Hobart (7-1, 3-1 Northwest Crossroads Conference) at Lowell (6-2, 3-1), 7 p.m.
Last week: Hobart won at Munster, 49-12; Lowell lost at Andrean, 36-15
Last year: Lowell won on the road, 30-7
Keys to the game: Lowell is averaging 185.6 rushing yards per game, and Hobart coach Craig Osika didn’t hide that the Brickies will try to keep the Red Devils’ run-heavy offense on the sideline. “They’re a powerful offense that can very easily take 12 or 15 plays and eat up almost an entire quarter with just one drive,” Osika said. He added that his offense must sustain long drives of its own to help keep its defense fresh and give Hobart a shot at coming away with a tough road victory.
Players to watch: Hobart’s offense has been led all season long by senior running back Sal Valle. Valle has rushed for 705 yards and nine touchdowns, including 168 rushing yards and four touchdowns last week. He has reached the end zone in five straight games. Senior Tyler Wildman leads the way for Lowell. The standout running back has totaled 191 carries for 854 yards and nine touchdowns. The Red Devils’ leading rusher has also notched five 100-yard rushing games.
Big picture: "This is a chance to still play for a conference championship, if Highland can pull (off) the upset with Andrean," Lowell coach Keith Kilmer said. "We still have a little say in how we finish in conference in that's a big deal to us."
Injury update: Lowell cornerback Shawn Mooney – who was taken to the hospital during the third quarter of last week's loss to Andrean – will suit up against Hobart. Kilmer said the senior had a bit of a scare when he attempted to make a tackle, but he is fully healthy and ready to compete.
Osika said his team is banged up, but no one will miss time with a major injury. “I told the kids Week Nine sucks,” Osika said. “You’re going to be hurting, but again everybody’s goal is to play 15 (games). The rewards are greater than the pain right now if you do what you’re supposed to do and take care of business week in and week out.”
Crown Point (3-5, 2-4 Duneland Athletic Conference) at Michigan City (6-2, 5-1), 7 p.m.
Last week: Crown Point lost to Chesterton 17-14; Michigan City defeated LaPorte 52-8
Last year: Michigan City won 17-15
Keys to the game: Crown Point coach Kevin Enright said the Bulldogs need to match Michigan City’s intensity and take care of the ball. Michigan City has scored 40-plus points in each of its last four games, and the Wolves can pounce quickly with a short field.
Players to watch: It’s about running back/safety Lyric McFarrin for Michigan City. Crown Point will need to contain the Wolves’ two-way star as well as dangerous quarterback Bryce Hayman if it is to spring the upset.
Big picture: Michigan City can still earn a share of the DAC title if Valparaiso stumbles at Lake Central, but the Wolves must do their part against Crown Point. The Bulldogs handed Valparaiso its only league loss last year and could earn a top-tier victory for the second straight year.
Highland (4-4, 2-2 NCC) at Andrean (7-1, 4-0), 7 p.m.
Last week: Highland won at home against Kankakee Valley, 20-19; Andrean won at home against Lowell, 36-15
Last year: Andrean won on the road, 41-6
Keys to the game: Andrean coach Skinner said the 59ers shouldn’t make any judgments about Highland based off of its record. The Trojans have held opponents to 12.3 points per game and to avoid an upset, Skinner said his squad must stay poised and execute the small details of its game plan. Highland coach Pete Koulianos acknowledged the 59ers' high-powered offense but said that if the Trojans can force a few turnovers, they'll give themselves an opportunity to pick up a marquee win heading into sectionals.
Players to watch: Andrean’s Zack Merrill has shown he is one of the best quarterbacks in the region, scoring 28 total touchdowns this year. But he also has a lot of weapons, including wide receivers Nicky Flesher and Tyler Thomas. Flesher has caught 55 passes for 698 yards and 10 touchdowns, and last week Thomas recorded five catches for 108 yards and two touchdowns. “(Thomas) has really grown and developed these last couple years,” Skinner said. ”He’s had a lot of success in track and field as a sprinter, and I’m happy that he’s having that kind of success this year for us because he deserves it. He’s worked very hard.” Running back Kaiden Smoler leads Highland’s offense with 634 rushing yards and eight touchdowns.
