By BRYAN GASKINS and JOSH SIGLER Kokomo Tribune
---- — The Mid-Indiana Conference’s football championship picture will start to come into focus tonight when Class 3A No. 4-ranked Hamilton Heights entertains Western in the squads’ annual Week 8 clash.
Heights sits atop the league standings at 5-0 with Western and Maconaquah a game back at 4-1 each. The Huskies, with a win tonight, can secure at least a share of their second straight league title. On the other hand, if the Panthers pull the upset, they will create a tie at the top heading into the final week of the regular season.
Heights has won 13 straight MIC games. Western was the last conference opponent to beat the Huskies, with the Panthers taking a 34-31 road win two years ago. The Huskies beat the Panthers 33-0 last year.
“Heights is Heights — defending conference champion, defending state runner-up, and have a lot of the same weapons returning so it’s a great challenge for us and one that we are definitely looking forward to,” Western coach Nate Andrews said. “With all that being said ... it’s nothing out of the ordinary for them or for us. It just happens to be another football game on the schedule. We have to approach it that way if we’re going to continue to improve, and that’s what we’re looking forward to.”
Heights (6-1 overall) has a pair of dangerous playmakers in senior running Conner Faulkner and junior receiver/return specialist Grant Weatherford. Faulkner has rushed for 885 yards and 13 touchdowns through seven games. Weatherford has 671 yards and nine touchdowns on 28 receptions plus he is averaging 30.4 yards per punt return and a whopping 133.3 all-purpose yards per game.
“Their kicking game is probably the one that sets them apart from everyone else in our league because at any moment, they can take it the distance and do that often,” Andrews said. “And then, I think in terms of their offense, if you load up in one area [run or pass], they’ll hurt you in the other. That makes it very difficult to play both of them sound. And if you do play both of them sound, they’re probably still good enough to do both of them well. It presents a lot of challenges and I hope our kids are ready for those great challenges.”
The Huskies score 43 points per game and hold opponents to 14.7 ppg.
Andrews points to the Huskies’ athletes as a key to their defensive success.
“They have a good, solid scheme and then they have guys on the back end who can erase big plays whether it be through the air or on the ground,” he said. “We need to be able to put the ball in the end zone once we move it into the red zone. I think they will be huge for us. Our red-zone percentage has to be very high.”
Western (6-1 overall) averages 38.7 ppg and is allowing just 12.3 ppg. The Panthers have a plus-seven turnover margin.
Offensively, the Panthers feature a strong ground game with Ben Lenahan (624 yards) and Ryan Alexander (542) forming a strong 1-2 punch. Defensively, Lenahan leads the squad in tackles with 68 from his linebacker spot while lineman Corey Hinkle tops the team in tackles for loss (15), sacks (four) and QB hurries (10).
“I think our heads are in the right places,” Andrews said before his squad’s practice Thursday. “I think what we need to do is go over there and play a football game — we don’t get too emotional one way or another. They are going to make big plays on us. Those things are going to happen versus a great team. But we have to line up and play the next down and play that down well. That will be huge for us. It’s been a big area of focus this week.”
MACONAQUAH (5-2, 4-1 MIC) at CASS (4-3, 3-2 MIC)
Entering tonight on four-game winning streak — its longest since 2004 — Maconaquah is looking to take advantage of a high level or morale that’s seemingly spreading optimism throughout the program.
“Our success is helping our preparation a lot right now,” Maconaquah coach Mark Hartman said. “We’ve found out that we can do, and at this point it becomes a choice of how we want to play. We’ve done the things to keep ourselves in position to win games in the last few weeks, and we just need to keep doing those things right — moving the ball and playing solid defense. We’re happy to be playing at the level we should be playing at.”
Maconaquah is shooting for its first five-game winning streak since 1991.
Awaiting the Braves in Walton is the always-tough Kings. Cass has beaten Mac 14 straight times. Longtime Cass coach Scott Mannering is 23-5 against Mac — 23-3 since losing his first two games in the series.
“We haven’t beaten Cass since 1998, and we’ve reminded our guys of that several times,” Hartman said.
Maconaquah junior running back Cody Hicks needs 106 yards tonight to break the single-season rushing mark of 1,336, set by Luther McDonald in 1994. With his three touchdowns last week, Hicks became the program’s all-time rushing TD leader with 29. He needs 13 points to become the program’s all-time leading scorer, and needs 221 more yards to become the program’s all-time leading rusher. Hicks has run for over 200 yards in three separate games this season.
Cass has won three in a row since a 1-3 start, averaging nearly 52 points per game in wins over Peru, Eastern and Taylor.
KOKOMO (3-4, 2-2 NCC) AT MARION (1-6, 0-4 NCC)
Kokomo opened the season 0-3, but has followed with a 3-1 stretch, and can climb all the way back to .500 with a win tonight against Marion.
Kokomo beat Logansport 14-7 last week. Marion suffered a 61-13 loss to Anderson.
Marion is last in the North Central Conference. The Giants are allowing 41.3 points per game and scoring just 15.7
The Kokomo-Marion series once was close (40-36-6 in favor of the Kats) — but that was before Brett Colby took over Kokomo’s program. The Kats are a perfect 6-0 vs. the Giants in the Colby era.
EASTERN (1-6, 0-5 MIC) AT TAYLOR (0-7, 0-5 MIC)
The Comets visit the Titans tonight for a clash of struggling teams.
Eastern has dropped five in a row and is 2-15 over the last two seasons. Taylor is enduring its second straight winlesss season and is mired in a 23-game losing streak.
Eastern beat Taylor 28-19 last year for its fourth straight win in the series.
N’WESTERN (4-3, 2-3 MIC) AT PERU (4-3, 2-3 MIC)
Northwestern and Peru are locked in a tie for fifth place in the Mid-Indiana Conference standings. The winner of their game tonight will keep alive hopes for an upper-division finish.
Both squads have cooled off since hot starts. Northwestern opened 3-0 and Peru was 4-0.
Northwestern beat Peru 40-3 last year for its fourth straight win in the teams’ series.
AROUND THE AREA
In the Hoosier Conference, resurgent Tipton (4-3, 1-3) visits Twin Lakes (4-3, 2-3). Tipton, boosted by the return of senior QB Austin Hooker from an injury, beat Sheridan 27-24 last week to snap a three-game losing streak.
In the Hoosier Conference, Clinton Central (1-6, 1-2) hosts Clinton Prairie (1-6, 0-3). Central is coming off a 33-7 upset of Carroll last week. The Bulldogs had scored just 24 points in opening 0-6 before coming alive last week.
In non-conference play tonight, Carroll (3-4) hosts Frontier (1-6).
In non-conference play Saturday, Tri-Central (6-1) visits Wes-Del (4-3).
Week 8 schedule 7 p.m. starts unless otherwise noted TODAY • Western at Hamilton Heights • Kokomo at Marion • Eastern at Taylor • Northwestern at Peru • Maconaquah at Cass • Frontier at Carroll • Cl. Prairie at Cl. Central • 7:30 -- Tipton at Twin Lakes SATURDAY • 6 p.m. -- Tri-Central at Wes-Del