Bluffton has begun the season much like it did a year ago.
A win over Northfield? Check.
A victory over Manchester? Boom.
If the similarities continue, Bluffton will suffer a lopsided loss to South Adams on Friday, similar to a 21-3 outcome last year in Berne.
But the Tigers are aiming to show that 2019 is not last season. With a pair of ultra-talented junior classes set to clash, South Adams vs. Bluffton is easily the Week 3 Outside the Huddle Game of the Week.
1. UNDEFEATED SHOWDOWN
Yeah, it is just Week 3, but anytime you can talk about a “battle of undefeateds” it sounds like there is more on the line.
Turns out there is. The winner Friday night will get the early edge in the conference race, which begins this week. The toughest games on the schedule of South Adams are on the road, including Adams Central, Monroe Central and Woodlan in addition to Friday.
2. FRIENDLY-ISH RIVALRY
Coaches Grant Moser of South Adams and Brent Kunkel of Bluffton are good friends. Typically, they do not text much in the lead-up to a game against each other, but the two have been pretty vocal on a group text with OTH’s Blitz. Who knew that a furry mammal could bring two human beings together?
Kidding aside, this is a matchup built upon respect from the coaches on down. South Adams is the favorite in the ACAC and Kunkel wants to show that his Tigers are ready to challenge the upper-echelon teams in the league.
3. JUNIOR CLASS V. JUNIOR CLASS
South Adams has James Arnold, Nick Miller and Drew Stutzman.
Bluffton has Cody Mittlestedt, Hayden Nern and Reece Johnston.
The copious amounts of talent in these teams’ junior classes is excellent, with more guys around them to make plays.
One of the most important aspects of Friday’s game will be which team’s junior class gets the best of the other?
FOUR PLAYERS TO WATCH
QB JAMES ARNOLD, JUNIOR, SOUTH ADAMS
Arnold returned to the field in Week 2, feeling fully functional after an off-season injury. All he did against Manchester was throw for 197 yards and four touchdowns, yet didn’t eclipse his cohort Aidan Wanner’s numbers from Week 1.
Arnold has the experience that the Starfires need in a road game against a tough opponent. He will be able to command the huddle early on when the Bluffton sideline and crowd is particularly into it. A few big vertical plays will put a damper on that excitement.
RB/DB CODY MITTLESTEDT, JUNIOR, BLUFFTON
He leads the team in rushing, his second in receiving and has an interception on defense. Young Mittlestedt is an exciting player that not a lot of people have heard of. For the Tigers to pull the upset on Friday, they need Mittlestedt carrying the offensive load on the ground, opening up opportunities for a pass game that will be needed to win.
South Adams will focus on slowing down Mittlestedt and force Bluffton to the air.
WR DREW STUTZMAN, JUNIOR, SOUTH ADAMS
Senior Nic Stuber and junior Nick Miller get plenty of attention, and for good reason. But one of the leaders on offense through the first two games has been Stutzman, who has scored on four of his five receptions on the season and is averaging 35 yards per carry.
The Starfires have innumerable weapons on offense and Stutzman can kind of get lost when teams are accounting for more higher-profile threats. Stutzman has excelled in burning defense that forget where he is.
LB HAYDEN CRAIGHEAD, SENIOR, BLUFFTON
Craighead was all over the field defensively in the season opener against Northfield, putting up 10 tackles and a pair of tackles for loss in the 24-20 victory.
The Tigers will need more of that from Craighead on Friday. South Adams is going to challenge Bluffton up front and on the edges. It will be veterans like Craighead who will need to be able to read the play, close quickly and make tackles to slow down the Starfires offense and keep this low scoring, probably a must if Bluffton is to win.
KEYS TO VICTORY – SOUTH ADAMS
1. BE CONFIDENT, BUT NOT ARROGANT
South Adams enters Friday as the top-ranked team in Class 1A in the Indiana Football Coaches Association Poll for Week 3, barely edging out Indianapolis Lutheran.
There is no doubt that the Starfires are aware of this. The question is, does it affect their play? Does it change the mindset of a team that is expected to win this matchup? Does it make them overconfidence and vulnerable?
Coach Moser’s job is to keep this team grounded and focused on the task at hand – beating Bluffton.
2. KEEP BLUFFTON OFF BALANCE
Entering Friday, South Adams has rushed for 353 total yards and passed for 406 yards more. There may be laws in Berne against that many passing yards for a season, let alone two games.
The Starfires are considered one of the best teams in 1A largely because they can beat you in any number of ways. Offensively, it is not just Stuber at running back and Nick Miller at wideout. Any number of players can beat you for a TD in both facets of the offense. South Adams sticking to the offensive balance will keep Bluffton on their toes, opening up opportunities in the boundary and downfield.
KEYS TO VICTORY – BLUFFTON
This shouldn’t be a problem with Coach Kunkel and a 2-0 start, but the Tigers must come out on Friday truly believing that they are South Adams’ equal on the field.
Scarcely anyone outside of Bluffton believe that, but hype about the program’s direction has begun to seep up north to those in Allen County.
Bluffton was held to just a single field goal in this showdown last year. Can the Tigers push 2018 out of their minds and take hold of the opportunity afforded them on Friday?
2. CODY TIME
Nick Miller has been a multi-year two-way standout for South Adams, making his name known in northeast Indiana. Cody Mittlestedt can put his name on the map with a huge night on both sides of the ball for the Tigers.
Mittlestedt has followed in the footsteps of D’Wayne Eskridge, Brandon Lockwood and Everett Johnson at running back, but it could be on defense where he plays the biggest role. An interception or two of Arnold by the Bluffton offense, including Mittlestedt, could lead to a short field or even a score that could sway the momentum the Tigers’ way.
Check out Blitz’s pick for what he feel will happen in Bluffton on Friday.