Prep Beat

JIM PETERS: Old friends meet up again in Class 5A sectional championship

2012-11-01T19:00:00Z 2012-11-03T01:32:06Z JIM PETERS: Old friends meet up again in Class 5A sectional championshipJim Peters Times Columnist nwitimes.com
November 01, 2012 7:00 pm  • 

Crown Point-Merrillville or, if you wish, Merrillville-Crown Point.

As region rivalries go, it ranks near or at the top of the list.

For two key players in tonight's Class 5A Sectional 1 football championship, the connection runs even deeper.

Pirates quarterback Jake Raspopovich and Bulldogs wide receiver Braxton Rice have known each other since they were 2, when Brenda Raspopovich babysat Rice while his parents were at work.

As ankle biters, the two played youth soccer, baseball and basketball together in Merrillville. Brenda Raspopovich and Jeff Rice coached the boys' basketball team together when Jake and Braxton were 5.

The Rices moved to Crown Point when Braxton was 7, but the families have remained tight. The boys were on the same AAU basketball team for years until last summer.

"That's how we've stayed close," Raspopovich said. "I've always gone against him, in middle school, high school. It's a good rivalry, good competition. Afterward, we're friends again."

The two get together once in a while for pickup ball in the spring and summer at the Wells Street Park in C.P. Otherwise, they stay in touch largely by way of text messages and social media.

"We follow each other through newspaper articles," Rice said. "I'll text him, 'Good game.' Before a game, we don't really talk a lot. It'll be, 'Hey, how's it goin'? Good luck.' Though we're at rival schools, we appreciate each other's success."

Ironically, football is one sport where the boys were never on the same side. Unlike basketball, where there's a good chance they'll cross paths, the matchup's not head-to-head, with both boys playing offense.

"Merrillville is so lucky to have a a quarterback like Jake," Rice said. "He's mobile. He can pass. He's a natural leader. We always joke around, if we were on the same team, we'd tear it up. There's definitely a chemistry."

"I'd love to have a 6-6 receiver," Raspopovich said. "There's no doubt about that."

Prior to games, the two meet up around midfield, or center court as the case may be, and exchange quick pleasantries. It'll be no different tonight at Demaree Stadium, as the teams meet for the sectional title for the second year in a row. Last fall, the Bulldogs rolled 42-21, reversing a 21-20 regular-season loss.

"I've thought about that game every single day," Raspopovich said. "One thing about it, it's two hard-nosed teams. You know it's always going to be a competitive game, but there's also sportsmanship on both sides."

Rice appreciated Raspopovich's well-wishes in the postgame handshake line last year, fully knowing how badly he felt. No matter the outcome, the same will hold true around 10 this evening.

"Either way, it'll be really emotional," Rice said. "I'm sure both of our moms and dads will be happy for the others' son. It'll be a little bittersweet, also being seniors, knowing it'll be the last time we suit up (in the same football game). Crown Point and Merrillville's a big deal, especially for a sectional championship. It'll be crazy."

This column represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at jim.peters@nwi.com.

Copyright 2014 nwitimes.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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