DUNLAP — Concord football coach Craig Koehler doesn’t think the Michigan City Wolves are a good football team. He thinks they are a really, really, really good team.
“I think they are better than they were last season,” the coach said about the team that eliminated the Minutemen in the postseason a year ago. “When you turn the film on it doesn’t take long to see the Wolves are a very talented team on both sides of the ball. It’s hard to imagine, but I think they are even more physical than last season.”
Concord (6-5) travels to Michigan City (9-2) for a Class 5A regional championship at Ames Field Friday night. Kickoff is slated for 7:30 p.m.
“It’s going to be a challenge for us. There are only eight teams left in the class so you are not going to run into any teams that aren’t good ones from now on,” the coach added.
A Concord win means the Minutemen would host Harrison (West Lafayette) or travel to New Palestine for the northern semistate on Friday, Nov. 16.
Concord and Michigan clashed a year ago, also in the regional finale with the Wolves winning 21-7 at Concord in the lone meeting between the programs in recent years.
Michigan City’s two losses this season are to Homewood-Flossmoor (Ill.) by a 33-30 score in overtime on Aug. 24 and to Valparaiso by a 14-7 count on Sept. 7. Both losses were at home.
“Homewood won the state championship in the largest class in Illinois five or six years ago,” Koehler said. “Homewood converted on fourth-and-11 in overtime to defeat the Wolves. Homewood is traditionally a big-school power.”
Valparaiso (9-2) is still alive in the Class 6A playoffs after sidelining the Penn Kingsmen 21-0 last week.
Since the loss to Valparaiso that left the Wolves 2-2, the team has won seven straight games, scoring an average of 51.6 points per game. Their season average is 43.5.
“Michigan City is about a 50-50 offense. They run the ball and pass it well,” Koehler said. “Their quarterback is not tall. He was a slot receiver last season, but has done a good job of running the offense this year. They have all the pieces.”
The Minutemen have defeated Elkhart Memorial 28-20 and Elkhart Central 17-14 in the postseason since suffering a 45-3 loss to Warsaw in the regular season finale.
“I think we are playing our best ball right now. We hit rock bottom after the Warsaw loss and we had a come to Jesus meeting,” Koehler said. “We had a 4-5 record and realized things needed to change. We tried to stay positive, but that is not easy to do after a 45-3 loss.
“A lot of the change had to do with how we were conducting our day-to-day and our weekly routines on and off the field. It has been an up-and-down year for us with a lot of transition on our roster.
“The coaches have been consistent in what we have been telling the kids all season. The players got to a point where they decided let’s buy into this and give it a shot. They felt we had to start doing things the right way or the season would be over quickly. ”
Concord has not had a losing season since the Minutemen finished 4-6 in 2003.
Junior Carter Neveraski is the leading rusher for the Minutemen with 1,003 yards on 166 carries (6.0 per carry). Junior Roemello Moon has 225 on 32 (7.0), senior Max Welch 182 on 42 (4.3), junior Ethan Cain 160 on 60 (2.7) and junior Jamyris Rice 153 on 24 (6.4).
Cain and Neveraski have been sharing time at quarterback. Cain is 85-of-155 (54.8 percent) for 1,1689 yards and Neveraski 39-of-73 (52.7) for 573. Cain has thrown six touchdown passes and Neveraski five.
Senior Julius James has caught 39 passes for 689 yards, senior Trayvon Sheppard 37 for 406, Neveraski 19 for 252, freshman Amarion Moore 10 for 132 and junior Braedon Taylor 11 for 128.
“There is no doubt Carter (Neveraski) is a major part of our game plan,” Koehler said. “But if we want to put ourselves in position to win we are going to need contributions from all our players.”
Concord’s Strike Force defense played a key role in the sectional championship, stopping Central on fourth-and-three from the C-28 in the closing seconds.
Leading tacklers for the Minutemen are Welch with 36 solos and 57 assists, sophomore Grayson Mast 32 and 51, junior Spencer Arnold 29 and 35 and senior Cameron Lain 29 and 25,
The Strike Force defense limited Central’s running back Mark Brownlee to 47 yards on 19 carries.
“Holding a kid like Brownlee to 47 yards was the story of the game,” Koehler said. “We are going to have to play that well or better this week to have a chance. If we let Michigan City have a lot of success running the ball we could be in trouble.
“We need to limit the big plays and keep the ball in front of us.”
Greg Keim can be reached at email@example.com or 574-533-2151, ext. 326. Follow Greg on Twitter @gkeim_TGN