It would be easy for Outside the Huddle to stay in the city and profile an SAC game on the first Friday of the season, but if there is one thing OTH does, it is expand your horizons.
There will be plenty of time over the next several weeks to delve in the battles in Fort Wayne, but let’s kick off the year by looking at a pair of programs with plenty of intrigue as Angola takes the trip to DeKalb for a 7 p.m. start on Friday.
DeKalb is a trendy pick to be a big mover in the NE8, primarily because of an offense that is big, physical and talented.
Meanwhile, Angola is out to prove that it is once again the class of the NECC and a program that will be reckoned with again in Class 4A.
The Hornets earned a 31-20 victory last year in Week 1, their third-straight win in a series that has kicked off both teams’ schedules every season since 2011.
2. THE BARONS’ PASS GAME
DeKalb threw for barely 700 yards the entire season in 2018, relying much on the Northeast 8’s top defense and a running game to finish 5-5.
This year should be different with Wawasee transfer Evan Eshbach behind center. Eshbach threw for over 2,000 yards as a junior last fall and gives Barons coach Pete Kempf a weapon at the QB position that defenses will have to respect in terms of his passing ability.
The matchup between Eshbach, the trio of tight end Evan Snider and receivers Easton Rhodes and Kai Zacharias and the Angola secondary (particularly safety Ryan Brandt) will be of paramount importance.
3. ANGOLA’S NEW DEFENDERS
No one scored more points against Angola in a regular-season game last year than DeKalb. With plenty of turnover from a defense that pitched five shutouts and held eight opponents to seven or less points, with the Hornets have what it takes to slow down the Barons?
FOUR PLAYERS TO WATCH
SLOT/S TANNER JACK, JUNIOR, DEKALB
Jack averaged 6.5 yards per carry as a sophomore last season as the Barons rushed for over 2,500 yards as a team.
With a more prolific passing attack and monsters up front like Tylar Pomeroy and Hoyt Stafford, Jack should easily eclipse the 1,000-yard rushing mark this season. On Friday, he can set the table for a potential DeKalb victory if he can help move the chains consistently against the revamped Angola D.
S/RB RYAN BRANDT, SENIOR, ANGOLA
The one Division I player on the field on Friday will be Brandt, the commit to Purdue. His ability to decipher DeKalb’s play calling will be huge. Expect the Barons to try and get the deep safety Brandt to bite on some play-action to potentially open up some opportunities downfield. DeKalb would be smart to go away from Brandt vertically, but they won’t escape his stellar closing speed and finishing ability when playing the run.
LB DOMINIC BLEVINS, JUNIOR, DEKALB
Blevins is one of the few Barons defenders back that produced at a respectable clip last year. As middle linebacker, the junior will need to be extremely active in Angola’s run and short passing game, keynotes of its offensive success in recent years.
Blevins was able to be just another contributor last year as he got his feet wet at the varsity level. This year, including Friday, the 5-foot-10, 200 pounder will need to be a key cog in the middle of the defense.
QB TUCKER HASSELMAN, JUNIOR, ANGOLA
The junior will look to follow in the footsteps of Chance Roddy and Jarrett Gibson as quarterbacks who led the Hornets to undefeated regular seasons.
Hasselman has had the luxury of watching and learning from those two over the previous two seasons, but the offense is now in his hands, along with the expectations of excellence that have risen around Angola under Coach Andy Thomas.
If Hasselman can lead his team to a win against a quality foe on the road, the topic of him being an unproven question mark for the team evaporates rather quickly.
KEYS TO VICTORY – ANGOLA
1. BOTTLE UP THE RUN GAME
The Hornets are going to be challenged at the point of attack when on offense. The mammoth front of DeKalb is built to push defenders off the line of scrimmage.
Angola must not rely on its secondary led by Brandt to flip this game in its direction. It must find a way to at least battle to a draw in the trenches. If not, DeKalb will dictate play with a balanced offensive attack.
2. PROVE SOMETHING EARLY
Just like some were predicting a regression out of Angola in 2018, the Hornets are once again being looked at as a program that will take a step back as it rebuilds.
Angola can send a message early to both DeKalb and the area that it isn’t going anywhere if it can capture momentum early and deflate a Barons team that will surely be out to prove something on Friday. An early turnover for points or an opening scoring drive is key.
KEYS TO VICTORY – DEKALB
1. PUNISH ANGOLA
The Hornets are not used to being pushed around, except when meeting up with Bishop Dwenger in regional play each of the last two years.
Teams in the NECC have been abused by Angola physically, but DeKalb held its own in last year’s matchup. Could it take control in that arena in 2019?
2. TAKE SOME CHANCES
There are two ways you can play it in Week 1 – go reserved and run your schemes or just go wild and pull trick after trick out of the hat.
Coach Pete Kempf can win this game going in either direction, but the greater chance for DeKalb may be trending towards the latter approach.
What about a play-action go route on the first play from scrimmage?
What about an onside kick to begin the game?
What about going for it on 4th-and-2 at your own 35 yard line?
As a non-conference game, all this game means is momentum – positive or negative – for the rest of the season. With optimism so high at DeKalb, why not have some fun against a top opponent and show early on that this year is the year in which the Barons make that jump into the upper-echelon of the NE8 and beyond?