Coach’s Corner is a weekly feature at Outside the Huddle written by Kevin Merz, former Bishop Dwenger quarterback and North Side offensive coordinator.
It is hard to believe that the high school football season that we look forward to all year is already halfway over. There have been some brilliant performances, upsets, new names and faces and a slew of story lines that have developed over these first five weeks in the SAC.
Each conference team has done multiple things well so far this year, but today we look at each school’s glaring weakness that needs to be addressed as we approach the second half of the conference schedule and beyond.
Also, just when will your school’s season come to an end this year? I attempt to answer that question as well.
The Spartans have all but wrapped up the SAC with a month left in the regular season. No one can be taken for granted in this conference, but with tie-break rules as they are, Homestead would essentially have to lose twice in its remaining four games (three of which it will be sizeable favorites) and I don’t see any way of that happening.
Offensively, Homestead has been masterful, carving up defenses to the tune of 39 points per game and looking nearly flawless every possession. Offensive Coordinator Bill Skelton called a near-perfect game last Friday against Snider, but it also exposed some very real concerns at times defensively for the Spartans.
Homestead tended to not stay in its lanes defensively against the athletic Jon Barnes Jr. at quarterback. It allowed Snider to break off some chunk plays when things broke down. The Spartans are fundamentally sound both offensively and defensively, but come rematch time in the sectional, Snider will shore up what it does defensively and may try to incorporate some more “rollout” type passes to free up Barnes to use his legs as equally often as his arm.
It’s hard to nitpick a team playing at the level of Homestead currently, but sound gap-control defense needs to remain to be a priority of the Spartans if it plans on knocking off Snider in the postseason.
SEASON ENDS: In sectionals with a loss to Snider
The Panthers looked as confused and out of sync defensively as I have ever seen them on Friday in their 49-36 loss to Homestead. Sitting at 4-1 and with the scenario outlined above, Snider is now playing for the postseason rather than an SAC crown.
Last Friday will be a valuable teaching tool for the players and a weapon for the coaches as Homestead laid all their cards on the table, giving an excellent Panthers coaching staff a chance to evaluate the film and change what needs to be changed.
A glaring hole in the middle of the Panthers defense was exposed as Snider had no answer for passes thrown over the middle on quick slants on the outside or an “option” route, which was to run in the middle of the field over and over on every crucial third down Homestead converted.
Snider really must improve its linebacker play and must decide on who will be on the field in that unit and find a way to get more athleticism at the second level of the defense.
However, I trust Alabama, I trust the Patriots and I trust Snider in the postseason. Beating Snider twice in the same season is no easy task, and the adjustments made in the playoffs by the Panthers coaching staff are always second to none in this part of the state.
How does the old phrase go? “Fool me once shame on me…”
Season Ends: In regional with a loss to Carmel
BISHOP DWENGER (4-1)
The Saints are in the same boat as Snider, knowing that their opportunity at an SAC crown is a long shot at best, but Dwenger still has a long way to go in its season.
Most importantly for Bishop Dwenger is that outside of Valparaiso, there isn’t one team in the Class 5A north on its level. However, before that test in semistate, the Saints must take a step forward in their offensive scheme.
The first few weeks saw more spread looks, outside throws and screens and unique formations, all of which seemed absent from their game plan against Carroll a week ago. It is hard to criticize after a win, but for Bishop Dwenger to achieve its goal of a state championship, it will have to be willing to take risks offensively against a top-notch program like Valpo in the playoffs.
If the Saints become truly one dimensional again, their run to Lucas Oil Stadium will be tripped up short of Thanksgiving weekend. But if Offensive Coordinator Mark Watts and the Dwenger staff continue to mix things up offensively like they did the first few weeks, I see the Saints marching back to a state title game in late November.
Season Ends: In the Class 5A state title game with a loss to New Palestine
Carroll continues to be carried by as good of a defensive unit anywhere in northern Indiana week in and week out. The Chargers surrender a mere 7.5 points per game and held Bishop Dwenger and Snider both to season-low point totals.
A fast and gap-sound defense flies to the football and is extremely physical, but their offense must join them on taking the next step for Carroll to have a chance of postseason success.
Sophomore quarterback Jeffery Becker is improving each week and is getting more comfortable as the season progresses, but stagnant three-and-out drives must be cleaned up and Carroll must become more consistent moving the football to accomplish its goal.
A tough road ahead remains for Carroll, which potentially could play Homestead twice and Snider again. But if the Chargers can find a way to be more explosive offensively, they just might find themselves as champions of Sectional 3 behind that stout and aggressive defense.
Season Ends: In Sectional 3 with a loss to Snider or Homestead
The Bruins may just be the biggest positive surprise in the conference as Coach Jason Doerffler has Northrop sitting above .500 through five weeks for the first time since 2006 when they were also 3-2 at the halfway mark.
Northrop continues to find creative ways to move the ball offensively, none more impressive than the speed option reverse called on third down in OT against Concordia last Friday which resulted in a touchdown.
Surrendering 30-plus points a game though will not get the Bruins out of Sectional 11 and if Northrop wants any shot of moving past the sectional round, it must clean up the defense. The Bruins are an aggressive bunch but blown assignments in the secondary combined with poor tackling at times has allowed opponents to score 25 or more points in four of the games this season.
Northrop is getting more confident, the offense is improving, and the defense is a work in progress. Fundamental tackling drills and reining in some of that aggression to make smarter football plays when on defense could help the Bruins pull off the shocker of all upsets in the sectional this season, but I just don’t see it yet for this squad.
