The cold weather appears to have arrived.
That must mean that it’s high school football playoff time in Northern Indiana.
Area teams begin first-round sectional play Friday night with the simple goal to win and advance. A loss now means put the pads away for the season.
The local docket Friday night finds Warsaw playing its’ first-ever contest in the newly formed Class 6-A division. The Tigers travel to Fort Wayne Northrop.
The trio of Wawasee, Tippecanoe Valley and Whitko all will be on their home turf Friday night. The Warriors have the biggest challenge as No. 5 and undefeated Leo comes calling in a Class 4-A contest.
Here are a closer look at sectional openers.
Warsaw (6-3) at Fort Wayne Northrop (2-7), 7 p.m.
Warsaw coach Phil Jensen puts it in the simplest of terms for Friday night.
“It’s all about who wants it the worst now,” said Jensen. “It all comes down to who wants to practice next Monday.”
The Tigers take a 6-3 mark after a 28-0 loss at Concord last week. Warsaw had five turnovers in that game, which was for the NLC championship.
Northrop is just 2-7 and the Bruins have lost their last three. Their lone wins were over a winless Fort Wayne Luers team and a Muncie South squad with just one victory. The Bruins, who lost 42-16 to Fort Wayne North last week, are allowing 36 points-per-game.
“They are big, strong, athletic and play in the one of the best conferences (the Summit Athletic) in the state,” said Jensen of Northrop. “We want to use the same mindset and formula we have all year. We want to control the ball and limit their possessions. We’re a team that’s built for cold weather and we need to execute.”
Northrop, which finished 1-6 in the SAC this season, finished 4-6 each of the past two seasons.
The Tigers are led star tailback Tristan McClone. The senior workhorse has 240 carries for 1,301 yards and 14 touchdowns this season.
“We had three goals this season; to get the W trophy, win the NLC and play into November and win a sectional,” said Jensen. “We’re one for two so far. Now we get a chance Friday night to put ourselves in position for the third one. I’m confident our kids want this.”
The Warsaw-Northrop winner faces the Fort Wayne Carroll (7-2) versus Homestead (5-4) winner next Friday.
Leo (9-0) at Wawasee (5-4), 7 p.m.
The Warriors get a chance to pull the upset at home.
“We’ve been playing up the underdog role all week and I hope our kids rise to the occasion,” said first-year Wawasee coach Josh Ekovich. “And I think they will. I like our chances. We’re a good football team too.”
Leo has lit up the scoreboard to the tune of 36 points-per-game this fall. The Lions are even more impressive on defense, allowing just 5.7 ppg. Their only close game this fall was a 14-7 win over Woodlan. Leo won 45-0 at Bluffton last Friday night.
The Lions have had six straight winning seasons, seven including this year. Leo won sectional and regional titles in both 2011 and 2012 and finished 7-2 last season.
“They are big and fast and try to pound the ball,” said Ekovich. “They don’t do too much, but they do well what they do. We have to play more physical than they do and win the turnover battle.”
“I feel our kids are ready to go. Practices have been spirited and high intensity this week. It comes down to how had do you want to keep playing.”
Wawasee won four of its’ final five regular-season games, losing just a 14-13 final at Warsaw during the stretch.
The Wawasee-Leo winner will face either NorthWood (4-5) or East Noble (7-2) next week.
Jimtown (7-2) at Tippecanoe Valley (5-4), 7:30 p.m.
The Vikings missed out on a chance to win a third straight conference championship last week with a loss at Whitko.
Valley faces a tough first-round test to try and move towards a sectional title.
Jimtown, one of the area’s top programs year in and year out, pays a visit to Death Valley Friday night.
“They are big, fast and physical,” said Valley coach Jeff Shriver of the Jimmies. “They are just a very good football team. They have two running backs who are very good and run the ball downhill.
“We haven’t had the season we hoped to have, but we can’t dwell on that now or on what happened last Friday. We have a very formidable opponent this week and our seniors get another opportunity to play at home.”
The Vikings sit at 5-4 mainly due to turnovers and a defense that has struggled at times. Valley had five turnovers last week in their 34-21 loss at Whitko.
“We have to take care of the football,” said Shriver. “We have to control the line of scrimmage Friday night and make tackles.”
Jimtown, which went 11-1 in 2012, owns four state championships in its’ illustrious history. Coach Mike Campbell’s team has won four in a row since a 25-7 loss to undefeated New Prairie. The Jimmies, who lost 21-20 to NorthWood in the opener, are allowing just 9.8 points-per-game.
The Valley-Jimtown winner advances to play either Rochester (7-2) or Peru (4-5) next Friday night.
Bellmont (4-5) at Whitko (6-3), 7 p.m.
It’s been some season for the Wildcats.
Whitko, which claimed a share of the TRC title last week, looks to keep the momentum going at home Friday night.
“I couldn’t be prouder of our kids,” said first-year Whitko coach Josh Mohr, a former player and assistant coach for the Wildcats. “Our goal was to win the TRC.”
Mohr sees a similar style in the opponent Friday night to his own tough, ground game oriented squad.
“Bellmont is a lot like us,” Mohr said. “They have good size and like to play smash mouth, old school football. I think we match up well with them. It’s a lot like last week in who wants it.”
The Wildcats are led by its outstanding option attack, featuring Devin Gerding, Tanner Hughes and quarterback Ethan Nicodemus. Nicodemus threw two touchdown passes and ran for 139 yards and one score last week. Hughes rushed for 105 yards last Friday night to go over 1,000 yards on the season.
Whitko rushed for 361 yards in the win over Valley last week.
“We just have to sell out and go hard for 48 minutes Friday night,” said Mohr. “We have to take care of the football. We’ve never played Bellmont so this is a new opportunity for our kids. They feel like we are overlooked so they want to get the respect they deserve.”
Whitko has won six of its last seven games since starting the season 0-2 with losses at Wawasee and Columbia City. The Wildcats are 3-1 at home this fall.
Both Whitko and Bellmont played Columbia City. The Wildcats lost 34-14 to the Eagles, while Bellmont dropped a 41-28 final to City.
The Whitko-Bellmont winner will face either Fort Wayne Concordia (6-3) or Lakeland (7-2) next week.
Triton (2-7) at West Central (6-3), 7:30 p.m.
Triton looks to start the new season on a winning note with a trip to Francesville.
The Trojans have lost eight in a row on the field since beating Caston in week one. Triton was awarded a forfeit win over league foe Glenn.
“We need to be on top of our game Friday night,” said first-year Triton coach John Johns. “We just have to play hard and attack and be aggressive on both sides of the ball.
“West Central will be prepared to they can score a lot of points. I coached at Tri-County, which is in the same conference as West Central, and West Central is always competitive.”
Triton is coming off a 56-0 home loss to Jimtown. West Central, which averages 37.6 ppg., has lost three of the last four games.
Both Trojan teams played Caston and Culver this season. West Central beat Caston 56-20 and Culver 18-6, while Triton defeated Caston 25-13 in the season opener and lost 21-19 to Northern State Conference foe Culver in week three.
The Triton-West Central winner will face South Central (5-4) or Culver (3-6) next week.