DA REGION -- Take in the wonderful smells emanating from the kitchen? Mmm, mmm good.
Turkey. Mashed potatoes, gravy. Lots and lots of gravy. Green bean casserole. Corn bread. Meatballs. And, drum roll please - pumpkin pie with lots of swipes of Cool Whip on top of the heated treat.
It doesn’t get much better than this, does it?
It’s Thanksgiving in the 2-1-9 in 2019, and I say we have a lot to be thankful for. Yes, there are problems and issues that must be addressed, but if we focus on the good first it will inspire us to do the good work with more pep and pizzazz.
Most folks would run from green turkey, but not the good folks in Valparaiso. Bill Marshall’s Vikings have pounded all but one this season. They are 13-0 heading into the Class 5A state championship game against New Palestine, one of Indiana’s best programs in recent history.
Talk about Friday night lights.
Valpo’s defense has four shutouts this fall and has given up 13 points in the last month. That’s nasty, like my Aunt Doreen’s fruitcake. But can they slow down Charlie Spegal, who has 10,707 career yards and 174 career touchdowns. His Dragons are the defending state champs and have played inside Lucas Oil Stadium three times since 2014.
Talk about an uphill climb. As I put a napkin over my neck, I believe the Vikings have a chance and that’s all a team, player or coach ever wants.
Don’t be surprised if this is a game in the fourth quarter.
Three other Region football teams competed in semi-states. Andrean lost to Eastbrook 26-14 in 2A, Hobart lost to East Noble 29-24 (4A) and Merrillville lost to Carmel 38-17 (6A). All were road games, which points out how ping pong balls and gravity have as much to do with winners as talent and skill.
Yes, Valparaiso played its semi-state game at home. It helps.
Hats off to Chris Skinner, Craig Osika and Brad Seiss and their teams for making history, while bringing pulse and breath to their communities. It was a remarkable run, gents. You have nothing to hang your heads about.
Wear your lettermen’s jackets with pride and accept the pats on your back. You more than deserve them.
And as the aromas float throughout the house, the boys basketball season tips off. This could be a special winter for the kids in pricey sneaks. There are so many stories ready to be written inside our gyms.
It’s like a table filled with grub and laughter.
John Boyd takes over at Bishop Noll. Can he write a West Side story now that he’s back in Lake County? Can Andrean make another run to Indy in March? Can 21st Century finally break through and get to the state championship round?
These stories or plates have yet to be served. There is time to delve into these later. And I will.
But for now let us wrap our minds and arms around the things that really matter.
For a child coming home for the holiday, thank You. Remembering those who’ve gone on and all they brought to our lives, thanks. For health and employment and joy and love, thank You. For being grateful for the doors that have closed and the new ones that have opened, thank You.
For hope that comes from You, thanks.
So the next time we get angry at an officials’ call, remember these other things. Or playing time decisions cause stress or other things, recall the things that matter most.
The games and teams and scores are for entertainment. They do give us joy.
But at the end of the day, or the end of a life, remember the laughter around the table, the catching up with a long-lost relative, revisiting memories from those golden days of the past, chatting over future dreams, giggling when the latest YouTube video goes viral, Aunt Doreen’s fruitcake, rushing with cookie crumbs on our sweaters to get a Black Friday deal, and eternal hugs on the way in and out of the door.
I remember the night like it was yesterday. One of the greatest upsets in Region football history.
On the night of Nov. 14, 1997, two great football teams lined up after a tense tussle. Hobart senior Craig Osika had tears streaming down his red cheeks, while several overjoyed Griffith players congratulated Osika and wished him the best at Indiana University.
Griffith 35, Hobart 21 is what the scoreboard screamed on that Class 4A regional night. Panthers coach Russ Radtke pulled out a phone book of plays that the Brickies had run all season. It was all black and gold at The Boneyard that night.
This crazy scouting method allowed Griffith to beat its nemesis and go on and win the state championship like a runaway freight train.
Probably the greatest upset in Region folklore occurred two years earlier at the Brickie Bowl. In the Mud Bowl, as it still is called, Hobart and Hall of Fame coach Don Howell road the arc in the 14-13 win.
Griffith was the best team in Indiana that autumn. But the Bricks found a way to survive on the wettest field these eyes have ever seen.
This rivalry never gets old. And we get another chapter of it Friday night at The Brickyard. Radtke’s New Prairie team rolls into town as the No. 1 team in Class 4A. Osika, now coaching his alma mater, runs the No. 3 team in the state.
It’s deja vu all over again in one of the most tense contests I’ve covered throughout the years.
Long before the IHSAA’s Sportsmanship kick began, which I fully endorse and believe in, the Radtke-Hobart rivalry of the 1990's was rated R.
There was sincere hatred years ago. Yes, there was respect, but the players did not like each other. The fan dislike of the other was also extremely loud. The amps in this tune went all the way to 11.
It was one more. One louder.
In Week 2 of that 1997 season, Hobart beat Griffith 21-6 giving Howell and Tom Kerr their 300th career win together. That celebration was insane. The only one louder was a couple of months later when the Panthers returned the favor.
