The championship season starts now.
For most teams Week 3 means conference openers, and historically league titles in either the Northern Lakes or the Northern State Conference have often meant a perfect record. Plymouth hits the road for perhaps its biggest NLC rival at Warsaw, while Bremen looks for a measure of revenge against visiting NSC foe New Prairie, and fellow NSC contenders Culver and Triton clash at Culver.
While Warsaw (0-2) may be winless coming into Friday’s match-up with Plymouth (1-1), the Rockies understand they can’t afford to overlook their hosts. The Tigers’ two losses in Weeks 1 and 2 came at the hands of Indiana Football Coaches Association Class 5A eighth-ranked Homestead and a Columbia City squad that earned four votes in the IFCA 4A poll.
“Warsaw is a very good football team,” said Plymouth Head Coach John Barron. “They’re very big and they have very good team speed, and those two things usually add up to trouble for opponents. Their record does not show how good they are. They’re 0-2, but they’ve lost to two really good football teams in Columbia City and Homestead, two teams that are both respectively ranked in 4A and 5A. It’s tough for them to start with those two opponents, especially going on the road to Homestead.”
“We’ve talked a lot to our kids about focus and not to look at any type of record that Warsaw has because that means nothing,” added Barron. “And you know our record means absolutely nothing. When you’re talking about playing for a conference championship, it’s one game at a time, and the season really starts now.”
While the record may not mean much, Plymouth was still happy to get a win last week against Rochester. The Rockies established their running game with more than 400 rushing yards — primarily split between quarterback Ike Kastner and running back Sam Stevens — on their way to a come-from-behind win over the visiting Zebras. The victory was a confidence-builder for the young team, which hopes to keep the ball rolling on the road this week.
“It was really important for us to play well and to play well and win after opening the season with a loss on the road at Bremen,” said Barron. “I thought our kids had a good week of practice and played well. We were a little frustrated coming in at half. We were down seven and then we gave up the big kick-off return and found ourselves in an even bigger hole, but I thought from that moment on we really decided to play Rockies football. A lot of the credit just goes to the kids: They figured things out and just started to believe in each other and trust one another. I think that made the biggest difference in the ball game.”
Over at Bremen, meanwhile, the Lions (2-0) return to their home field victorious from a match-up at Tippecanoe Valley last week. It’s been a great start to the season for Bremen, which ended a longtime drought against Plymouth in Week 1 and earned a program-first win on the road against the Vikings last Friday.
“There’s no doubt we’re happy to be 2-0,” said Bremen coach Bob Holmes. “The kids played well on the road last week; we’ve never beaten Tippy Valley on the road. We went over there in a hostile environment and came back with the victory. Our offense was outstanding, scored 48 points. Our defense was a little soft at times. We’ve got some things we need to work on this week, but overall, they did a great job under some adversity, and that’s what you want to have happen early in the season.”
The Lions took two league losses last season to New Prairie and Culver, losses which kept them from grabbing a share of the NSC crown despite finishing the conference season on a four-win tear. The first of those losses came from the Cougars (0-2), and the team knows from experience how early losses can come to define an entire conference season.
“Last year we last to New Prairie in Week 3, and that was basically the championship because if we’d have won, we would have tied for the conference championship with Jimtown,” Holmes said. “New Prairie put us in a position where we could not win the conference so each week our goal is to make sure we understand the magnitude of each conference game if we want an opportunity to win it at the end of the season. You have to win them early.”
Culver recovered from a tough season-opening loss last week, breaking into the win column with a 29-12 victory at South Central (Union Mills), and the Cavaliers (1-1) are looking to carry that momentum forward against visiting Triton (0-2), which is still looking for its first win after a loss to Northfield in Week 2.
“It was a big win against a quality opponent,” said Culver Head Coach Andy Thomas. “Our kids showed a lot of guts and a lot of pride and determination. They played hard for four quarters. I think we out-physicaled South Central and we outplayed them. I’m very proud of our kids and our coaches after getting our hearts torn out in Week 1. We rallied on the road against a tough opponent.”
While Triton may be winless, the Cavs aren’t treating this week’s match-up lightly.
“Every game is huge in our league,” said Thomas. “There are no easy games in the NSC. You have to come ready to play every week, and Triton is no exception. They have athletes all over the place. They’re capable of scoring from anywhere on the field, and they are not afraid to take chances from anywhere. They’ll throw it up on the negative one-yard line, and if you’re not careful you’ll get one toss for 99 yards. They’ve got playmakers and they’re throwing it around a lot; they’re a dangerous team.”
In other area action Friday, John Glenn (1-1) hosts Knox (1-1) as both look to recover from rivalry losses in Week 2 — Glenn’s heartbreaking 14-13 loss to NSC rival Jimtown and the Redskins’ Starke County rivalry shutout against North Judson. LaVille (0-2) hits the road a second straight week for Jimtown (1-1) in the area’s final Northern State contest, while Culver Military Academy (1-1) hosts Heritage Christian (1-1) in an Eagles vs. Eagles match-up.