The first thing you need to know is that we are less than half an hour of game time away from officially being at the midway point of the regular season.
My how the days have flown by this fall.
Week 4 wasn’t a week of big clarity, in fact it may have made things a little bit more interesting around area conferences.
What did you miss? What did I think a little bit extra about?
• Trying to figure out the SAC may be enough to give anyone a headache. Four weeks in and Bishop Luers sits at 4-0, while three other teams are 3-1 and Snider sits at the odd 2-1 record after not playing Friday with South Side hampered by quarantine issues.
It would be interesting if Snider not playing 9 regular season games came into play with the conference title race, but for now it isn’t an issue. This coming Friday, Carroll at Bishop Dwenger and Snider at Homestead will, in all likelihood, take two more teams out of the conference race because you just don’t win the SAC with two losses. That means that next week could be the biggest week of the season in the SAC. Wayne also gets a meeting with South Side that could be a win and get everyone in the SAC to at least one victory this season.
I am personally in for all this SAC parity and the social media discussion that it provokes.
Everyone has a favorite team, everyone thinks their team is the best. And at the top of the conference, we are getting some really high quality games to figure out who will actually get bragging rights and a bell.
• There were plenty of times last season when North Side used Ja’suan Lambert to add some life into an offense that wasn’t getting through the air as much as they had hoped for. in 2021, little brother Jontae Lambert has started to become the one to do that.
North Side’s passing game has taken a lot of hits through injury this season and it has left the Legends without a consistent passer. They really still don’t have one with the ball now in the hands of Donovan Williams as North Side tries to figure out their strengths.
Williams threw fairly well on Friday, but it was Lambert’s ground game that staved off early and late threats from Wayne as the two teams jockeyed for position in a game that was going to be someone’s first win. Lambert scored all three of North Side’s touchdowns and finished with 166 yards on 25 attempts as the only Legend to handle the handoffs in the win.
Lambert also caught two passes for 50 yards.
• People constantly talk about what makes Bishop Luers so dangerous, and dare I say, the class of the SAC as of press time.
The big takeaway for that from Friday’s romp over a Concordia team searching for their identity is that Luers is looking like they can sustain program growth from younger guys. It helped build this senior group up over the years and now there are underclassmen looking to make a splash.
While the passing, rushing and receiving numbers don’t shock anyone – Carson Clark threw well, Sir Hale ran well and Brody Glenn caught well – the defensive side of the ball showed some younger guys stepping up. Of the Knights’ five top tacklers on Friday, just one is a senior. They got a team high seven tackles out of sophomore Issac Zay while fellow sophomore Mickey Daring added six. Depth comes in many forms, but when it comes from younger guys, it spells good things, not just this year, but in sustaining success.
• Other things that don’t get talked about enough: some of the Carroll Chargers.
It is almost, oddly, like everyone bailed on Carroll after a week one loss to Bishop Luers even though it was just a seven point game. Since then, the Chargers have averaged 41 points per game and ran wild against upper and middle teams in the conference.
Friday, in the win over Northrop, Jeff Becker completed 63 percent of his passes while Luke Carmody had his breakout performance of the season with 162 yards on 12 carries. Braden Steely may be hitting opposing players as hard as anyone in the conference. Carroll has a lot of high quality play right now and they are one that we should all probably be paying more attention to. If they can beat Bishop Dwenger this week, we have to face the facts that Carroll may be the best team not named Bishop Luers in this conference.
Put me a bit back on the Chargers bandwagon again.
• Leo and East Noble didn’t face the toughest challenges this week prior to their week 5 showdown in Kendallville, but they did both add to the lore of their programs. How does East Noble slow down this Lion run game? Can Leo handle the continually enhanced passing prowess of Zander Brazel?
