CROWN POINT | Flat and unimpressive. Those were about the only two words to describe the Crown Point Bulldogs on Friday during the halftime show. In fact, a tuba player high-stepped across the artificial surface to dot the "i" in terrible while the band played some tune from the '70s.
But somehow Merrillville only led the Bulldogs 14-7.
With 11:14 left in the third quarter 'Dogs defensive end Billy Van Cleef roared in and blindsided Pirates' quarterback Jake Raspopovich. The ball squirted out and Tyler Kral picked it up and danced 13 yards for the score.
It seemed like a sleeping giant had been awakened.
"That's been a dream of mine since I was a little kid," Kral said. "To scoop and score, that was an awesome feeling. I think we really stepped it up in the second half. This game is always a dog fight."
Raspopovich was the difference in this game. He threw for 271 yards and rushed for another 84. Three scores were because of him. The Bulldogs' offense on this night was nowhere close to No. 9 in purple.
But coach Chip Pettit has something to build on. If not for a missed extra point in the fourth quarter and an unbelievable drive by Merrillville this was a game Crown Point could've won instead of losing 21-20.
"I like what I saw in the second half," Pettit said. "Our kids made some plays. We faced adversity and we didn't put out heads down. We need to build on this."
Van Cleef grew up in Merrillville and has known the Raspopovich family forever, he said. He felt good about the way the Dogs defense played. Crown Point was in the Pirate QB's face all night and got some very good hits on him.
But as Pirates coach Zac Wells said, "Jake is a very tough kid."
It's been a few years since Crown Point has been in the spotlight. The light was on them Friday night and the Bulldogs didn't show up for the first dance. Somehow that has to change. You have to bring it from the first whistle to the end.
"We've got to remember how this feeling feels," Van Cleef said. "We have to play our butts off so we never feel this way again."
Class 5A football in the region is going to see a lot of games like this one this year. There is not one team that everyone else is looking up at. On any given night, well you know the rest of the sentence.
"They made one more play than we did," Pettit said. "Next time we'll try to make the last play."
"About all the Duneland teams were in the same boat when the season started," Wells said. "We all had about five, six or seven guys returning on both sides of the ball. There are going to be some upsets and a lot of games like this."
This doesn't mean no team has a chance to make a November run. Last year Valparaiso made a semistate dance with a good defense and an average offense. It can happen.
This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.