Kokomo’s football team makes the long roadie to Richmond today. If the two hour-plus bus ride causes attention to drift, the stakes and the opponent should snap the Wildkats to full attention once they hit the field.
Tonight’s game matches up the last two teams with perfect North Central Conference marks. Kokomo (4-1, 3-0 NCC) owns league wins over Muncie Central, Huntington North and Anderson. The Red Devils (3-2, 3-0 NCC) have wins over Anderson, Marion and Central.
“Definitely the winner’s going to have a leg up on everybody else in the conference, for who is going to have a say a the end of the season,” Kokomo coach Brett Colby said. “We’ve still got three really quality opponents [after Richmond]. If you come out of this 4-0, you’re sitting pretty.”
The Wildkats have won five straight league titles and have never lost an NCC game under sixth-year coach Colby. The Devils will try and end that streak with a balanced attack that is dangerous over air or on the ground.
“They’ve got a new coach [Matt Holeva] so they changed a little bit offensively,” Colby said. “They’re running the ball much better than they have the last few years.
“When they have a lead in the second half, they very rarely ever throw the ball. They’ve got a good QB [Justyn Curtis], good receivers, a heck of a tailback [Taylor Kidd]. They really put a lot of pressure on your defense. They’ll pressure you with whatever they do because right now they have a lot of talented kids going through their program.”
Holeva previously coached for eight seasons at Centerville. There he had a 5-5 record his first season before ripping off seven straight winning seasons.
The ground-centric Wildkats are led in rushing by Michael Copeland, who has run for 763 yards and has scored 11 of Kokomo’s 21 touchdowns. Bo Baker has 354 yards and five TDs. The Wildkats average 6.1 yards per carry.
“It comes down to this: You’ve really got to be able to run the ball, and be able to defend the run. Secondly, you have to win the turnover battle. I don’t see them turning the ball over much,” Colby said, noting his Kats have done well the last two weeks with just one turnover. “We’re really focused on that aspect. If we can play a mistake-free game and run the ball well, and defend the run, we have a good shot to win this game. But we still have to defend the passing game.”
Last season’s contest in Kokomo was marred by a fight at the end after a well-played game by both squads. Colby doesn’t expect lingering tensions to come into play.
“I just really haven’t said much. I said, ‘Hey, it was an ugly way to end a good game last year. We’ve learned a lesson,’” he said. “We didn’t try to provoke it anyway. We haven’t had any issues since then and I don’t expect any this week either.”
Tipton (5-0, 3-0 Hoosier) at Lafayette Catholic (4-1, 3-0)
The Class 2A No. 5-ranked Blue Devils have redemption on their minds as the head to Lafayette to play the Class A No. 1 Knights with first place in the Hoosier Conference on the line.
LCC clobbered Tipton 49-6 last season on its way to a third straight Class A state title, a contest that Tipton coach Aaron Tolle called his team’s “worst game of the year.”
“We did not show up in this ballgame last year,” Tolle said. “I think, as much as anything, we need to prove to ourselves and LCC that we belong at the top of the conference because we certainly did not with our performance last year. The big thing is that at the end of the night, there is only going to be one team in the conference with no losses. That’s what we’re shooting for. We haven’t been in that position in a long time so that’s goal No. 1”
Tipton’s last HC title came in 2001, when the Devils shared the crown with Rensselaer and Benton Central.
LCC has undergone a mid-season facelift in recent weeks following a 14-12 loss at Culver Academy to snap a 47-game win streak, moving quarterback Timmy Mills to receiver in favor of Ty Preston, who enters tonight having completed 20 of 39 passes for 378 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. Mills is the squad’s leading rusher (34 carries, 340 yards, 4 TDs) and receiver (eight catches, 192 yards).
“[Preston] makes them a lot different,” Tolle said. “The ball was in Mills’ hands every play, and they’ve been primarily a running team, but [Preston] gives them a new wrinkle in the passing game. They’re a little more balanced now.”
Tipton has displayed a balanced attack of its own.
Fullback James Altherr leads the Devils in rushing with 552 yards and five TDs on 88 carries, while quarterback Austin Hooker has completed 51 of 88 passes for 821 yards, eight TDs and just one interception. Blake Hoover has been Hooker’s go-to wideout with 24 catches for 399 yards and seven TDs so far this season.
“You can look at it two different ways,” Tolle said. “I would love to be balanced. If we’re balanced that means both things are working and that plays to our advantage. Or, it could be like last Friday against West Lafayette [a 20-14 win] where we were winning the line of scrimmage on a very consistent basis. When our big backfield is moving the ball on the ground and gaining first downs, that keeps the ball away from them. We feel like we’ll be in good shape in either of those scenarios.”
N’Western (4-1, 2-1 MIC) at Mac (1-4, 1-2 MIC)
Northwestern won a share of the 2011 Mid-Indiana Conference title, and it’s in the hunt again this year. The Purple Tigers have a date with league leader Hamilton Heights looming next week — but the Tigers must clear tonight’s challenge in order to make next week’s game important.
Northwestern has dominated Maconaquah in recent years, winning the last three meetings between the teams by a combined score of 163-20. Overall, the Tigers own a six-game winning streak in the all-time series.
Eastern (0-5, 0-3 MIC) at Cass (4-1, 2-1 MIC)
Class 2A No. 10-ranked Cass returns home tonight after playing its previous three games on the road. The Kings’ next two games are at home, and both are against winless teams — Eastern, then Taylor.
Last year, Eastern beat Cass 21-14 to snap the Kings’ 12-game winning streak in the teams’ all-time series.
Peru (3-2, 2-1 MIC) at Western (2-3, 2-1 MIC)
Western will go for its first two-game winning streak of the season when it hosts Peru tonight. Last week, Western beat Maconaquah 49-27, and Peru took a 63-0 loss against Cass.
Western beat Peru twice last year — 64-0 in MIC play and 34-0 in a sectional game. Overall, the Panthers own a 12-game winning streak in the all-time series.
H. Heights (4-1, 3-0 MIC) at Taylor (0-5, 0-3 MIC)
Taylor faces the tough task of taking on Class 3A No. 6-ranked and MIC front-runner Hamilton Heights.
Heights is 12-0 against Taylor since the Huskies joined the MIC in 2000. The Huskies took a 56-0 win last year and a 69-0 win two years ago.
Around the area
In the Hoosier Heartland Conference, upstart Tri-Central (5-0, 2-0) visits Clinton Central (1-4, 0-1) in search of a rare win in the teams’ series. Clinton Central has won the last eight meetings between the teams and is 19-1 against TC since 1995.
With a win tonight, TC would move into a share of the league lead with Sheridan — and TC would have its first 6-0 start in school history.
Also in the HHC tonight, Carroll (1-4, 0-2) hosts Clinton Prairie (1-4, 0-2).