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Valparaiso at Penn football

Valparaiso's Jackson Kurth runs past Penn defenders on Aug. 17, 2018, in Mishawaka. Even though Valparaiso is moving down to Class 5A in 2020, Vikings coach Bill Marshall plans to continue to play Penn in the regular season.

Valparaiso football will still play Penn.

The Vikings will move from Class 6A to Class 5A in 2020, the IHSAA announced Monday, meaning the specter of the Kingsmen will no longer hover over the sectional.

“We always start off (the regular season) with Penn, so it’s not like we’re getting away from Penn,” Valparaiso coach Bill Marshall said. “They’ve been the dominant force in our sectional for quite some time. They have the aura and you know they’re going to be sound in all three facets of the game.”

Valparaiso played Penn in each of the last three sectionals, losing the first two.

Marshall said one of the biggest benefits of scratching the Kingsmen from the postseason is not being forced to drive to Mishawaka.

“When you have to travel an hour and a half by bus, it does wear on you, not that that’s an excuse,” he said. “We were very fortunate last year to be able to go out there and beat them in the sectional championship game.”

Sectional 9, into which the Vikings will move in 2020, features Munster as well as Duneland Athletic Conference foes LaPorte and Michigan City.

“We’re looking forward to playing coach (Jeremy) Lowery and the Slicers now. They pose a very challenging type of offense to stop,” Marshall said. “Michigan City, (coach) Phil (Mason) and his teams have been able to amass nearly 140 wins. Even though we may be moving away from Penn, we’re definitely moving towards teams that have a very good success rate.”

The move won’t create any scheduling changes for Valparaiso, though. There’s a four-year contract with Griffith and Marshall said he wants the Kingsmen on the slate as long as possible. After that, the conference schedule begins.

The move could be temporary, anyway. Marshall believes the $148 million referendum passed in 2015 to build a new elementary school and renovate the high school will increase enrollment.

“All of our schools, they look beautiful,” he said. “We’ve always been great academically and athletically, but now how (the schools) appear from the outside, our facilities are just great. And on the west side of our town, there’s houses popping up all over the place.”

Coaches: Mercy rule long overdue

The IHSAA executive committee also approved a mercy rule that will be effective in the fall. If a team leads by 35 points or more in the second half, the clock will not stop outside of timeouts, scores and injuries.

Hobart coach Craig Osika said he voted for the mercy rule last week. He believes it’ll help make some games less lopsided.

“You hope that your scheduling doesn’t ever put you in a position to be on either end of that scenario,” Osika said. “I don’t know if (the change) was necessary but I think when you put player safety into the discussion, it may be necessary. If you are beating someone by 35 or more points you obviously have the superior team. The chance of injury may increase in situations like that.”

Hanover Central coach Brian Parker agreed.

“I believe it is a rule that is long overdue,” he said. “As football presses on and faces the continuous battle of player safety, getting a game that has apparently gotten out of hand over as quick as possible is best for all parties involved. The football community is always looking for ways to make the game safer and this is another example for both teams.”

In the past, both coaches had to agree to speed up a game in the second half.

“I have coached games where we had a 40-point lead before halftime and the opposing coach refused a running clock,” Morton coach Sean Kinsey said. “I think (the mercy rule) was needed to protect kids.”

Morton not shy of competition

In Class 4A, Hobart makes the move into the more local sectional with E.C. Central, Gavit, Griffith, Highland, Morton, Lowell and West Side.

“I like that our sectional became more competitive with the addition of Hobart,” Kinsey said. “Our sectional is a true Region sectional.”

The Brickies were forced to make the long drive to the South Bend area under the previous configuration. Kankakee Valley remains in that grouping.

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