By TRIBUNE SPORTS STAFF
---- — Northwestern, Western and other KT-area football squads playing in sectional semifinals tonight have their work cut out for them.
• Northwestern (7-3) hosts No. 5-ranked Yorktown (9-1) in Class 3A Sectional 28. Yorktown features dynamic running back Chandler Carroll, who ranks No. 4 in the state in rushing with 218.6 yards per game.
• No. 8 Western (9-1) visits No. 6 West Lafayette (9-1) in the other Sectional 28 semifinal. The Red Devils have a balanced offensive attack. Quarterback Parker Ronchetto is completing 72.4 percent of his pass attempts and running back Maurice Woodard is a dangerous playmaker.
• In Class 2A, No. 7 Tipton (7-3) hosts Hoosier Conference rival Lafayette Central Catholic (9-1) in a Sectional 35 semifinal. No. 2-ranked LCC is riding a 25-game postseason happy streak after winning the last four Class A championships.
• In Class A, No. 8 Tri-Central (9-1) visits Sheridan (5-5) in Sectional 44. TC beat Sheridan 33-27 in a Hoosier Heartland Conference game two weeks ago, but this is the postseason and Sheridan is a nine-time Class A state champion.
• Also in Class A, Carroll (6-4) hosts No. 9 Pioneer (8-2). Pioneer is riding an eight-game winning streak during which it has scored an average of 55 points per game.
The following are looks at those five games. The Tribune previewed the McCutcheon-Kokomo game in Thursday’s edition.
YORKTOWN AT NORTHWESTERN
Yorktown’s lone loss came to unbeaten Class 4A No. 2 New Palestine in Hoosier Heritage Conference play. The Tigers were runners-up in the league, which is composed of five Class 4A schools and two 3A schools.
Yorktown averages 47 points per game. Carroll has rushed for 2,186 yards and 31 touchdowns, averaging 9.8 yards per carry.
“They’re very talented. You don’t go 8-1 with the schedule they have and not be very good,” Northwestern coach John Hendryx said. “They don’t have many weaknesses. They’re huge — their tackles are 6-5, 280 [pounds], the quarterback is 6-5, 210 and they have two or three 6-2 receivers. The running back is not overly big, but he’s probably the fastest running back that we’ve had to play probably since I’ve been at Northwestern. He is unbelievably fast. If he gets into the second level, there’s not much you’re going to do except watch him run down the field.”
Carroll had a game for the ages in a 78-49 victory over Pendleton Heights in Week 7, rushing for 520 yards and eight touchdowns on 33 carries. He had a 280-yard, three-TD game against Eastbrook last week, helping Yorktown advance with a 21-20 win.
Yorktown is far from a one-dimensional team. Quarterback Riley Neal also has impressive statistics — he has completed 136 of 212 pass attempts for 2,161 yards with 29 touchdowns and only four interceptions. His top receivers are Jacob Wagner (35 catches, 692 yards, 10 TDs) and Riley Miller (43-568-8).
“They have the weapons to do it all [offensively]. It’s a monster test,” Hendryx said.
Yorktown is sound defensively as well, allowing just 17.7 ppg.
“They’re pretty physical,” Hendryx said. “I like their linebacker play. They get downhill to the ball pretty well. They have pretty good perimeter quickness — they’re a 3-4 team and they have a couple pretty quick outside linebackers and then [Carroll] plays corner for them and he’s a great open-field tackler.”
Northwestern scores 30.7 ppg and allows 17.7. Injuries have left the Purple Tigers at less-than-full strength, making tonight’s task even tougher.
“We’re going to have to step our level of play up another notch,” Hendryx said. “We’ve had a good week of practice. The kids are excited for the opportunity. We’ll see what we can do.”
Northwestern and Yorktown have met just once previously, with the Purple Tigers taking a 14-0 win in a 1991 sectional opener.
