By TRIBUNE SPORTS STAFF
---- — If Kokomo coach Brett Colby had to use one word to sum up the first half of the 2013 season, more than likely, that word would be injuries.
The Wildkats lost quarterback/safety Tayler Persons — a four-year starter whom many would agree was the heart and soul of the team —for the season in Week 2 to a ligament tear in his knee.
Four other starters, quarterback/defensive back Keyon Washington, lineman Jacque Matthews, linebacker Quinton Young and running back Luis Ascencio have all missed significant time in the Kats’ 2-3 start to the season.
Those two wins have come in back-to-back weeks against Huntington North and New Castle, and now, all of those players, minus Persons, will be back in the lineup Friday night when Kokomo hosts North Central Conference-leading Richmond.
“It was like Christmas morning Tuesday night at practice,” Colby said. “The kids were excited and we had great energy. It’s been a really good [week] of work. We made the most of it this week, probably more so than any other week this season. Let’s hope it carries over to Friday, but I’m excited about seeing us come out this week like we have.”
The Red Devils (4-1, 3-0 NCC) have won three in a row since a 46-2 loss to 4A No. 7-ranked New Palestine on Aug. 30. Richmond defeated Kokomo (2-3, 1-1 NCC) 26-22 last season in a game that was halted on Friday night due to weather and resumed on the following day, forcing the Kats to make a second trip to Richmond in less than 24 hours. The loss snapped a 39-game NCC winning streak for the Kats as the Red Devils went on to win the conference crown.
This season, Richmond has been getting it done through the air, led by quarterback Jordan Christian, who has completed 45 of 77 passes for 891 yards, 10 touchdowns and three interceptions. Christian’s favorite target has been Matt Morrow, who has 21 catches for 417 yards and five TDs. Derek Williams is the squad’s leading rusher with 178 yards and two TDs on 44 carries.
“I really like their corps of receivers,” Colby said. “They have a good group of them, a group of four or five who can all catch and run. The Morrow kid plays in the slot, so he’s hard to double team. Their two wide receivers are big, 6-2, kinda lean kids. They can run and catch.”
Kokomo’s offense has been sluggish out of the gate, but has shown signs of a turnaround in recent weeks, led by running back Bo Baker. Baker ran for 244 yards and four TDs in last week’s 32-6 win at New Castle, and enters the Richmond game with 662 yards and five TDs in 112 carries for the season. The Kats will need more of the same against at Red Devils’ defense that’s “playing really well right now,” according to Colby.
“They have a lot of seniors, and a lot of starters back,” Colby added.. They’ve got a really good defensive line up front, let by Nate Trawick, who’s as good as we’ll see this year. It’s going to be a battle of wills. We have to be able to run the ball, which we haven’t been able to do real well this year, I don’t think. Last week we got better, but [Richmond] has a very tough, stiff run defense, so we have our work cut out for us this week. But, we have some kids back, and I think that has our kids excited and ready to play.”
MACONAQUAH (3-2, 2-1 MIC) AT NW (4-1, 2-1 MIC)
The Braves enter on an emotional high after stunning Western 28-18 last week in a game punctuated by K.J. Walton’s 101-yard fumble return for a touchdown in the final minute.
Maconaquah coach Mark Hartman said the win gave the Braves “a ton” of life heading into the back half of the season.
“It’s probably the biggest win for Maconaquah in, I don’t know, 20 years,” he said. “And more importantly it showed our guys what we’re capable of if we come out and play solid football, very aggressively, fast paced, not make a lot of mistakes.”
Northwestern won last year’s meeting 41-12 but the Braves have made a leap forward, already equaling last year’s win total.
“I think they’re a lot better,” NW coach John Hendryx said. “They’ve got a lot of guys back. You look at the ages of the kids that are starting, a lot of senior starters with some juniors sprinkled in. And then you have a three-year starter at tailback [Cody Hicks]. Everybody’s a year older, everybody’s got a year more strength, a year more experience, and it shows.”
