And then there were three.
A trio of northeast Indiana teams will take to the field this Friday just one victory away from playing for a state championship on Thanksgiving weekend.
Outside the Huddle is breaking down each of the semistate showdowns, with Blitz making his pick as well.
Let’s look at Class 5A.
1. BUSINESS TRIP
A season ago, a one-loss Bishop Dwenger team went on the road to the northwest part of the state in semistate.
The Saints came home after earning a berth in the 4A state championship game with a dominant performance over Mishawaka.
On Friday, Bishop Dwenger returns to the northwest, this time facing a Valparaiso team that is undefeated and fresh off a 49-0 rout of…you guessed it, Mishawaka.
Will history repeat itself for the Saints?
2. DOMINANT VIKINGS
Since beginning last year 0-2, Valparaiso has won 22 of its last 23 games, the lone blemish being a 14-10 loss to Carmel in semistate last season.
Among the team’s 12 wins this year – a 20-point beatdown of Penn, a one-point win over one-loss Merrillville and the aforementioned victory over Mishawaka.
This is a well-coached team that has owned “The Region” with some unfinished business to take care of.
In other words, Valparaiso is very dangerous.
3. WHAT DO EXPECT?
Last week, Bishop Dwenger was paced offensively by Tobe Eke, who burst onto the scene with 122 yards rushing and a pair of touchdowns.
Eke’s previous high in rushing for the year was 74 yards in a Week 3 win over South Side.
Yeah, that “Next Man Up” stuff? For most teams, it is merely trying to soften the blow of losing a starter. But Bishop Dwenger truly rolls like that. No matter what happens to front-line players, the Saints always have someone waiting in the wings to step up.
Who will it be this week?
FOUR PLAYERS TO WATCH
LB LUCAS KROHN, SENIOR, BISHOP DWENGER
As was the case a year ago, Bishop Dwenger’s strength on the defense is its linebackers. Krohn is just one of several Saints at the second level that consistently make plays in DC Casey Kolkman’s vaunted D.
At outside linebacker, Krohn has amassed 72 tackles, nine TFL and six sacks. He will be a key cog in the machine that will target Valpo’s exceptional run game.
RB TOMMY BURBEE, JUNIOR, VALPARAISO
Burbee has shown out all year long, rushing for over 1,500 yards and 21 scores.
But what should be truly worrying for Bishop Dwenger is the fact that Burbee has his biggest games against top teams. He went for 152 against Penn, 151 against Merrillville and 225 in last week’s win over Mishawaka.
QB BRENDEN LYTLE, JUNIOR, BISHOP DWENGER
It already feels as if Lytle has been through an entire prep career of huge games. Which it has only been two years, the junior has shown that no stage is too big for him.
There is no doubt that Bishop Dwenger will need its signal caller to make some big plays at Valpo on Friday. He has done it before and he can do it again.
LB DYLAN DINGMAN, JUNIOR, VALPARAISO
The junior at linebacker is a menace of opposing quarterbacks, notching 11 sacks on the year to go with 46 tackles.
The Saints will focus on establishing the run while intermixing in some passes. Valpo will utilize Dingman in trying to fluster Lytle in the pocket.
KEYS TO VICTORY – VALPARAISO
1. MAKE DWENGER EARN IT
Other than its running game, the Vikings are not too dominant in one particular aspect. But it has an exceptional defense to go along with massive offensive and defensive lines. It can also makes plays in the passing game when need be.
Valparaiso has given up just six points during this playoff run, with last week’s effort against Mishawaka catching many people’s eye. Can the Vikings shut down the Saints?
2. GET TO LYTLE
No matter who Bishop Dwenger plays, the Saints are going to be able to run the ball with some amount of success. They are just too good in the trenches and too fundamentally sound to not get holes open for the running backs to run to.
But do not expect a huge night for Dwenger on the ground in this one. That means Lytle will need to make some plays in the pass game. If the Vikings can put pressure on the junior QB and force him into some mistakes, it could be enough to swing the game their way.
KEYS TO VICTORY – BISHOP DWENGER
1. TAKE VALPO OUT OF SEQUENCE
The Vikings’ offense operates best when it can move the ball on the ground and strike in the pass game on occasion. What it isn’t used to is having to convert big yardage situations through the air, similar to the Saints.
Bottling up the running game in the early downs will put Valparaiso in some uncomfortable situations on third down.
2. OWN THE TRENCHES
This one is likely the key to both teams. Valparaiso and Dwenger have both had plenty of success pushing around opposing linemen all year long.
Which of the stout lines gets the consistent push on Friday? Can the Saints’ offensive line handle Valpo? Will the Vikings get the better of Dwenger’s big guys?
While many early in the season claimed to be ready for the inevitable Bishop Dwenger v. New Palestine 5A state title game, Blitz was already worrying about Valparaiso, a team not altogether unlike the Saints in their business-like approach to weekly dominance.
Valparaiso has the linemen, the funamentally-sound defense and the sneaky-good playmakers to be a tough opponent for Bishop Dwenger. It also has the experience in big games, having made a run to semistate a year ago.
Blitz feels this one will go down to the final minutes, with Bishop Dwenger making a play on offense to steal one on the road.
BLITZ SAYS BISHOP DWENGER BY 2.