WESTERN AT WEST LAFAYETTE
Western coach Nate Andrews pointed to West Lafayette as the headliner in Sectional 28 last week when asked to preview the loaded grouping. The Red Devils lived up to that billing in the opening round, rocking Delta 50-12.
“They’re what we imagined,” Western coach Nate Andrews said. “They are very athletic on both sides of the ball, they’re very big and physical and they have a good coaching staff. So you put those three ingredients together, you’re going to be a pretty good football team. Our deal is the same. We have to take care of ourselves with our character first and we have to compete every single down.”
The Red Devils are an explosive squad. They average 41 points per game and feature a balanced attack. Ronchetto has completed 110 of 152 pass attempts for 2,007 yards with 25 touchdowns and only three interceptions. Woodard has rushed for 1,603 yards and 26 touchdowns, averaging 6.9 yards per carry. Travis Rolle leads the receiving corps with 36 catches for 532 yards and nine TDs.
“I think West Lafayette brings a complete package,” Andrews said. “Yes, they have explosive players, but at the same time, they’re big and physical and they’re so balanced. Whoever they’re playing, they’ll take whatever that defense is giving them because they are so diverse.
“I just hope we can withstand maybe some of their early blows and we can impose our will in what we do. We can’t get into their game. We have to do what we do and do it well.”
Western has a relentless ground game that is producing 316 yards per game. Fullback Ben Lenahan had a 219-yard game against Mississinewa last week, pushing him over the 1,000-yard mark. Quarterback Drew Bellus has rushed for more than 500 yards and passed for just under 500 yards.
The Red Devils are holding opponents to 15 ppg.
The Mid-Indiana Conference co-champion Panthers score 37 ppg and allow 13.6 ppg.
“We’ve done some good things. But we’ll have to take all those good things to a different level [tonight],” Andrews said.
The squads last met in a 2010 sectional championship, which West Lafayette won 29-9. The year before, the Red Devils beat the Panthers 21-6 in a sectional semifinal en route to winning the 3A state championship.
LAFAYETTE CATHOLIC AT TIPTON
The Blue Devils will look to hand the Class 2A No. 2-ranked Knights their first postseason loss in four years when they pay a visit.
LCC won four straight Class A state titles from 2009-12 before being bumped up to 2A this season due to the IHSAA’s new success factor. A 51-0 win over North Putnam last week gave the Knights their 25th straight tournament win.
“That’s their biggest strength,” Tipton coach Aaron Tolle said. His No. 7-ranked Blue Devils are seeking their fourth straight sectional title. “They have some youth and have had to replace a lot of starters from those teams, but just watching them on film, it’s very evident their tradition is one of their big driving forces. These kids are trained to live up to what past teams have done. They don’t want to be part of that team that breaks that streak. That’s a huge hurdle for us. But, there aren’t many teams equipped with as much postseason experience as we have, so it’s going to be a war of wills.”
The Hoosier Conference rivals will do battle for the second time this season. The Knights took a 14-7 victory in Week 6 with the help of a 67-yard punt return touchdown by Mitch Witteveen with 1:06 to play in the contest. Tipton played that game without 2012 Kokomo Tribune Offensive Player of the Year, quarterback Austin Hooker, who missed four games in the regular season with a broken non-throwing arm. He returned the following week, and the Devils have won four straight.
“It changes things dramatically for us, offensively,” Tolle said. “We’re much more balance and a much more confident team with Austin taking the snaps. But, I think LCC is much improved from when we played them in Week 6, too. I really, really think it’s going to come down to the team who wants play more next week.”
Hooker is 56 of 101 through the air for 874 yards, seven TDs and two interceptions in a little over five games of action. Nate Hein leads the Devils’ rushing attack with 158 carries for 911 yards and six TDs, while Hooker adds 56 carries for 350 yards and eight TDs. Jake Devendorf leads Tipton in receiving with 33 catches for 458 yards and four TDs.
