Western and Northwestern both are off to 3-0 football starts, making their rivalry game tonight on the Tigers’ field even spicier than usual.
The Mid-Indiana Conference squads have met in Week 4 since 1997. This will be first time both come in unbeaten.
“It should be a fun atmosphere,” Northwestern coach John Hendryx said.
Western has hammered its opponents by a combined score of 116-11. The Panthers laid the groundwork for their impressive start with a 40-0 beatdown of Frankfort in Week 1.
Northwestern has outscored its opponents 77-14. The Purple Tigers are coming off a 14-8 victory over always-tough Cass in the first week of MIC play.
Hendryx points to the Panthers’ depth as his biggest concern.
“They present problems that no one else that we play will. With their platoon system, they’re playing about 20 one-way guys, and they’re not hiding anyone out there. They have quality kids all over the place,” Hendryx said. “They’re very physical as well, offensively and defensively. It’s going to be a challenge.”
Second-year Western coach Nate Andrews is impressed with Hendryx’s work with the Tigers. Northwestern beat Western 28-13 last year.
“I think the world of their coach,” Andrews said. “I think he does a tremendous job maximizing his talents and this year is no exception.”
Hendryx likes how his defense has played through the first three weeks, but he calls the Panthers “a different beast.” Western running backs Ryan Alexander and Ben Lenahan both average 5 yards per carry and quarterback Drew Bellus averages 8 yards per carry.
“Their offense likes to hit you in the mouth — ‘here we come, can you do anything about it?’” Hendryx said. “You can play well for four or five plays, then the next play is a 60-yard run because they have the speed to hurt you if you miss one assignment. We’ve seen that on film. We’re going to have to play consistent defensively. There’s no plays off.
“Their running backs come in the line of scrimmage as hard as anybody I’ve seen for awhile and the Bellus kid presents all kinds of problems himself. He’s the big guy in their backfield and he runs with power and speed and he throws the ball well. He runs their offense. I like what they’re doing with him.”
Northwestern’s offense also has looked good so far. Fullback Michael Plummer (6 yards per carry) handles a heavy workload and wingbacks Tanner Wildrick (8.8) and Keegan Fessenden (10.3) provide nice complements.
Andrews expects the Tigers to test his defense.
“I think offensively they do a lot of different things to try to confuse you. They dress things up so the defense has to prepare for a lot of different things. Then I think they’re pretty athletic offensively,” he said. “Defensively, they appear to be physical and play well against the run. What we need to do is we need to be physical for four quarters, we need to win the turnover battle, and we need to do a better job playing more error-free and that includes penalties.”
HUNTINGTON N. (1-2, 1-0 NCC) AT KOKOMO (0-3, 0-1 NCC)
Injuries, inconsistent play and inexperience have led to the Wildkats’ first 0-3 start in coach Brett Colby’s seven seasons. The Kats are scoring just 15 points per game and allowing 29.
“We’re trying to get better,” Colby said. “It’s just one of those years where we’re taking any positive we can and trying to squash the negatives. We’re doing things in practice to push our kids. We want to get mentally tougher and more disciplined — things you kind of take for granted when things are going right. But when things aren’t going right, you realize you need to work on those things.”
Colby said the Kats are focusing on themselves rather than their opponents.
“We have to get better, and that is what we focused on this week,” he said, adding the Kats had taken some positive steps heading into Thursday’s practice. “We’ll have to see [tonight] how far we have come, but I think we’re moving in the right direction.”
Colby noted Huntington North presents a tough matchup in that the Vikings feature a lot of seniors and juniors while the Kats have a younger lineup.
The Vikings have a pass-heavy offense. Senior QB Keenan Leichty has completed 79 of 154 pass attempts for 846 yards with seven touchdowns and no picks. His top targets are seniors Scott McClellan (25 catches, 339 yards, 4 TDs) and Kole Hale (23-215-1).
Colby points to making the Vikings’ offense one-dimensional as the No. 1 key.
“You can’t let a throwing team have a running game because when you do, then you’re just on your heels all the time,” Colby said. “They are going to throw. It’s going to be hard to get pressure because their quarterback doesn’t hold the ball long.
“We just have to do what we need to do to make our team better and hopefully it will be good enough to be in this game.”
The Vikings average 28 ppg and allow 34. They are coming off a 50-26 victory over Logansport in the opening week of NCC play.
Kokomo under Colby is 6-0 against Huntington North.
EASTERN (1-2, 0-1 MIC) AT MAC (1-2, 0-1 MIC)
Eastern visits Maconaquah tonight for a matchup of teams looking to reach .500, both overall and in the MIC.
Quarterback Austin Bates leads the pass-happy Comets. He is passing for an area-best 246.3 yards per game. His top targets, Will Porter (83.3 yards per game) and Cree Johnston (78.7), rank 1-2 in the area in receiving.
Last year, the Braves beat the Comets 27-7, snapping Eastern’s four-game winning streak in the series.
TAYLOR (0-3, 0-1 MIC) AT PERU (3-0, 1-0 MIC)
Peru has bolted to a 3-0 start for the first time since 1983. The Bengal Tigers are scoring an area-best 49.3 points per game with running backs Michael Richardson and Steven McBride leading the charge. Richardson is No. 1 the area in rushing (151.7 yards per game) and scoring (60 points) — and McBride is No. 2 in both categories (129.3 ypg, 52 points).
Taylor, meanwhile, is mired in a rut. The Titans’ 0-3 start has extended their losing streak to 19 games. They last tasted victory two years ago this week when they beat Peru 15-8. The Bengal Tigers went winless that year, but have made great strides since.
H. HEIGHTS (2-1, 1-0 MIC) AT CASS (1-2, 0-1 MIC)
Cass entertains Class 3A No. 7-ranked Hamilton Heights tonight in a matchup of perennial MIC title contenders.
Heights hammered the Kings 45-7 last year for its fourth straight win in the series. The Huskies went 7-0 in conference play last year and have won nine straight conference games overall.
AROUND THE AREA
In the Hoosier Conference, Class 2A No. 3 Tipton (3-0, 1-0) visits Rensselaer (3-0, 0-0).
In the Hoosier Heartland Conference, Tri-Central (2-1, 1-0) visits Clinton Prairie (1-2, 0-1), and Carroll (1-2, 0-1) visits Sheridan (1-2, 1-0).
And in non-conference play, Clinton Central (0-3) travels to Cascade (2-1).
TONIGHT'S GAMES Kickoffs at 7 p.m. unless otherwise noted • Western at Northwestern • Huntington North at Kokomo • Taylor at Peru • Eastern at Maconaquah • Hamilton Heights at Cass • Tri-Central at Clinton Prairie • 7:30 -- Carroll at Sheridan • 7:30 -- Cl. Central at Cascade • 8 p.m. -- Tipton at Rensselaer