Night after night after night, gave after game, Markus Fielder was one of the best football players on the field. But the standout athlete had never won a varsity game.
Until Friday night.
Fielder played junior varsity as a freshman at Clark, and the Pioneers won just one game. Then, his sophomore and junior years in north Hammond Clark went 0-20, getting pounded in many of those losses. The Pioneers were shut out seven times in two seasons, even though Fielder rushed for 1,000 yards last year.
Then, he moved to Merrillville, one of the Region's most historic and respected programs. And the Pirates lost their first two games to Andrean and Penn. That set up a trip to rival Crown Point for a game that went down to the wire. The Bucs prevailed 34-26, and when they went into their victory formation to run out the clock, one thing happened that was profound.
Tears entered the eyes of Fielder, who had three catches at the wide receiver spot for the Pirates.
"It was unreal," said Fielder, who broke his personal 22-game losing streak. "I've been playing for three years and I always came up short. It meant a lot. I've been working for this since my sophomore year. It made me really happy.
"When it finally set in and we were in our victory formation, all the emotion set it."
Merrillville coach Brad Seiss said Fielder's teammates knew about his streak and one of the goals against the Bulldogs was to get No. 2 a win. Seiss and the staff were pleased when the players were clapping and shouting for Fielder after the win.
"Markus always has a smile on his face, whether in the hallway, weight room or on the field," Seiss said. "When he came over here he said, 'Coach, I've never won a game.' He worked hard. The kids worked hard and we're happy it finally happened for him.
"There's more to football than wins or losses, but this meant a lot to him and the guys."
So when you finally get a win and drive back to school, what in the world do you do?
"Me and some of the guys went to Hooters," Fielder said. "I got a barbecue chicken sandwich. It was good. Real good."
Does anyone remember when Andrean was an also-ran in Region football? Solid. Decent. But never playing much past Halloween.
Then, athletic director Frank Podkul brought in Ted Karras Jr. to take over the program in 1996. The entire attitude and belief system changed at 5959 Broadway.
In 1997 Andrean advanced to the Class 3A state championship game for the first time in school history and lost an instant classic to Indianapolis Chatard 27-23. In the game against Chatard, Andrean quarterback Bobby Finn had the greatest play I have ever seen. His 2-point conversion run where he made, seemingly, every Chatard defender miss him twice before crossing the goal line was unreal.
After that game, Andrean got back to Indianapolis five times on Thanksgiving Weekend, winning championships in 2004 and 2013.
The 20th anniversary of the 1997 team had a reunion at the old haunts Friday night.
Approximately 20 members of this historic team returned home from far off places like Indianapolis, Iowa and even Florida to remember and embrace the past. They hung out with their families in the end zone in the 'Niners home opener.
They shared memories and life updates as little ones ran around playing touch football a few dozen feet away from the varsity game and wives met or became reacquainted.
Players from the classes of 1998 through 2001 enjoyed each other's company. Some tailgated and some attended a postgame gathering, but the highlight for many, some of whom who hadn't touched that field since the semistate win over Fort Wayne Harding, was being presented to the crowd during a halftime roll call and thanked for setting a tone for a program that has won 12 sectionals and two state titles in the ensuing 20 years.
Head coach Ted Karras, Jr., who only recently left coaching after a run of college success that included an NAIA championship at Marian, was the main draw. He had an old Andrean windbreaker and wore a New England Patriots hat. His son plays for the Patriots.
He was delighted to see so many former players and their smiling families.
Finn, the Mental Attitude winner for Class 3A that season, was among others on hand.
The only problem with the celebration was New Prairie's 42-3 win over the 'Niners.
Payback is a Switch
Getting a Pick 6 is always nice. But getting it against your former teammates after a long eligibility fight that ended up in a LaPorte County courthouse, well, that's like a Pick 24.
Lyric McFarrin played quarterback for Chesterton last season but moved in with his mother in Michigan City and the transfer fight began. The IHSAA agreed with Chesterton that the move was for primarily athletic purposes.
A judge, however, gave McFarrin eligibility right before the start of the season.
In Friday's 35-14 win over the Trojans, McFarrin picked a pass and returned 45 yards for a score.
"It meant a lot, from the standpoint of everything me and my family went through to get this opportunity," McFarrin said. "To make something out of it, it felt great. I knew some of them were going to get a little dirty, so I had to make sure I didn't get involved in that and kept my cool."
It feels like the first time
The Boone Grove-Whiting football series was a little like the Floyd Mayweather-Conor McGregor fight last Saturday. Completely one sided.
The Oilers were 6-0 against the Wolves and had knocked Boone out of the sectionals the last two Octobers.
Then, out of nowhere, Friday night happened.
Truman beat Dewey. Balboa beat Creed. The barbarians slapped Rome. The United States beat Russia. In hockey. Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton.
And now Boone Grove beats Whiting?
Vann pick-6 to seal it!!! Boone Grove wins 19-12!!! Howl at those Friday Nigjt Lights— BGWolvesSports (@BGWolvesSports) September 2, 2017
Brae'ton Vann had a last-second interception to secure the historic 19-12 win.
"I'm just pumped. Excited," said Vann, whose game-ending 40-yard interception return for a TD sealed it for the Wolves. "I'm just a sophomore, but the coaches believed in me."
Vann also rushed for 153 yards on 24 carries and added two receiving touchdowns.
There is absolutely nothing mini about this Vann.
"We can't really explain how this feels at the moment," Boone Grove coach Dan Kukulski said. "Our whole program and community have bought in, and our defense played phenomenally."
Whiting had just 99 yards rushing. It marked the Oilers' first back-to-back losses since 2010.
Offense has been the hallmark of Jeff Cain's vaunted program on the shore of Lake Michigan, but the boat is taking on water right now.
"We're getting a pretty decent effort defensively, we just have to get it going on the other side," Cain said.
Just what the doctor ordered
Munster coach Leroy Marsh knew the start of this season could be slow. After losing countless standouts to graduation, his young Mustangs entered this season with a road map, compass and confused looks on their faces.
A 33-14 loss to Lake Central and 33-21 loss to Chesterton set up Friday's home game against E.C. Central.
It wasn't quite a "must-win" situation. But close.
The Mustangs hadn't started 0-3 in 20 years.
So the 35-13 win was important for the youngsters looking to turn the corner.
The scores from Friday's prep football action in the Region.
Vince Bravo replaced Will Melby at quarterback and threw for 139 yards and three touchdowns to spark the 'Stangs.
Mistakes and penalties, though, had the game tied at 7-7 late in the third quarter.
“We had kept shooting ourselves in the foot in the first half," Marsh said. "In the second half, we went a little more basic, and we threw the ball a little bit to get them out of the box. They had 10 or 11 in the box on every play.”
Quote of the Night
LAPORTE — A buddy of mine told me about this no-named Irish band back in the summer of 1980. He said they were really good.
Many in the Region are kind of scratching their heads about Valparaiso's 3-0 start. The Vikings are giving up 6.67 points a game, which is tied for 15th in the state, along with Hanover Central and Lowell.
But when you look at who Valpo has played -- Penn, Mishawaka, LaPorte -- its defensive numbers are that much more impressive.
Valpo athletic director Herb Hofer summed it up best while standing next to me.
"Our guys play hard," he said. "Every play."
That would be an understatement, sir. But absolutely correct.