ST. JOHN | It hasn't been a piano. It's been a continent of pianos that has been on the back of Lake Central's football program.
And for those keeping score at home, the color of these keyboards is purple. Pirate Purple.
Before Friday night's unofficial Duneland Athletic Conference championship game against mighty Merrillville, the host Indians knew they hadn't beaten the Bucs since 2002.
That's a long time. I owned a comb back then. Gas and health care was affordable back in 2002, when L.C. beat Merrillville 14-13 on Oct. 25 in the sectional opener.
From that day to Friday night, Merrillville had beaten Lake Central 15 straight games — with most of them being poundings.
Lake Central senior defensive back, Brian Rice, summed it up on Wednesday. The streak wasn't just physical. It was between the ears and chest, too.
“It's huge; it's all mental with us and them,” Rice said. “We've played them scared the last two years. Once we get over the mental hump, we'll be able to go to another level.”
In a flawed but exciting game that all but sealed up the Duneland Athletic Conference title, the Pirates won their 16th straight against L.C. 20-17.
A young Merrillville team made big plays early that stretched L.C.'s defense. In the second half it was the Bucs' D that shut down the foe.
Maybe all this talk about Lake Central's defense is a little overstated. Maybe Merrillville should be in the same sentence?
“If you want to beat the king, you have to take it away from them,” L.C. coach Brett St. Germain said. “But we have to tip our caps to them. They're a good football team.
“This is frustrating for us. It's important for us psychologically to win a game like this.”
It's tough being the chaser. You always seem like you're running uphill. And right when you get on the heels of your rival they get their second wind and take off while you're searching for a teaspoon of oxygen.
Rice said last year the Pirates broke open a close game and won 38-17.
“I think we quit,” he said.
This year the Indians didn't.
“They deserved all their touchdowns. They played hard,” Rice said. “We made too many mistakes. We still haven't got over the mental hump. We played hard. We didn't back down. But they played a better game.
For those who remember how great this rivalry was in the 1990s, we're getting closer to seeing it again. A deep depression in Lake Central talent and success is over.
But you can't call it a rivalry if one team always wins.
Merrillville's D.J. Wilkins played well at quarterback. Tyrie Fuller had eight catches for 142 and one TD. Bryant Isabell had 74 total yards and carried the ball like a freight train.
The Pirates won the game because they expect to win every game they play. Lake Central is not there yet.
The odds of these two teams playing again is very high. We'll find out on Sunday when the IHSAA draw is announced for the state tournament.
I expect another great game when it comes around. The chaser just has to make a few more plays. Otherwise, the king will keep moving south.
“We had some blown coverages on defense, that was on us,” Rice said. “Our offense played well enough for us to win. They deserved all their touchdowns. They played hard.”
And, of course, they believed they were going to win.
They did. Again.