Big picture: “There’s not really much extra motivation that needs to come from us as coaches because the players want to be outright conference champions just as bad as we do,” Skinner said.
Injury update: 59ers star linebacker River Walsh remains out with a fractured right ankle. The senior hasn’t played since Andrean’s season opener against Merrillville.
Morton (6-2, 4-0 Great Lakes Athletic Conference) at Clark (3-5, 2-2), 7 p.m.
Last week: Morton won at home against E.C. Central, 56-9; Clark won at West Side, 31-20
Last year: Morton won at home, 63-0
Keys to the game: With the postseason starting up soon, Morton coach Sean wants the Governors to take advantage of their last regular season game, stay focused and not overlook Clark. Clark coach Nick Testa said his team must limit Morton’s big plays and try to string together long drives. If the Pioneers can dominate the time of possession, Testa believes they will have a good shot at winning the game. “They really do a good job of building momentum off of big plays and getting their defense out their trying to get a stop,” Testa said. “So if we can make them work offensively and defensively, that’s going to be our best opportunity.”
Players to watch: Morton running back Eric Johnson continues to guide the Governors’ offense. He has rushed for 721 yards and seven touchdowns, including 19 carries for 115 yards and two scores in last week’s victory. Junior wide receiver Tirae Spence also had a strong outing with two receptions for 89 yards and his first two touchdowns of the season. Testa said junior Fortune Woods is Clark’s leader on offense and defense. “He’s among the area leaders in tackles,” Testa said. “He’s got over 1,000 yards combined rushing and receiving. He’s just a stud and we lean heavily on him.”
Big picture: Morton will try to win its ninth outright conference championship in the past 11 seasons. “Every team’s first goal of the season is to win a conference title,” Kinsey said. “So we want to go handle business and continue to improve heading into the playoffs.”
Injury update: Kinsey said Spence had a high ankle sprain earlier this season, but he and a few other key players have returned from injury just in time for the postseason.
Valparaiso (6-2, 6-0 DAC) at Lake Central (2-6, 0-6), 7 p.m.
Last week: Valparaiso defeated Portage 17-7; Lake Central lost to Merrillville 31-14
Last year: Valparaiso won 42-8
Keys to the game: Vikings coach Bill Marshall said his team hopes to have a more productive first half after Portage held Valparaiso to 3 points through two quarters last week. Lake Central’s defense has held its own at home this year but has a tough challenge in containing Viking tailback Jackson Kurth and all-purpose threat Jesse Harper.
Players to watch: Lake Central quarterback Zach Bundalo and receiver Quincy Tribble will test Valparaiso’s secondary, led by senior safety Reece Crossin. The Vikings have known commodities at the skill positions with Kurth and Harper, but quarterback CJ Opperman’s progression over the coming weeks could be key to Valparaiso’s postseason hopes.
Big picture: A Valparaiso win would earn the Vikings their second straight DAC title, and their third in four years. Lake Central can dash any Valparaiso hopes of an undefeated DAC season if the Indians can pull the upset.
River Forest (2-6, 1-5 Greater South Shore Conference) at Whiting (8-0, 6-0), 7 p.m.
Last week: River Forest lost to Calumet 30-0; Whiting defeated Bowman 50-0
Last year: Whiting won 8-6
Keys to the game: Whiting will celebrate Senior Night, and River Forest head coach Joe O’Connell said he has told his team to block out what should be a raucous environment and focus on what it can control. Oilers coach Jeff Cain said River Forest’s unique offensive alignments will challenge his defense.
“They disguise formations early and shift out of one formation into another formation,” Cain said. “We’ve got some older kids, and we talk about kids being field generals and getting out there and kind of leading and getting everybody in the proper positions.”
Players to watch: River Forest linebacker/defensive back Javi Bugla will shoulder major responsibility as the Ingots try to slow down Whiting’s rushing attack. Oiler tailback Tom Davenport (7.3 yards per carry) and all-purpose threat Nino Barbosa (9.2 ypc) have combined for nearly 1,000 yards rushing this season.
Big picture: Whiting would complete its second undefeated regular season in five years with a win and would earn at least a share of the GSSC title. A River Forest upset win would give the Ingots a boost of confidence heading into their first postseason game against Roosevelt.