Now that nine weeks of the regular season are in the books for area prep football teams, it is time to look ahead to sectional play.
We continue our sectional football primers in Class 4A with the most competitive sectional in the area, regardless of class.
Wayne (5-4) at Bishop Dwenger (4-5)
DeKalb (5-4) at Angola (2-7)
East Noble (7-2) at New Haven (8-1)
Leo (7-2) at South Side (1-8)
In terms of consistency and balance, the Lions are the standard in Sectional 19.
It doesn’t mean they are unbeatable, but they do have the best chance of emerging from this meat grinder of a field.
The draw helps tremendously. East Noble and New Haven cannibalize each other, as do Wayne and Bishop Dwenger. On the road to start, Leo will host in the semifinal round no matter who it plays.
Leo has won five straight, with just one of those being decided by less than 29 points. Both losses came in heartbreaking fashion – blowing an 11-point lead at Kokomo and a missed PAT dooming the Lions in OT against New Haven.
Since that loss to the Bulldogs in Week 4, the Lions have been on a tear, which includes a road victory in Kendallville over East Noble.
Senior Kylar Decker has been exceptional in the latter half of the season. He has not thrown an interception since Week 4 and has run the offense effectively.
The defense has playmakers at all three levels, and there is not a defensive player in this sectional better than Brock Schott on the edge. The two-way talent leads the Lions in tackles for loss (16) and sacks (10).
EAST NOBLE (7-2)
The Knights silenced many doubters with their performance over the final five weeks of the regular season.
First, they battled Leo tough in a 14-7 decision, then won four straight, including convincing victories over Columbia City and New Haven.
With a piece of the NE8 title in hand, the Knights look to try and make it 2-for-2 over the Bulldogs to open the playoffs.
The road isn’t easy for East Noble. It has to beat a good New Haven team, then will likely travel to Leo for a rematch with Leo.
If the Knights can continue to own the line of scrimmage and utilize its run game to control the ball, it has a shot to keep winning.
NEW HAVEN (8-1)
Perhaps the best thing for the Bulldogs was suffering a Week 8 loss to East Noble, especially when Coach Kyle Booher’s team opens up against that very same team to begin the playoffs.
It is much easier to gain the attention of teenagers when you’re prepping for a team that beat you rather than a team you conquered in the regular season. After missing out on an outright NE8 crown, New Haven can get some revenge of sorts in the opening round.
The Bulldogs will have reinforcements as well, with five-star Ohio State commit Mylan Graham set to return after missing the previous three weeks with an injury. Expect him to be used in a gamut of roles in all three phases of the game.
The importance of defending the run and finding big-play ability on offense will be keys as the Bulldogs, much like East Noble, have a tough road to a sectional crown.
BISHOP DWENGER (4-5)
Of the Saints’ five losses, four have come to in-state schools with three losses or less.
In other words, Bishop Dwenger isn’t losing to any bums.
That said, the Saints will be challenged from the jump with Wayne, a team that is capable of putting up points. That is concerning as Dwenger has had trouble at times defensively, evidenced by the fact that it is allowing 31 points per game.
Per usual, it is upperclassmen that are leading the way. Senior Christian Lozada is one of the best linebackers in the SAC, leading the defensive unit in tackles (53), tackles for loss (11) and sacks (nine). The quarterback, top two rushers and top five receivers are all seniors.
Despite going out of the regular season with a whimper last Friday opposite co-SAC champ Snider, Wayne has put together a really strong season, finishing fifth in the conference. They will go into the Sectional against usual Week 1 opponent Bishop Dwenger, who they actually didn’t play this season due to the conference’s rehashing of schedule.
Kimar Nelson has been one of the best breakout players and most compelling two way players in the area all season. While rushing for 529 yards and six scores over the season, Nelson has chopped it up defensively with 81 tackles and nine sacks.
As much as Wayne has plenty of underrated weapons offensively, it may be their defense that has our focus heading into the playoffs. They have 16 interceptions (5 from Adrian Wooten and 4 from Victur Doughty) with six fumble recoveries as well. They also have 13 different guys who have picked up one of their 31 total sacks.
Is it too late in the season to consider DeKalb an underrated threat still? They lost to the top four teams in the NE8 but beat everyone else on their schedule. Unfortunately for them, 3 of those 4 teams they have lost to are in this Sectional; good for them is that they are all on the other side of the bracket.
When on his game, Aaden Lytle is a top 10 area quarterback who moves well in the pocket and makes great reads. His connections with Caden Pettis have been great from week one on. He has thrown for 985 yards while Pettis had hauled in 450 yards and 12 touchdowns. Not talked about enough though is sophomore receiver Xavier Bell, who is actually DeKalb’s leading receiver with 496 yards on the season.
If DeKalb is involved, expect a shootout as they are currently beating opponents 31.8 to 29.6 on average. They did beat Sectional opener opponent Angola on opening night, 34-21.
One of the more eye opening things this season in the area was Angola’s 0-7 start. How did that happen to a once NECC juggernaut. Yet, the last two weeks have been tremendous as the Hornets come into the Sectional with the third longest winning streak among the 8 teams.
Hawk Hasselman, the sophomore, has had some growing pains through the season but his raw athleticism has helped him grow and he is playing at his season peak heading into a Sectional rematch with a DeKalb team Angola lost to on opening Friday night.
Last Friday, Angola held NECC Small Division champion Eastside to just three points. They also outran the Blazers with 262 yards on the ground on a cold and rainy night with Micah Steury going for 137 of those; he also had a 33 yard interception return.
SOUTH SIDE (1-8)
You don’t often give kudos to a one win team, but South Side has been doing all of the right things to turn their program around. The problem for this Sectional is two-fold: a rebuild like the Archers need is rarely possible in a single season AND they will square off with the Sectional favorite Leo in the opening round.
The emergence of Cadell Wallace after not playing initially has been a great catalyst. His leadership and athleticism has helped South Side tremendously. He and freshman QB KJ Alexander have started to make a solid duo and Alexander’s growth throughout this season has to make the South Side faithful more excited about the future rebuild.
South’s defense is giving up 36.2 points per game as they face a Leo team that oddly enough is averaging exactly 36.2 points per game themselves.