By GREG KEIM
THE GOSHEN NEWS
Heading into Friday night’s slate of local high school football games there is a three-way tie for the top spot in the NLC standings.
The outcomes of the Concord at Warsaw and the NorthWood at Plymouth contests will determine the championship as Concord, Plymouth and Warsaw all share the top spot with 5-1 league records.
If Concord defeats Warsaw and Plymouth tops NorthWood the title would be shared by Concord and Plymouth. If Concord and NorthWood both win then Concord would be the outright champion.
“It’s the last week of the regular season and we are still in the title hunt,” Concord coach Tim Dawson said.
The Concord Minutemen are seeking a third straight NLC title, something that has never been done before in Concord football history.
“We’ve had a couple of off weeks and that is a tribute to our opponents,” Dawson said. “Still we have put ourselves in position to accomplish something that has never been done before at Concord.”
Friday is the end of the regular season with the state tournament beginning at the sectional level on Friday, Oct. 19.
“You always want to be playing your best football entering the playoffs,” the coach said. “We would also like to win a championship before we start the tournament.”
Concord (6-2) at Warsaw (6-2)
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m.
Series record: Warsaw 25-22
Last season: Concord 28-6
Six-foot (171) junior Trevor Wilmore has become the starting quarterback for the Minutemen with 6-3 (235) senior Ryan McKibbin the backup. Wilmore ran for a team-high 177 yards and two touchdowns in last week’s 56-28 win at Northridge. He also completed 14 of 20 passes for 251 yards.
“Trevor’s running ability gives us more of a dual threat,” Dawson said. “Last week our offense was pretty balanced, but we are running the ball now to set up the passing game where in the past we would throw the ball to set up the running game.”
McKibbin is the team’s punter.
“We’ve changed personnel at other positions during the season, but when you change quarterbacks more people notice,” Dawson said. “I’m proud of the way Ryan has handled the change. Is he happy about it? No, but as a competitor that is how you want him to be.”
Warsaw’s offense centers around 5-11 (200) junior tailback Tristan McClone.
“He is a great high school running back,” Dawson said.
“He is always going forward. He is averaging about 35 carries per game so it’s no real secret what Warsaw is trying to do. But at the same time you can’t go to sleep, because they can throw the ball over your head.
“Warsaw wants to control the ball to keep our offense off the field. We are going to have to force them into some punting situations.”
NorthWood (4-4) at Plymouth (6-2)
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m.
Series record: NorthWood 33-13
Last season: NorthWood 21-8
Last Friday’s 17-10 overtime loss to Warsaw knocked the NorthWood Panthers out of the NLC title picture, but the team could still have a say in whether it’s an outright or shared championship.
“We were a little disappointed after last week,” NorthWood coach Scott Hoover said. “At this point we are more worried about getting a win for ourselves than helping determine the outcome of the conference race.”
The blind-draw is used to determine sectional parings and in an oddity NorthWood faces Plymouth again in the first-round of the playoffs. One difference is the Panthers will host the sectional game at Andrews Field in Nappanee.
“Facing conference teams in the playoffs isn’t something we haven’t run into much before last season,” Hoover said. “Most years we’ve been a 3A program in a conference of 4A and 5A schools.”
The Plymouth Rockies are coming off a 28-16 win last week at Goshen. Plymouth rushed for 283 yards of its 339 yards of total offense. Sophomore Justin Drudge rushed for 88 yards on 14 carries, senior Sam Stevens 62 on eight and senior Ike Kastner 43 on six.
“Plymouth is a very good team,” Hoover said. “They are physical up front. Their quarterback (Kastner) and fullback (Stevens) are good athletes.
“Plymouth’s physical play reminds of Warsaw, but they also remind me of Jimtown. They are very good at running the ball and only pass about three or four times per game, but one of them is usually for a touchdown.”
NorthWood and Plymouth both run the option on offense.
“Since we run the option it helps us defend it,” Hoover said. “But you can make subtle changes in the option that make look like nothing to the ordinary fan, but that completely change how you defend the play.
“Stopping the run is going to be a key for us. Another thing we have been working on are special teams. We have not tackled very well in kickoffs the last couple of weeks.”
Memorial (0-8) at Northridge (1-7)
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m.
Series record: Memorial 7-4
Last season: Memorial 28-14
The Northridge Raiders moved the ball in last week’s 56-28 loss to Concord with a total of 369 yards of total offense. Northridge rushed for 139 yards and passed for 231.
Leading rushers for the Raiders were junior Craig Kasten with 56 yards on six carries and classmate Tanner Love 27 on 11. Love completed 10 of 25 passes for 215 yards.
Junior Jailyn Rolle caught four passes for 158 yards and sophomore Jake Wargo three for 48.
Rolle had TD receptions of 48 and 56 yards in the Memorial contest.
Sophomore Payton Carson recovered a fumble and intercepted a pass for the Raider defense.
Fairfield (6-2) at Culver Military (6-2)
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m.
Series record: CMA 8-3
Last season: CMA 35-0
The Fairfield Falcons are another team that runs the option and is facing an option team this week.
“I have always felt running the option in your own offense helps your defense defend it,” Falcon coach Bob Miller said. “Stopping the run is a key for us, because Culver Military is option, option and more option.”
Miller does have a little different twist when practicing to defend the option.
“When we introduced CMA’s offense in practice Tuesday we did so without a football,” the coach said.
“Defending the option involves a lot of assignments. You need someone tackling the quarterback, someone tackling the pitch man and someone tackling the fullback. In order to get the players adjusted to tackling each one of those positions we start by running the ball without the ball. Until the kids get used to making those tackles I don’t want to confuse them by making them look for the football. Taking the football out of the equation at first helps them get used to making the tackles.”
Miller feels special teams could be a factor.
“When looking at the total yards from last week’s game with Churubusco we were out gained almost two to one,” the coach said. “But when you look at starting field position we started most of the time around midfield while we pushed Churubusco back further.”
One advantage Miller feels he has in special teams is senior placekicker and punter Eldon Burstfield.
“He has been kicking the ball great all season,” Miller said.
“Over the last two or three weeks he is averaging about 42 or 43 yards per punt.”
Burtsfield once qualified for the NFL Punt, Pass & Kick competition in Indianapolis.
“Kicking has always been his first love,” Miller said. “He has been attending three or four kicking camps per summer in hopes of kicking in college.”