Tippecanoe Valley will try to claim its first win of the season at North Miami Friday night. (File photo by James Costello)
A Northern Lakes Conference football championship may not be won during the first Friday night in September.
But the outcomes this Friday night will go a long way toward determining a winner come later on.
A pair of big-time league clashes highlight the slate of four NLC games set for Friday night.
The marquee matchup finds a pair of unbeatens in NorthWood and Concord clashing at Jake Field in Dunlap. The Panthers are ranked No. 1 in Class 4-A and have outscored their first two foes 73-0. Concord, ranked No. 6 in Class 5-A, sits at 2-0 with wins over South Bend St. Joseph (31-30) and NLC foe Elkhart Memorial (38-14).
NorthWood, which beat Concord a season ago to snap an 11-game losing streak to the Minutemen, ran the table at 7-0 to claim league bragging rights in 2016 for the first time since sharing the conference crown with Concord and Wawasee back in 2004. The Minutemen have won or earned a share of the NLC title five times in the last seven seasons.
The second huge matchup finds Plymouth heading east to Fisher Field to tackle the Tigers. The Rockies are ranked No. 9 in Class 4-A and own three straight wins over Warsaw. The Tigers are coming off a 28-7 loss at East Noble last week. Plymouth beat East Noble 22-18 in week one.
The other big story has undefeated Triton looking to make it three in a row to start the season. The Trojans welcome Caston to Bourbon. Triton is off to its first 2-0 start since 2008 and with a win Friday night will surpass last year’s win total.
Wawasee and Valley try to bounce back from losses. The Warriors head to Middlebury to face Northridge in its NLC opener. The Vikings trek to North Miami for a game versus the Warriors, which will not be counted in the league standings.
Here is a quick look at games on the docket for Friday night.
Plymouth (2-0, 0-0) at Warsaw (1-1, 0-0), 7 p.m.
The mistakes will have to be at a minimum this week.
That will be a huge key as Warsaw welcomes unbeaten Plymouth to Fisher Field for the league opener. The Rockies, who are ranked No. 9 in Class 4-A, have beaten the Tigers three straight times.
“Plymouth is really good,” said Warsaw coach Phil Jensen. “Their defense is incredible. They have playmakers all over the field on defense.
“We can’t turn the ball over and we have to score when we have opportunities to.”
Warsaw had three critical turnovers, all in East Noble’s side of the field, in a 28-7 loss last week. Plymouth opened its season two weeks ago by downing East Noble 22-18.
“We have to win the big downs,” noted Jensen. “We can’t allow them big runs. Everyone on our defense has to do their job and take care of their assignment.”
“This is a big week. You don’t want to fall behind to start the NLC.”
Warsaw senior Will McGarvey needs 96 yards to reach 2,000 for his career.
The Plymouth at Warsaw game is the WHME-TV (Channel 46) Game of the Week. The celebrity trio of Bob Nagle, Chuck Freeby and Bo Hundt will handle the broadcast, which will be shown at 11 p.m. Friday and again at 9 a.m. on Saturday.
Warsaw coach Phil Jensen, who is shooting for his 100th career win at WCHS Friday night, was teammates at Butler University with Plymouth coach John Barron. Barron is 105-43 in his 14th season in charge of the Rockies.
Plymouth beat Warsaw 17-10 a year ago.
Wawasee (1-1, 0-0) at Northridge (2-0, 0-0), 7 p.m.
The Warriors will be in bounce back mode for the league opener in Middlebury.
“It comes down to being able to run the ball and playing better defense,” said Wawasee coach Mike Eshbach of his club. “The season is still young and we have time, but we need to do those two things.”
The Warriors got drilled 31-14 at West Noble last Friday after crushing Lakeland in week one.
Wawasee has been hit hard by injuries, including a key one to running back Alec Rosbrugh, according to their coach.
“We’ve had no luck with those,” noted Eshbach. “But, we have to refocus, communicate on the field and eliminate the breakdowns.”
Northridge beat South Bend St. Joseph 27-10 last week after topping South Bend Adams 26-14 in week one.