LCC is led by QB Ty Preston, who is 191 of 313 passing for 2,322 yards, 19 TDs and and six interceptions this season. Joe Smith leads the Knights on the ground with 162 carries for 865 yards and nine TDs, while Preston’s favorite target has been Jackson Anthrop, who has 68 grabs for 363 yards and three TDs.
TRI-CENTRAL AT SHERIDAN
This is the big one. Bigger than two weeks ago when Tri-Central topped Sheridan for the first time in 20 seasons. That game validated the strides the Trojans have taken the last five years since George Gilbert took over as coach. A win tonight in the Sectional 44 semifinal would cement them as a serious contender this season in Class A.
”Whenever you play Sheridan, they really are the best in Class A,” Gilbert said. “Other teams come and go. They’ve won 19 sectionals, they’ve won nine state titles.
“I’m hoping the boys can rise to the occasion. Even though we’re ranked seventh [in the coaches’ poll] and we’re 9-1 and they’re 5-5, we’re still the underdog. [Sheridan coach Larry “Bud” Wright] can’t play the underdog til you beat him in the tournament. They’re still the champions of our sectional and they’re going to try to defend it and we’re going to try to beat them.”
TC rolled Clinton Central 37-6 last week while Sheridan crushed Indianapolis Arlington 66-0.
In his time at TC and Clinton Central, Gilbert said his squads have never topped Sheridan in the postseason. This season, the task is as realistic as ever thanks to TC’s balanced attack. Cody Howell has thrown for 1,112 yards. Running back Garrett Kelley has run for 1,254 and Cody Colbert adds another 541.
”I think we’ve got to have a mix. You’ve got to be able to throw the ball,” Gilbert said. “You can’t beat a Bud Wright team if you can’t throw the ball, but you’ve got to be smart about it. If I wait til we’re third and 12 to throw the ball, we’re in trouble.
”And we’ve got to play stellar defense. We got a pretty good groove in the game [two weeks ago] and we were able to move the ball, but Bud will have something new to the mix.
”It’s going to come down to mistakes, field position, and which defense is going to be able to play the strongest.”
PIONEER AT CARROLL
The squads last met a year ago at this same stage, the semifinal round of Class A Sectional 42 play. Last year, Pioneer took a 35-21 victory. Carroll returns eight players on offense and eight on defense from that team.
”We just got out of a film session with last year’s game with them and we look up and we’ve got a third and 17,” Carroll coach Steve Keown said. “We’ve got to stay away from those situations. Penalties, fumbles, negative plays on that side of the ball, we’ve got to stay away from them.
”On the defensive side of the ball, we’ve got to be disciplined. We’ve got key reads, we’ve got things we’ve got to be looking at, and do your job and don’t feel like you’ve got to do somebody else’s job, because that’s exactly what [Pioneer’s Wing-T] offense wants you to do — somebody else’s job — and they’ll take advantage of it.”
The teams have four common opponents and both Pioneer and Carroll have won all those games. No. 9-ranked Pioneer has won eight straight after starting with losses to Cass and Class A No. 3 Winamac.
Carroll QB Jared Miller has thrown for 502 yards in five games. Kreed Switzer has 24 catches for 495 yards. Jaden Reneau has run for 1,223 yards while Brandon Dillon has run for 575 and has 316 receiving yards on 18 catches (he was Miller’s replacement at QB when Miller was injured). Chandler Eurit has run for 501 yards.
”We’ve gotten healthy, we’ve gotten some people back. That’s big for us,” Keown said. “We’ve won five of our last six. Our kids are excited to have the opportunity to play them. We get to play at home, which is always a big plus for us.”
TONIGHT'S GAMES All kickoffs at 7 p.m. • McCutcheon at Kokomo • Yorktown at Northwestern • Western at West Lafayette • Lafayette CC at Tipton • Tri-Central at Sheridan • Pioneer at Carroll