Radtke drove off Broad Street in 2011 and has built one of the state’s great powers at New Prairie.
Hobart and the Cougars have only played once in the last 35 years. And yep, there was money on the line in that one, too. In 2016, Hobart beat Radtke 35-14 to win its first sectional championship in 19 years. Yep, the ‘97 season when Radtke beat the Bricks was the program’s last sectional title before Ryan Turley, with Osika as an assistant, snapped the streak.
This time there won’t be fans watching from tree branches like the old days, but if there were trees around Hobart’s new stadium, there would likely be fans climbing the bark and barking at Radtke.
The place will be packed and whoever wins, in my humble opinion, will have a good shot to get to Lucas Oil Stadium. How could it be any different? It’s Radtke vs. Hobart.
The steel-toed boots and thermoses will parade in to watch a great game. How close is this one on paper? Both the Brickies and the Cougars beat Andrean this season, New Prairie in Week 2 and Hobart in Week 5.
And the score was identical -- 33-10.
I was at the Hobart-Andrean game and was very impressed by the Brickies. Hobart’s defense has two straight shutouts and five zeros on the season. In typical fashion for a team coached by Radtke, his team is averaging 43.17 points a game, which is 10th in Indiana.
Something will have to give. And it will.
If you’ve lived most of your life without an i-Phone like me, think of all the great games between Radtke and Hobart through the years. It will take awhile. But it will surely get you ready for what should be a terrific tilt.
And wear a flannel shirt. You just have to.
Friday night, like always, is one of the best days on the calendar.
It’s like getting the winning lottery ticket. Finding a brand new parka just before next week’s polar vortex freezes us like raw meat. Watching the Cubs win another World Series, while the Sox go 63-99. Or having a stranger say something nice for a change.
All these and more all rolled up into one, this is.
On 48 different grids across the state of Indiana sectional championships will be decided tonight. And I still contend that the football sectional is the hardest of all to obtain. It takes three weeks of excellence, luck, good weather, athletes passing as report cards come out and all the other intangibles it takes for a bucket of Gatorade to be tossed on the coaches’ frosty head.
I will focus on Da Region’s sectionals in this piece, because, well, I don’t give two bleeps who wins the Western Boone-South Vermillion clash.
Why? Because I don’t. That’s why.
In Class 6A we have Merrillville at Crown Point. This one’s like two brothers in the same bed getting in a blanket tug-of-war at 2 a.m. These programs have been playing in this game so long you almost know it’s going to happen in July. Of last year.
The Bulldogs have won three straight over the Pirates in postseason play. The teams have played in five straight sectionals. While the Andrean-Merrillville game has been dubbed “The Battle of Broadway” for decades, we might have to cal the C.P. game by the same moniker with all the business on Broadway in C.P.
Merrillville won the Week 3 game 27-24 in overtime. The Bucs have more team speed and a more headline-grabbing offense. I picked the Pirates to get to state a few weeks ago, but I also warned that they be ready for THIS game.
Crown Point is always ready for THIS game when the air turns cold.
In Class 5A Valparaiso travels to LaPorte. There will be a running clock in this one. All green all the time.
Now, we get to another classic Region showdown. Lowell will travel to Hobart in the Class 4A foray. Too bad this one can’t be played at the old Brickie Bowl. I bet Tom Kerr would take a broom over to the old haunts to get the cobwebs swept up.
Hobart was the king of area football for decades. Eleven trips to Indianapolis is proof of that. But in 1994 everything changed. And I do mean everything.
Mike Pickett and the Red Devils ran past the Brickies 28-25 in the regional and it’s been almost all RDP ever since. Lowell has made it to four state championship games since 2005. Hobart is looking to get back to the state capital.
The Bricks beat the Devils 38-7 on October 18. That street was only running in one direction on that night. I expect the same again. Craig Osika’s team is very talented and has a hunger that is hard to be controlled.
And Hobart has a nose tackle named Pickett, too.
As much as things change, they also seem to stay the same.
In Class 3A Calumet will host Knox. I would love to see Rick Good scalp the team with the worst nickname in Indiana high school sports. But, I’m afraid, it might be too much.. Knox is extremely good and they’ve been in these kind of games for a very long time.
But why not make some history, Warriors? Why not?
And in 2A we have another “Region” classic. Rensselaer will travel to Father Eckert Field to take on the Andrean 59ers. The biggest question in this game is is Rensselaer in the Region? Despite a bit of a drive I am going to say it is. I know in my former job Bombers Nation read every word online and sent folks to truck stops to pick up newspapers. Then, a genious in charge made the decision to stop covering Rensselaer.
Any more questions about why the media is dying?
Andrean and Rensselaer will be a great game. Two fantastic coaches and two talented teams. This one will go down to the wire. And the winning coach’s first name is Chris. What more can I say.
Enjoy this night. It is special and somewhat eternal. Soak it all up.
Because it may just be the last night we can all go outside without wearing nine layers of clothes.