Season Ends: In Sectional 11 with a loss to Bishop Dwenger.
Coach Tim Mannigel knows that postseason success is still a real possibility for Concordia considering the conference it plays in. Weekly tests against much larger schools prepare Concordia and Bishop Luers unlike any other conference prepares smaller schools in the state.
Matchups with Bishop Dwenger and Carroll remain before the Cadets can focus on the postseason, but before they get there they must find some consistency in what they are doing week in and week out. Concordia is as up and down a team as we have around here and that is to be expected as it has multiple kids going both ways, unlike larger programs.
It’s hard to sum up into eloquent phrasing what “consistency” on the field looks like, but it’s equally as hard to hold losses to Northrop, Homestead and Snider against them. If Concordia can stay healthy, continue to condition its athletes to be able to play both ways deep into the postseason and find some consistency and balance defensively, there is no one in the sectional who will scare the Cadets.
This will be a 4-5 team going into Sectional 27 that will walk out 7-5 and sectional champions!
Season Ends: In the regional with a loss to West Lafayette
NORTH SIDE (2-3)
The Legends picked up their second win of the season last Friday, hanging on to beat Bishop Luers 19-14 at Chambers Field. It is the first winning streak for the program since 2015 and provided another shot of confidence in the arm to a program desperately needing it.
However, the victory came at a price, the cost of which remains to be seen. North finished the game without playmaking QB Duce Taylor after he suffered an injury to a finger on his non-throwing hand that required immediate medical attention. North is a completely different team when Taylor is on the field and I wish him a speedy recovery.
North has shown some flashes of a middle-tier SAC team, especially when running back Alex Holiday-Robinson and Taylor are on the field together. But for North Side, organization needs to be at the forefront of its preparation going forward. Far too often is North Side short a guy on special teams, has a player running across the field before a snap to cover a receiver or receiving a play call seven seconds before the play clock is set to expire.
Coach Mike Brevard has shown some promise in the program, especially with the caliber of athletes he’s able to get out for football, but tightening up some very simple assignments and basic knowledge of the game will go a long way toward the Legends trying to take the next step in seasons to come.
Season Ends: In Sectional 11 with a loss to Dwenger or Northrop
BISHOP LUERS (1-4)
The Knights are not used to being in this position – short on players, hobbled with injuries and low on morale.
Bishop Luers will most likely end up 2-7, which would be only the third time in the last 25 years that the Knights have failed to win more than two conference games in a season.
A depleted roster due to lack of numbers and injuries have put Luers into a very tough spot, being undersized against nearly every opponent in the conference. A true weakness to point out for Luers is hard to say as there truly hasn’t been a lot to hang its hat on yet in the positive category, but Coach Kyle Lindsay always has the Knights ready to roll come sectional time.
A confusing offseason of sectional realignment ended up working out in Bishop Luers’ favor as it drops back to Class 2A where it has experienced nearly all the program’s success over the years. If the Knights can get healthy and attempt to remain positive during this difficult season, there is no one in Sectional 35 this season who will have a 10th of the athletic talent of Bishop Luers.
Look for the Knights to enter Sectional 35 at 2-7 and leave 5-7 with some hardware in hand.
Season Ends: In regional with a loss to Eastbrook
SOUTH SIDE (1-4)
Congratulations to Coach Roosevelt Norfleet and the Archers on taking care of business and getting their first win since September 29, 2017 last Friday!
South is at a point as a program where it is just trying to keep kids positive and keep numbers up to give itself a chance at a little success, which in turn can attract more kids to come out for football in future seasons. Two winnable games remain on the Archers schedule with the “Calhoun Street Brawl” against Bishop Luers and the “Totem Pole” game against North Side South needs to focus on playing fundamental and basic football heading into those two weeks. Like North Side, watching South play can seem quite chaotic at times, never knowing if they’ll have seven guys on an extra point try or 18 out there, but they are trying and are improving as evident by the win against Wayne.
The division between the contenders and those just trying to put a serviceable product on the field is as large as its been in a while in the conference. South Side needs to focus primarily on continuing to improve and keeping kids on the field and in the classroom as they move toward those two winnable contests this season. A little more organization and maybe a pre-game special teams walkthrough or two wouldn’t hurt the Archers either…
Season Ends: In Sectional 20 with a loss to anyone besides Jay County and Wayne
If Northrop is the positive surprise in the conference, Wayne unfortunately is the negative surprise. Granted, the Generals lost some talented players off last year’s 9-3 squad, but I truly believed that team last year might have been the second-best team in all of Class 4A. There is enough talent hanging around off that squad that they should be no worse than 2-3 right now (most imagined they’d be 4-1 as we finished week 5).
Wayne’s glaring weakness seems to be between the chin straps, not so much on the field. Constant penalties, misalignments, poor communication, and added emphasis on Hudl highlight films on social media instead of focusing on Friday assignments have concocted a perfect storm that has led to this winless start.
If anyone can get this ship righted and do so while restoring confidence it is Coach Derrick Moore, who never lacks any bravado when discussing his Generals. However, this will not be an overnight fix as the Generals are allowing over 40 points per game and have trouble consistently moving the football and getting aligned in the kicking game, let alone executing in it.
I do think this can be turned around and I have confidence in Moore and his staff to do just that, but a locker room discussion about less time on social media followed by a special team walkthrough or two could do the Generals some much needed good!
Season Ends: In Sectional 20 with a loss to anyone except Jay County
Coach’s Corner appears every Monday during the prep football season at Outside the Huddle. These opinions represent those of the writer. No opinions expressed on Outside the Huddle represent those of any of our advertisers.