“We have a good plan in place for Northridge,” said Eshbach. “We have a good idea what we will see from them. They want to run the ball and you better be able to stop that.
“We just need to execute and not give up the big plays this week.”
Wawasee beat the Raiders in double overtime during the regular season a year ago. Northridge then sidelined Wawasee 21-20 in a first-round sectional game.
NorthWood (2-0, 0-0) at Concord (2-0, 1-0), 7 p.m.
For the first time this season, the Panthers will board the bus and play on the road.
That’s just fine with focused and fiery coach Nate Andrews.
“I like going to play on the road,” noted Andrews. “It’s a greater challenge. Focus is definitely part of it. There are not as many distractions and as a team we can get dialed in on the bus ride.”
Andrews also relishes the challenge of competing in a big game too.
“This is why we do it,” said Andrews of facing the Minutemen. “This is why you play and coach. The challenge. The thing about Concord is how big and physical they are up front. That’s glaring. And they work well together.”
The Panthers are just one of seven teams statewide who have not allowed a single point so far.
“Our defense has given our offense opportunities to get the ball back,” remarked Andrews. “We just have to continue to improve with effort and toughness and understanding our assignments.
“I think right now that this team is building its identity quickly. We just need to continue to make a gradual progression as we move forward.”
Senior Landen Gessinger has been a force in his first year at quarterback. He has rushed for 356 yards and scored three touchdowns in the first two games for the Panthers.
Concord is led by its backfield of Dominick DeBroka and Jack Lietzen. Debroka rushed for 126 yards and two scores on just 12 carries last week. Lietzen, who was All-NLC at quarterback last year, has scored four touchdowns. Sophomore Ethan Cain has taken over at quarterback for the Minutemen. Concord also has a big weapon in Josh Gorball, one of the top kickers in the area.
NorthWood standout tailback Bronson Yoder is slated for a follow-up exam on Friday, according to Andrews. The junior, who tallied 20 touchdowns a year ago, has been sidelined for the first two games after having wrist surgery three weeks ago.
NorthWood beat concord 50-32 in 2016.
Caston (1-1, 0-1) at Triton (2-0, 1-0), 7 p.m.
There is a definite buzz around Bourbon these days.
Triton coach Ron Brown, though, is making sure to pump the brakes just a tad before planning a parade down Main Street.
“I appreciate the fact that we are 2-0 and it feels pretty good, but it’s way to early to enjoy it,” said Brown. “I’m sipping the Kool-Aid, but not drinking it. There are expectations now from all over the place.”
Brown says that he feels his team can handle the early success though.
“Our kids are pretty grounded and that know what’s at stake,” Brown said. “They are focused on Caston. Our goal the whole year has been to be a better team than we were the previous week regardless of anything else.”
Triton beat LaVille 22-14 last week as quarterback Bo Snyder hit Delano Shumpert with three touchdown passes, all in the first half.
“Bo has been playing pretty well and I think that a lot of that has to do with the way the supporting cast around him has been playing,” said Brown. “We’ve got guys who can catch the ball, guys who can run the ball and guys who are doing a good job blocking for him.
“We just want to do what we do no matter who we are playing. I want all 11 of our guys on the field playing at a high level for us.”
Triton lost to Caston 6-0 to open the season and then drilled the Comets 50-0 in a playoff opener a year ago.
Tippecanoe Valley (0-2, 0-0) at North Miami (1-1, 1-0), 7 p.m.
Stephen Moriarty knows his team has lost to a pair of quality opponents.
He also knows that his team made improvements from week one to week two.
“Our kids are battling hard and we made quite a few improvements from week one to last week,” noted the first-year Valley coach. “I thought that we bounced back and held our own in the second half with CMA last week.”
Valley will travel to Denver to face North Miami in what is a non-conference game because of the two teams playing in different divisions in the Three Rivers Conference.
“North Miami has a talented, veteran quarterback and they are very well coached on defense,” said Moriarty.
North Miami beat Valley 55-13 in 2016.