Brazel is one of the breakout players in the area this year which couldn’t come at a better time for East Noble. The team played admirably without a true quarterback in 2020, but Brazel has made things so much better in 2021. He scored five touchdowns on Friday with four coming through the air. As powerful as East Noble’s run game is, they have again become an aerial threat with Brazel getting better all of the time. On Friday, he used four targets with three of them (Rowan Zolman, Brett Christian and Ethan Nickles) each averaging 22 or more yards per catch on Friday in a win over DeKalb.
Leo hasn’t had to handle much of that yet. East Noble also has not faced a run like Leo’s.
Carson Hoeppner was the one who took off the most on Friday against New Haven in a rivalry game that was incredibly one sided. While the Bulldogs jumped out to an 8-0 lead, they only got one more late second quarter score. Meanwhile, Leo continued to romp with their multi headed rushing beast. The Lions attempted zero passes (even Warsaw threw a pass this week!) but had 394 yards on the ground led by Hoeppner’s 101 yards on 10 attempts.
Six different Lions averaged 10 or more yards per carry in the win over New Haven, but it is the big play runs that have to worry opposing teams, including East Noble. Mason Sheron opening the Leo scoring with a powerful 74 yard run makes you question who is going to haul that hoss down in the open field.
More about Leo and East Noble in the week to come, I promise.
• Where is Columbia City in the NE8 hierarchy?
Some weeks it feels like the Eagles are underestimated, some weeks it feels like we don’t respect them enough. Through two weeks of conference play, they sit with the aforementioned Leo and East Noble as 2-0 in the NE8. So while we look at those two, don’t count out CC just yet.
Greg Bolt looks to be settling back in at quarterback with a solid Friday in a win over Huntington North. Bolt completed 7 of 13 passes with three of those for touchdowns during his 172 yard night. Bolt also ran for 76 yards as the Eagles pounded it out on the ground to power through the Vikings. Ethan Sievers led the rushing game with 124 yards while Abe Barrera ran for 83 yards.
Another bright spot for the Eagles, freshman Stratton Fuller scored his first two career touchdowns this week. Fuller is one to watch in the future and this was a big week for him and the future of the Eagles.
Columbia City also got it done on defense with four interceptions, three of which came from Josh Arntz who also had nine tackles. Ryan Elsten led Columbia City with 10 tackles and a sack.
• There was arguably no bigger upset in the area this weekend than Woodlan getting their first win of 2021 at the expense of Bluffton. What is more impressive for Woodlan’s push is that their 32-19 win on Friday comes just one week after they were blown out by Heritage and one week after Bluffton really challenged South Adams.
Woodlan had been stuck in the teens in their scoring, never finding a consistent motion in their 0-3 start. Now with two winnable games coming up, the Warriors could actually get to 3-3 here this month. We have seen some flashes from Jake Snyder in the past that he could be consistent if he was really educated in who he targeted. But the Warrior quarterback outdid any expectation on Friday by completing 30 of 36 passes. Forget anything else, that is a high quality output to get to 391 passing yards.
Kudos then too for the recipients Snyder’s passing. Four different guys were targets, headed by the big target that is 6-foot-7 Joe Reidy. Reidy hauled in nine catches for 176 yards and it is the first time in two years we have seen Reidy be a big difference maker. After taking last season off, he has been helpful but not quite a force this season until Friday night. He is a big target that is hard to drag down.
Austin Stephenson caught eight passes for 110 yards, that too very impressive, while Ethan Vardaman also hauled in eight catches and Landin Golden had five catches.
A couple of those guys stepped on defense too, which was critical after Bluffton has started to flex big yardage plays. Reidy led the defense with seven tackles and a sack while Stephenson and Seth Mason each had 6.5 tackles.
• Can you score three touchdowns with less than 40 yards of offense? If your name is Nick Neuenschwander you can. Adams Central‘s speedster scored thrice on Friday despite running the ball just twice for 36 yards and catching no passes.
