By JOSH SIGLER AND PEDRO VELAZCO Kokomo Tribune
---- — Western football coach Nate Andrews is confident he has his team’s attention.
The Panthers have made its three opponents pay since a 28-18 upset loss to Maconaquah in Week 5, pounding Peru (52-27), Eastern (55-6) and Class 3A co-No. 8 Hamilton Heights (35-14).
Western enters the final week of the regular season sharing that 3A No. 8 ranking with Hamilton Heights, and with a home victory over Cass tonight, the Panthers also will share the Mid-Indiana Conference crown with the Huskies, assuming Heights is able to beat Peru on the road.
“I hope our mindset is one of knowing we’re competing for a championship,” Andrew said. “We’ve certainly set ourselves up to do so. We’ve worked hard and overcome a lot of adversities to be in this situation. I hope we can fulfill one of the goals that we set out to do early in the season.”
Awaiting Western (7-1, 5-1) is a Kings squad that’s playing well at the right time of the season as well, taking four straight wins over Peru (46-7), Eastern (61-29), Taylor (48-0) and Maconaquah (36-14) after three straight losses to 3A No. 3 West Lafayette, Northwestern and Heights.
“Cass is Cass,” Andrews said. “They do what they do very well and are very disciplined. I respect a program like that. They’re difficult to prepare for, I think, with their misdirection and speed offensively. What we have to be able to do is match their toughness for four quarters.”
The Kings (5-3, 4-2) attack with their wing-T offense. Gabe Welch leads the way with 826 yards and nine touchdowns on 108 carries. Brendan McGehee has added 483 yards and eight TDs on 62 carries, and Payton Young enters Week 9 with 455 yards and three TDs on 67 totes.
Western counters with an option attack that has imposed its will on opponents in recent weeks, led by Ben Lenahan, who enters the week with 774 yards and seven TDs on 112 carries, and running mate Ryan Alexander, who has 617 yards and nine TDs on 113 carries.
“It seems like the last couple weeks we’ve seen a Western team that is very physical, does a very good job of playing ball control, controlling the line of scrimmage and playing very good defense,” Cass coach Scott Mannering said. “That’s the way we want to play. It’s going to be a tough matchup and a big challenge. I look at what they did to Hamilton Heights and I think they served notice that they’re a very talented, well-coached team that plays very hard. That’s a concern for us. For us, we’re going to have to play our best game of the year to compete with them, and that’s what we’re looking to do.”
Western has won two of the last three matchups in the series, with Cass squeaking out a 21-20 victory in Walton last season.
TRI-CENTRAL (7-1, 3-0 HHC) AT SHERIDAN (4-4, 3-0 HHC)
This matchup serves as a Hoosier Heartland Conference championship as both enter unbeaten in league play. Class A No. 10 Tri-Central is looking for a breakthrough against the Blackhawks, a perennial Class A power.
TC coach George Gilbert was talking about his friendship with coach Sheridan coach Larry “Bud” Wright and how much he respects the Sheridan program. He said he expected the respect was mutual, then veered.
“The only way you really earn respect, and we’ve been telling our kids this, is we’ve got to beat people,” Gilbert said. “We’ve really been able to do some awesome things but this is the next step. We feel that we have an excellent opportunity. We think our kids can play hard with Sheridan and we think it’s going to be a heck of a ballgame.”
Garrett Kelley leads TC’s rushing attack with 1,028 yards. Cody Colbert adds 430 and Dillon Smith 358. QB Cody Howell has thrown for 969 yards and 14 touchdowns with just two picks.
Sheridan will challenge Tri-Central to stop the Blackhawks’ strength.
“They run power off tackle and they run it very well,” Gilbert said. “They have a big fullback [Austin Hoover] and I think he’s currently the third-leading running back in the state in Class A [1,696 yards]. He’s very quick. The line isn’t as big as they were last year, but they’re very sound. Sheridan is always a very sound team. To beat Sheridan, you have to be at your best.”
TC’s defense has pitched four shutouts this year — including three in a row.
KOKOMO (4-4, 3-2 NCC) AT ANDERSON (3-5, 2-3 NCC)
The Wildkats have won four of their last five contests after a slow start.
“I really think we have gotten better,” coach Brett Colby said. “Other than that six-minute stretch at Richmond [resulting in a big quarter for the Red Devils], we’ve played some pretty good ball the last three weeks, especially defensively.
“I think we’ve come a ways up front on the offensive line in the last couple weeks and I think our backs are blocking a little better. I know we carried out fakes better last week in the Marion game. We’re a little late-blooming, but at least I think we’re starting to bloom.”
Kokomo looks to keep its momentum rolling against an Anderson team that is run-heavy after graduating some key parts of the passing game last season.
“They get in an I formation and they put 10 guys on the line of scrimmage and they’re going to run at you,” Colby said. “They do a nice job and they’ve got a couple really nice running backs in the [Jerian] Beard kid, who has missed a lot of time this year, and [Tyler Welch], he’s probably got about 850 yards rushing and the Beard kid has 400 in four or five games.
“Defensively they’re very aggressive, play hard, play fast. They’ve got some good athletes on that football team.”
Bo Baker leads Kokomo in rushing with 1,089 yards. Kokomo also got effective running last week from Jeron Gray in his first game of action, and fullback Jordan Holloman.
Richmond leads the NCC at 4-1 and can take the outright title with a victory over Logansport tonight. Huntington North (4-2) has completed league play. Kokomo and Muncie Central follow at 3-2, hoping for Logansport to pull an upset tonight and open the door for a potential crowd at the top.
Kokomo will have next week off as the state tournament begins. Play in Class 5A begins Nov. 1. The other five classes begin next week.
EASTERN (2-6, 1-5 MIC) AT N’WESTERN (5-3, 3-3 MIC)
Both squads enter the week coming off of victories, as the Comets snapped a five-game skid with a 57-26 win at Taylor and the Purple Tigers got back on the winning track after back-to-back losses with a 37-18 triumph at Peru.
Northwestern coach John Hendryx is 6-0 against Eastern since becoming the Purple Tigers’ head coach in 2007. The Comets’ last victory in the series came in 2005.
TAYLOR (0-8, 0-6) AT MACONAQUAH (5-3, 4-2)
The Braves are looking to reach the six-win plateau for the first time since 2004 when they welcome the winless Titans to Bunker Hill.
Maconaquah, which is led by the area’s leading rusher in junior Cody Hicks (1,301 yards and 17 TDs on 171 carries), has won three straight in the series.
The Titans are looking to snap a 24-game losing streak and avoid a second straight winless regular season.
AROUND THE AREA
Hamilton Heights (6-2, 5-1 MIC) visits Peru (4-4, 2-4) looking to ensure itself of at least a share of the MIC title.
In Hoosier Conference action, 2A No. 8 Tipton (5-3, 2-3) visits Delphi (4-4, 1-4). In non-conference action, Clinton Central (1-7) visits Monrovia (3-5) and Carroll (4-4) visits North White (5-3). The Cougars will turn around and visit the Vikings again next week in the start of sectional play.
TONIGHT'S SCHEDULE All games start at 7 p.m. • Kokomo at Anderson • Cass at Western • Tri-Central at Sheridan • Eastern at Northwestern • Taylor at Maconaquah • Hamilton Heights at Peru • Tipton at Delphi • Carroll at North White • Clinton Central at Monrovia