It’s time for the chase for a conference championship to commence.
That’s the case come Friday night for area prep football teams.
Who are the pretenders and who are the contenders for league bragging rights?
We will know a lot more by about 10 p.m. tomorrow evening.
Warsaw heads to Plymouth to open Northern Lakes Conference play on Blueberry Festival weekend. The Rockies, who are ranked No. 7 in Class 4-A in this week’s AP poll, are 2-0 on the field, but 1-1 due to having to forfeit their 30-3 season-opening win over Bremen due to the use of an ineligible player.
The Warsaw-Plymouth matchup includes an interesting side note as Rockies coach John Barron goes for his 100th win at Plymouth. Barron, who is already Plymouth’s all-time winningest coach, was roommates with Warsaw coach Phil Jensen when both played football at Butler University for coach Bill Lynch. Barron played his high school ball at Mishawaka Marian, while Jensen was a standout at Penn. Barron is 99-38 in his 13th year at Plymouth.
“John is just a great competitor,” noted Jensen of his former teammate. “He’s a guy that does not give an inch.”
Wawasee and Whitko each look for 3-0 starts. The Warriors and Wildcats both received votes in Class 4-A and 2-A respectively this week.
Tippecanoe Valley and Triton both face big tests in trying to gain some footing after 0-2 starts. Valley welcomes in North Miami for Homecoming and the Trojans host Class 1-A No. 3 Pioneer.
Following is a quick look at Friday night matchups.
Warsaw (1-1) at Plymouth (1-1), 7 p.m.
That’s what Warsaw coach Phil Jensen offers when assessing the trip to Plymouth to start league play.
“It’s always interesting to figure Plymouth out, but especially so this year,” said Jensen. “I really don’t know what to expect from them. You know that they will be well coached and play hard. But, they graduated a ton of talent from last year.”
The Rockies, who went 10-3 and won a sectional title in 2015 (the program’s first since 2001), have outscored Bremen and Rochester 89-9.
Warsaw put up a valiant effort a week ago in a 47-42 home loss to East Noble. The Knights threw for 452 yards and six touchdowns. East Noble receiver Dylan Hunley set school records with 14 catches for 356 yards. The 42 points scored by Warsaw in its comeback bid was the most ever scored in a loss.
Plymouth has attempted a total of 18 passes the first two weeks and is averaging 276 yards per game on the ground.
“Where we are at, I don’t know at this point,” Jensen admitted. “I still think that our defense is one of our strong suits.
“We have to get some stops this week and not allow them to go on long drives. We also can’t start slow offensively. We have to score when we have opportunities to and not turn the ball over.”
Jensen added that his team is also dealing with an illness that is making the rounds this week. Several players missed practice Tuesday night and a couple more were out of school Wednesday.
Plymouth beat Warsaw 35-21 in last year’s matchup.
Northridge (0-2) at Wawasee (2-0), 7 p.m.
Josh Ekovich has no problem with his Wawasee team flying under the radar.
In fact, he likes it that way.
“I would rather our guys play with a chip on their shoulder and feel like we are the underdogs,” said Ekovich.
The Warriors welcome in a young and struggling Raider team coached by former Wawasee boss Tom Wogoman. The Raiders have been outscored 83-29 in losses to South Bend Adams (46-29) and Michigan City (37-0).
“Northridge is a good program,” said Ekovich. “They are a little inexperienced and are trying to find themselves. We have not beat them since 2012 so I want us to feel like we are the underdog in this game. We do not want to allow them to get confidence this week.”
Wawasee, which is 2-0 for the third straight year, rolled West Noble 48-7 last week. The Warriors will play at home for the third straight week Friday night.
“We played well last week and came out and got after it from the start,” noted Ekovich. “You can see the confidence our guys have in practice and in the meeting room. The biggest thing for us is to just focus on one week at a time.”
Northridge beat Wawasee 21-0 in 2015.
North Miami (2-0) at Tippecanoe Valley (0-2), 7 p.m.
The Vikings hope the Three Rivers Conference lid lifter provides a pick me up.
“Determined,” responded Valley coach Darin Holsopple about the mindset in Akron this week.
The Vikings have been outscored 112-14 thus far and face a North Miami team averaging 43 points-per-outing.
“We have a lot to prove Friday night,” said Holsopple. “We need to gain our footing, get some momentum going and build on that. We have to be better on defense. We have a couple of guys back this week that will help us on defense.
“The first two weeks have not been fun at all. Our toughness, both physically and mentally, is being tested. We have to bounce back.”
Valley is off to an 0-2 start for the fourth straight year.
North Miami beat the Vikings 32-23 a year ago.
Whitko (2-0) at Maconaquah (0-2), 7 p.m.
Can the Wildcats avoid a letdown?
That’s the big question as they go on the road to begin Three Rivers Conference play at winless Maconaquah. Whitko rallied from a 14-0 deficit to top county rival Columbia City 21-14 last week, their first win over the Eagles since 1998.
“We talked to the guys Monday about do they want to be known as the team that beat Columbia City or the team that beat Columbia City and won the TRC,” said first-year Whitko boss Jeff Sprunger. “It was great that we won that game, but it was back to work on Saturday getting ready for Maconaquah.”
Maconaquah has allowed 112 points in the first two weeks, including a 63 in a 63-6 loss last week to Mississinewa.
“We will not overlook them,” said Sprunger. “They are a dangerous team that will be hungry. We have to be prepared and we need to continue to make progress as a team.
“I want to see us clean up some things offensively and get our passing game going. We’re close right now.”
Whitko lost to Maconaquah 20-12 in 2015.
Pioneer (2-0) at Triton (0-2), 7 p.m.
Ron Brown is definitely encouraged by some of the things he’s seen in practice this week.
“Our attitude is that we do not care who we are playing and I’ve seen more of that from our kids than ever before,” said the second-year Triton coach. “I’m encouraged by that. I just want us to go out and compete and improve each week.”
The Trojans open Hoosier North Athletic Conference play versus perennial power Pioneer. The Panthers went 12-1 last year and won the league title and their third straight sectional championship. Pioneer, which has opened the season with wins over Lewis Cass (47-0) and Winamac (41-12) is now coached by former player Adam Berry. Berry replaced longtime coach Mike Johnson, who left after 25 years to go to Logansport.
“Our point of emphasis is to play one quarter at a time,” noted Brown. “We competed well in the first half last week and then could not keep our focus. We’re having a lot of good practice and we have 50 kids. We need to build on those things.”
Pioneer beat Triton 64-14 last season.