6, but the team is looking for a fresh start as it travels to Angola (5-4) for a first-round Class 4A Sectional 11 match-up at 7:30 p.m.
It’s an exciting opportunity for Plymouth against a team they’ve never played before after losing to powerhouse Lowell three of the past four years in the first round of sectional play.
“We’re excited about the draw,” said Plymouth Head Football Coach John Barron. “This staff hasn’t played a whole lot of different people in round 1. It’s either been Lowell, Concord or Northridge since I’ve been head coach, so it’s kind of nice to get on the road and go play a team from a different conference.”
While the near two-hour drive is a haul for the Rockies, Barron doesn’t expect the long commute to be too disruptive, and the good news is that if the team survives this week, it should be playing at home the remaining two games of the sectional.
“It’s a drive, but the kids sleep on the bus anyway so it’s really not that big of a deal,” he said.
“The drive really shouldn’t bother us. We’re just excited to be playing a different team that’s not in the (Northern Lakes Conference). And we really like that draw because if we beat Angola, we’ll be home the next two rounds, so just giving our kids and seniors another chance to play at the Rockpile is pretty exciting.”
Plymouth capped off its season with a 21-8 loss at NLC- and sectional-rival NorthWood, but the Rockies did take some positives away from the game. After shuffling around some personnel and adding more traditional power football to its triple option attack, Plymouth scored on its opening drive and the Rockies defense kept them in the game until late.
“I thought we played very well last week,” said Barron. “I think our defense played the best it’s played all season long, and I told our kids. Defense wins championships, and when you get in the playoffs if you’re going to make a playoff run, your defense has to be playing well. That’s a real positive for us.
“I think our offense found a little bit more of an identity,” continued the Plymouth skipper. “We made things a little bit simple, took some pressure off our quarterback and got some more people involved besides Sam (Stevens) and Ike (Kastner). We got Jordan Knapp involved and Cole Mann involved again. That’s pretty exciting, and then (Kyser) McCrammer at tight end. I think those things help us because you’ve got better players on the field more often.”
Also looking to put the past behind it tonight is John Glenn.
The Falcons (7-2) lost a 35-31 war of attrition at Bremen to miss out on a share of the Northern State Conference title a second straight year. Nothing washes away the taste of defeat like a win, and that’s just what Glenn is looking for as it hosts Hammond Gavit (4-5) in the two teams’ Class 3A Sectional 17 opener tonight at 7:30 p.m.
“I think the best thing for you is to get wrapped up in the preparation for the next game, and then hopefully we can get another game under our belts,” said Glenn coach Justin Bogunia. “It was a tough loss. Our kids take it hard, so it’ll be good to get back on the field and get going again.”
Adding to the difficulty during this week’s preparation has been the weather, as rain has thrown off the Falcons’ practices several days headed into their contest with Gavit.
“I think just maintaining focus is the number one thing for everybody this week,” Bogunia said. “It’s hard to get a good week of preparation in because of all this rain. It’s kind of hard to get things done the last two days, especially. It’ll be interesting to see how focused and how prepared our kids really are. It’s playoffs though. Each week it’s win or go home, so I think our kids will be ready to strap it on.”
Bremen’s victory over Glenn last week wrapped up an undefeated regular season and gave the Class 2A No. 4 Lions (9-0) their first NSC championship since 1995.
But head coach Bob Holmes is hoping his players aren’t ready to rest on any laurels yet as they hit the road for Prairie Heights (1-8) at 7:30 p.m.
“The kids are coming off a great regular season. Now everybody’s 0-0 and we’ve got to understand that all those accomplishments don’t really mean a lot going forward,” said Holmes.
“We’re coming off two big games against Glenn and Jimtown; we’ve got to avoid the letdown this week and understand that Prairie Heights doesn’t care what we’ve done the last couple weeks, and we’re going to have to play good football.”
While Bremen got the win versus Glenn, the Lions didn’t get out of the game untouched.
Both leading rusher Braxston Miller and defensive back Ben Hueni sustained concussions and will sit out tonight’s sectional opener. Reid Zellmer already has some big game experience under his belt as he fills in for Miller, however, and fellow junior Ethan Pike is good to go in Hueni’s slot at DB.
“Not having Braxston Miller and Ben Hueni is going to make it tough,” said Holmes. “They both were diagnosed with concussions after the game last week. We’re going to have to execute with some new guys in the backfield. Reid Zellmer is going to get his first start, and I’m sure he’s going to do a great job Friday night. Ethan Pike has stepped in defensively for Ben. We have to adjust to some new personnel, but these kids are looking forward to their opportunity and I’m sure they’re going to do just fine.”
Meanwhile, in other area action tonight, a surging Culver Military Academy (4-5) is looking for its third straight win in a Class 3A Sectional 17 match-up at Knox, while the Redskins (2-7) are looking to stop a four-game skid at 8 p.m. EST.
Triton (2-7) looks to bounce back from a rout at Jimtown as it hosts Adams Central (4-5) in a Class A Sectional 35 contest at 7:30 p.m., while LaVille (0-9) has a clean slate as it travels to Northfield (4-5) in another Sectional 35 battle at 7:30 p.m., and Culver (5-4) travels to Tri-County (4-5) in a Class A Sectional 33 Cavaliers-versus-Cavaliers match-up at 7 p.m.