The Braves have cleared paths for Hicks to run for 762 yards so far this season. QB Kyle Dinn has completed 40 of 64 yards but didn’t attempt a single pass last week in rainy conditions against Western. Walton has 19 receptions.
“They’ve got a huge offensive line, they’ve got a great tailback, and a very good quarterback that I think is kind of underrated,” Hendryx said. “They didn’t use him a lot last week, they didn’t throw a lot last week, but in some of their other games we’ve seen he’s done a really good job of running their offense, completing passes, getting first downs, and they have a really skilled wide receiver.
“Defensively they’re all about pressure. They put a ton of pressure on you. They’re a pretty big challenge.”
Hendryx noted that Maconaquah’s dominant running game can control the clock and limit opportunities for opponents. He said it’s vital to not let the Braves chew up seven or eight minutes at a time because their defense is improved as well, making it harder for opposing offenses.
After taking a 30-14 loss to Western two weeks ago, Northwestern re-committed to making sure the Purple Tigers were right fundamentally, and responded with a 47-14 victory over Taylor. Hendryx said the team has made progress the last two weeks in practice and needs to continue showing that tonight.
Michael Plummer leads the Tigers with 563 yards on the ground. Trey Richmond has passed for 333 yards.
“Northwestern’s a solid ball team, very well coached,” Hartman said. “They have a lot of weapons. We know that we’re going to have to play very disciplined defense against what they do offensively, and we’re going to have to win the war up front offensively.”
WESTERN (4-1, 2-1 MIC) AT PERU (4-1, 2-1 MIC)
The Panthers visit the Bengal Tigers tonight for a matchup of teams coming off their first losses.
Western dropped a 28-18 decision to Maconaquah, while upstart Peru saw its longest unbeaten start to a season in 30 years come to an end with a 46-7 loss to Cass.
Hamilton Heights leads the MIC at 3-0. Western and Peru are part of a four-way logjam for second in the standings.
Western beat Peru 59-0 last year for its 13th straight win in the teams’ series.
CASS (2-3, 1-2 MIC) AT EASTERN (1-4, 0-3 MIC)
Cass whipped previously unbeaten Peru 46-7 last week to snap a three-game losing streak as it hits the midpoint of the season.
Eastern, meanwhile, is in a rut. The Comets are allowing 54.7 points per game in MIC play.
The Kings beat the Comets 47-0 last year for its 13th win in the last 14 meetings between the squads.
Eastern High School’s Class of 1963 is celebrating its 50th reunion with the dedication of a sign commemorating the football program’s state-record 37-game win streak over the course of the early 1960s. The sign will go on the east side of the ticket office at Cogdell Field.
TAYLOR (0-5, 0-3 MIC) AT H. HEIGHTS (4-1, 3-0 MIC)
Taylor will take a 21-game losing streak on the road for a tough test. Class 3A No. 6-ranked Hamilton Heights is the defending MIC champion and is leading the way again this season.
Heights beat Taylor 54-0 last year, improving to 13-0 in the series since joining the MIC in 2000.
AROUND THE AREA
In the Hoosier Conference, Tipton (3-2, 1-2) hosts defending league champion Lafayette Central Catholic (4-1, 3-0). The Knights are ranked No. 3 in Class 2A.
In the Hoosier Heartland Conference, Clinton Central (0-5, 0-1) visits Tri-Central (4-1, 2-0), and Carroll (2-3, 0-2) visits Clinton Prairie (1-4, 0-2).
Sheridan leads the HHC at 3-0. Tri-Central is the only other unbeaten in the league.
Tonight's games All games start at 7 p.m. unless otherwise noted. Maconaquah at Northwestern Western at Peru Cass at Eastern Taylor at Hamilton Heights Clinton Central at Tri-Central Lafayette Catholic at Tipton Carroll at Clinton Prairie 7:30 -- Richmond at Kokomo