Less than two minutes into the game and Neuenschwander ran one in from 21 yards out to kick off the scoring in the 54-7 blowout win over Jay County. Five minutes later, he picked off a pass and returned it for a touchdown, the second time AC did that in a four minute span after Ryan Tester had taken a pick six to the end zone. Neuenschwander finished his scoring to start the second half when he returned the 3rd quarter’s opening kickoff 83 yards for a score.
That was also Adams Central’s second kick return for a score. Alex Currie returned a punt for a 78 yard touchdown in the second quarter.
• Fairfield overcame a 0-3 start to the season by getting a big win at Fremont. This was a game, with Fremont looking confident, that we didn’t think the Falcons may win. But something certainly clicked as Fairfield just dominated on the ground, throwing just one pass but going 501 rushing yards.
Early on, the Falcons rode Michael Slabaugh‘s legs and it looked like he was going to have a monster night. That effort though ended up being secondary once Johnathon Estep started to get going. Estep ended up running for 231 yards on 16 carries and Fremont really had no answer for him as he bounded his way into the Fremont secondary any time he wanted to.
This was actually a game at Fremont that was really fun in small segments. Early on, despite Slabaugh’s big first drive, it looked like we could see a shootout. But by the time that Estep broke off for 58 yards on a score with 5:31 left in the second quarter, the Falcons found themselves up 22-0 on their way to the 51-12 win.
Fremont showed signs of life and almost made thigns really interesting before the half. On third and goal from the three yard line with 14.9 seconds left, Fremont quarterback Buck Behrman found Wyatt Claxton for a score. The Eagles then recovered an onside kick with Braydon Crager recovering the ball and they were on the good end of a roughing the passer penalty with 5.2 seconds left bin the half, but couldn’t tack on another score.
Fairfield and Estep then poured in it on in the second half and Fairfield got back into the win column with a huge victory and momentum push for their offense.
• Central Noble now sits 4-0 for the first time since 2003.
The Cougars didn’t face a huge challenge against Prairie Heights, but put the game in the bag with 21 second quarter points, led again by Will Hoover‘s 131 yards rushing on 26 carries.
With critical NECC Small Division games on the horizon, the thing that stands out this week with Central Noble is they were not all Hoover all the time. The team actually had more passing yards with 209 coming out of quarterback Tyler Shisler. 97 of those yards came on three receptions by Preston Diffendarfer.
• Eastside. Laban Davis. Wow.
Churubusco really dug deep and made it a game with Eastside, but Laban Davis is just untouchable in the NECC. In what world should people just come to expect a 195 yard rushing/106 yard passing game? That is where we are with Davis now: that anything less would be the surprise.
If there was a MVP or a Player of the Year through the first 4 games, it would be hard for Davis to not head that list. Again, we just expect it from Davis so there isn’t much to talk about. But, he deserves to be mentioned every week because what he is doing is impressive and near unprecedented.
• Shoutout to Warsaw freshman Mason Smythe, who stepped up in a big way for the Tigers to edge out Mishawaka in a tough game where points were at a premium.
Smythe nailed a 19 yard field goal with 2:02 left in the game to take the lead back, giving Warsaw a 17-15 win. It wasn’t a long field goal, but a big moment for a freshman to step into.
The win for Warsaw is a big moment in the NLC race as they again put an emphasis on the run game with 114 of the team’s 226 rushing yards coming from German Flores-Ortega. The win keeps Warsaw as one of three teams sitting at 2-0 in the NLC and very much in the hunt for a conference title.
In four games, South Adams has seen three different players lead them in single game rushing and three others lead them in receiving. That comes with AJ Dull‘s 77 rushing yards on Friday against Heritage, a game where Silas Loshe led the receivers with 113 yards….Luke Graft and Jon Colbert combined for another 327 rushing yards for Norwell in their bounce back win over Bellmont….Bishop Luers put up another 502 all purpose yards against Concordia…Bishop Dwenger’s only two losses ever at Shields Field have come at the hands of Homestead.
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