At this time last year, I wrote a column examining the area football teams we, The Goshen News, cover. In the spirit of consistency, let’s look at where our 2019 area teams stack up.
There are currently three undefeated teams we cover: Concord, Northridge and West Noble. Of those three, the Raiders from Northridge is probably the most surprising. It was an up-and-down 2018 campaign for Northridge, as they started last year 3-0 before losing star quarterback Julius Graber to a leg injury. They finished the season 5-5.
The Raiders have proven to be more than just one player this year, though, picking up wins over South Bend Adams (35-34), South Bend St. Joseph (31-16) and Wawasee (27-0) to head into a big-time matchup against Plymouth Friday night. Northridge is ranked 10th in this week’s IFCA Class 4A poll, while the 2-1 Rockies are ranked 9th. Will Caid Lacey be able to replicate his 217-yard rushing, three touchdown performance from a week ago, or will the Plymouth defense step up and stop the lethal Raider rushing attack? Friday night’s game in Plymouth should be fun.
Over in Dunlap, Concord is 3-0 following a big NLC win over NorthWood. The Minutemen have been led by Ethan Cain and Carter Neveraski, two dynamic players who make the Concord offense explosive. Neveraski is also a good defensive back, as evident by his two-interception game against Elkhart Memorial in week two. The Minutemen are ranked 5th in the IFCA Class 5A poll and travel to Wawasee this week. Concord won a sectional championship last season and seem poised to repeat that in 2019.
Finally, West Noble has raced to a 3-0 start behind a suffocating defense. Navy commit Brandon Pruitt has a lot to do with that, as the senior linebacker has been all over the field for the Chargers. Pruitt is also a dominant running back for West Noble, playing almost all the snaps for the Chargers. He, along with Josh Gross, Kyle Mawhorter and Raven Slone, have led West Noble to back-to-back 3-0 starts to a season. Now, they get one of the teams they’ve been chasing the past few years — Angola — Friday night in Ligonier. The Hornets are 0-3, but have won the NECC Big Division the past two years. The Chargers look to change that, starting with a win Friday night.
For my money, the best story happening in the area — and maybe the state — is Fairfield. The Falcons are 2-1 on the season following back-to-back wins over Osceola Grace and Central Noble. Since going down 20-0 in week one to Goshen, Fairfield has outscored its opponents 44-18. After an embarrassing 0-9 season in 2018 that saw the Falcons get outscored 493-27, coach Matt Thacker has his players playing inspired football. The schedule gets tougher from here, but playing competitive football is a step in the right direction for Fairfield.
Our remaining four teams — NorthWood, Goshen, Wawasee and Lakeland — are all 1-2. NorthWood has been the victim of a brutal early-season schedule, playing the No. 1 team in Class 3A, Bishop Chatard, followed by Concord. The Panthers hung tough with the Minutemen last week before turnovers did them in. The schedule gets a little easier, but with games still left against Plymouth, Northridge and Warsaw, it may be tougher sledding than normal for NorthWood. The Panthers haven’t had a losing season since 2013.
Goshen has looked rough the past few weeks, especially in the 48-0 loss to Memorial. With still a lot of tough NLC competition ahead of them, it may be another long season for the RedHawks. They travel to Nappanee to face NorthWood Friday.
Wawasee looks competitive under new head coach Jon Reutebuch, something the Warriors couldn’t say a season ago. While they struggled against Northridge, Wawasee put up two tough games against Lakeland and West Noble, ultimately knocking off the Lakers. Reutebuch knows it’ll require patience for him to make Wawasee a contender in the NLC, and I hope he gets the time to do so.
Finally, Lakeland picked up its first win of the season this past week against Prairie Heights. Losing 10 starters on offense from a season ago, the Lakers were due to struggle early with so much change. Now with a victory under its belt, it’ll be interesting to see if Lakeland can build off it and compete in the tough NECC Big Division. Lakeland hosts Garrett Friday night.
It’s fun having all eight of our teams with at least one win. While there may not be as dominant of a team in the area like NorthWood was last season, nobody is uncompetitive either. Goshen, Wawasee and Fairfield have all shown signs of improvement from 2018, which is good for the area as a whole. It’s going to be exciting to see how the rest of the year shakes out for everyone.