The first week of Mid-Indiana Conference football play is headlined by Northwestern vs. Lewis Cass. Both teams hope to contend for the conference crown.
Northwestern is 2-0 after non-conference victories over Clinton Central and North Miami. Cass is 1-1 after beating perennial Class A power Pioneer and losing to Class 3A No. 6 West Lafayette.
West Lafayette drilled the Kings 56-8 in a game that was halted after three quarters because of lightning.
“The last thing you want to do is play them after the loss they had last week,” Northwestern coach John Hendryx said. “I’m sure they’ve had a very spirited week of practice. I don’t think that was their ‘A’ game they brought to West Lafayette.”
Cass coach Scott Mannering noted his squad ran into a buzzsaw against the Red Devils.
“It was hard to find a lot of positives out of last week’s game. We got worked over by a really good West Lafayette team. I think they’re as good as any team they’ve had since we’ve been playing them — at least they played that way against us,” Mannering said. “We try to be consistent in our approach. We want to get better every week. We’re just not really sure, with a game like that, if we made any progress or not.
“We’ve made a couple changes that we hope will make us stronger. We have a couple injuries that aren’t going to help, but overall this has been a normal week [of practice]. It’s a big week for us playing our conference opener and especially playing Northwestern.”
For Northwestern, Cass marks a big step up in competition. Hendryx hopes his squad is ready for the challenge.
“[Cass’] competition those first two weeks — no offense to who we’ve played, they’re just better [opponents],” he said. “It seems like some of the years it’s taken us a quarter or more to get up to their game speed and their physicality. We can’t wait until then. We have to be ready to play from the opening kickoff. We have to be ready for their speed and physicality because it will be different than what we’ve seen so far.
“We have an awful lot of seniors, but an awful lot are playing Cass for the first time other than on some special teams here and there. It’s going to be different.”
Cass also is breaking in a lot of new players this season following heavy graduation losses. The Kings beat the Tigers 35-14 last season on their way to an 11-2 record.
“It’s a little different Cass team,” Hendryx said. “They’re not as big as they’ve been, but I think they’re as quick or quicker than I’ve seen them for awhile. They really run to the ball well defensively. Offensively, we run a very similar offense, and I think they have very impressive guards. The [Cody] Campbell kid might be the best lineman in the conference. They present a lot of challenges.
“And I don’t put a lot of stock into last week. I’ve been on the end of those games. Once it starts snowballing, you can’t stop it.”
Northwestern is coming off a 40-6 victory over North Miami. The game was called early because of lightning.
“I’m really pleased with the progression we made from Week 1 to Week 2,” Hendryx said. “We made a lot of changes after the first week. We thought we needed to get more skill guys involved. We now have a freshman quarterback [Trey Richmond]. It’s not because our senior quarterback [Logan Macaluso] was not doing well, it’s because we had a little bit of a problem at the running back spot so we put him there. He’s big and physical and that made a huge difference last week. I couldn’t be any prouder of Macaluso and how he’s taken the change.
“We had five different guys carry the football last week and that’s pretty much going to be our norm. We’re playing with different combinations at different places. Moving him allows us to do that.”
Mannering is impressed with Hendryx’s squad.
“It’s a typical team that he’s had over there,” Mannering said. “They play very good defense, very aggressive. Offensively, they run a lot of the things we do, but they throw the ball a lot more. As usual, they seem to have some good skill players.
“For us, it’s going to come down to the line of scrimmage. We have to be physical and our linebackers have to be much better than they were a week ago. And then secondary-wise, we have to play much better pass defense. We just have to have a completely improved game than what we had seven days before.”
KOKOMO (0-2) AT MUNCIE CENTRAL (1-1)
The Wildkats suffered a rash of injuries last week in a 39-13 loss to Fort Wayne Wayne, with nine starters leaving the game. Two-way standout Tayler Persons was lost for the season with a knee injury.
Kokomo has looked to regroup in practice this week.
“We try to take steps forward every day,” Kokomo coach Brett Colby said. “Right now, I think we have two seniors starting on offense this week and three on defense — but two of those guys are both two-way starters. So, we have three seniors on the field this week. It’s rough, but hopefully our kids are resilient. We preach it all the time and they’ve heard me say it a whole bunch this year, ‘When adversity hits, we find out what kind of character we have.’ That’s what this year is about.”
Colby noted the Kats will start six or more sophomores.
“It’s a really good class, they’re just having to grow up a little early,” he said. “Hopefully it will pay off later this year. But we have to win now, we have to play well now. ... I just feel if we can go out and not beat ourselves — not turn the ball over, not give up big-chunk plays on special teams, make teams drive the ball on us — I think we have the chance to be in ballgames with what we do offensively. But it comes with running the ball and playing well up front, and we have to get better up front.”
Muncie Central split its non-conference games, falling to Pendleton Heights 33-0 in Week 1, then beating Muncie South 45-32.
“They have a quarterback, Billy Walker, who is a four-year starter. He has gone through some tough times over there, but he’s poised,” Colby said. “He looks good in the pocket, he throws a good ball, he can run, he is pretty quick. And they have a good receiver in [Timmric] Barrett. He is back from last year. He is a heck of an athlete — returns all the kicks and punts for them.
“They lost some kids from last year, but they beat their big rival in Muncie South last week. I’m sure they’re feeling good about themselves this week and I’m sure they’re motivated to play us. We’re going to have to go there and play a good game.”
Last year, Kokomo beat Muncie Central 42-28 for its sixth straight win in the series.
TAYLOR (0-2) AT WESTERN (2-0)
Western beat Frankfort and Eastbrook in the non-conference portion of its schedule for its first 2-0 start since 2008. Taylor, meanwhile, dropped games to North White and Tri-Central and enters tonight on an 18-game losing streak.
The Panthers have beaten the Titans 14 straight times. Western has won the last four meetings by a combined score of 225-6, taking a 51-0 win last year for its third straight shutout win.
PERU (2-0) AT EASTERN (1-1)
Peru visits Eastern tonight for a Mid-Indiana Conference opener.
Peru beat Wabash and Logansport in the non-conference portion of its schedule for its first 2-0 start since 1994. The Bengal Tigers’ 45-14 beatdown of Logansport last week marked their first win in that 111-year-old series since 2002.
Eastern bounced back from a season-opening loss to Oak Hill to beat Madison-Grant 26-22 last week.
Last year, the Bengals edged Eastern 41-40, snapping the Comets’ three-game winning streak in the series.
AROUND THE AREA
In the other MIC opener tonight, Maconaquah (1-1) visits defending league champion Hamilton Heights (1-1).
In a Hoosier Heartland Conference opener, Carroll (1-1) visits Tri-Central (1-1). Fellow HHC squad Clinton Central (0-2) plays out of conference tonight with a road game against Southern Wells (0-2).
And in a Hoosier Conference opener, Class 2A No. 4 Tipton (2-0) hosts Benton Central (1-1). Tipton lost star quarterback Austin Hooker to a broken arm last week.
Tonight's games Opening kicks at 7 p.m. unless otherwise noted • Northwestern at Cass • Taylor at Western • Kokomo at Muncie Central • Peru at Eastern • Maconaquah at H. Heights • Carroll at Tri-Central • 7:30 -- Benton Central at Tipton • 7:30 -- Cl. Central at S. Wells