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Football: Hanover Central returns to the field with a win

The Hanover Central JV football team salutes its fans after defeating South Central 35-0 school's first football game since 1971.

The Hanover Central JV football team salutes its fans after defeating South Central 35-0 in the school's first football game since 1971. | Anthony Nasella~For the Star

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CEDAR LAKE — When Hanover Central head football coach Robert Harrison was born in Danville, Ill. in 1988, it had already been 17 years since the high school had fielded a football program.

When Harrison, who later was a high school quarterback at downstate Illinois North Vermillion, was hired at Hanover three years ago, he was soon approached by the school administration to help re-establish a new football program that had been in the working plans for a number of years.

Last year, a middle school football season was contested, and Hanover Central followed that this year with a spring season and a junior varsity schedule in the works for the start of the 2013-14 school year.

This past Saturday, before a large and festive crowd, the Wildcats played their first high school football game in generation and the new JV team defeated South Central 35-0.

“There’s been talk here in the school of getting a football program re-established for about seven years,” Harrison said. “After my first year here, I was approached and asked to help getting the program started. I was excited about the idea, and I jumped on the opportunity.

“We had a spring football season with 100 percent support. We have a lot of kids who have never played football before. We’ve done a lot of work. There’s been a lot of long hours and hard work — and the kids have responded.”

After a year of JV football, Hanover will join the Greater South Shore Conference next season for its first varsity season since 1971.

Before Saturday’s contest against South Central, the last time a football team at Hanover Central won a football game was a 9-0 victory over North Newton on Sept. 26, 1970. By halftime, the Wildcats had already built up the 35-0 advantage.

Brandon Sears dashed across the goal line on a one-yard touchdown score less than six minutes into the contest for the team’s first points. From there, junior quarterback Luke Pedersen connected with Jeremy Szutenbach on a 55-yard score.

Second quarter touchdown runs by Daniel Balich, Matt Smolek and D.J. Fezler closed out the scoring.

“A lot built up to this day,” Pedersen said. “We just wanted to come out here and perform well in front of all these people. Pretty much all of Cedar Lake showed up for this one. I’m so proud of the guys who have worked so many hours to get to this moment.”

Sears said the first score was special one.

“We’ve been waiting for that for 42 years — all this (crowd) came to see the first touchdown,” he said.

What was especially terrific for Harrison was seeing the outpouring of support from the Cedar Lake and Hanover community — some which were tailgating before the coaching staff even arrived at the field Saturday morning.

“We had people out here tailgating at 7 O’clock in the morning,” Harrison said “It was very special day. It means a lot to me and the kids to have that kind of support at a JV football game on a Saturday. This is our Friday nights. We’re going to treat it as that.

“I was just hoping that we had a good showing. This is obviously a long time coming, and our kids have been working so hard. I couldn’t sleep, and I’m not the type of guy to get nervous. I try to keep composed. I wanted them to be able to grasp the moment and go after it. I think they did.”

With a win in the books, the Wildcats play their next game against a solid Kankakee Valley JV team on the road. Upcoming games will be against Crown Point, North Judson, Rensselaer and Bowman Academy.

“Kankakee Valley will be a big test,” Harrison said. “They have big boys, and they’re going to be ready for us. I told the kids that in our post game talk. That’s our focus – to be ready for the next game. With South Central, we weren’t sleeping on them, either. They’re a well-coached team and a well-respected program in Northwest Indiana. We weren’t taking them for granted. We wanted to come ready to play.

“We obviously want to win now. All the kids know the situation. They just want to play football and be a part something special. That’s when it makes me realize what it means it them. This is an event that has been a long time coming for Hanover Central, and we’re all happy to be a part of it.”



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