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Gorches: NWI football season packed with surprises

Wheeler's Jake Bertucci runs ball against South Central first quarter Friday night Wheeler High School. | Jeffrey D. Nicholls~Sun-Times Media

Wheeler's Jake Bertucci runs the ball against South Central in the first quarter Friday night at Wheeler High School. | Jeffrey D. Nicholls~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: November 20, 2012 11:11AM



Another Northwest Indiana high school football regular season has been completed, so let’s look back before a spirited postseason is about to begin Friday night.

In some cases, the usual region suspects shined on the field as they have for several years.

No surprise that Chesterton and Merrillville finished tied for the Duneland Conference title. The Trojans had dozens of seniors back from a team that was an injury or two away from being very good last year.

The Pirates have an offense that rivals some small state colleges. Coach Zac Wells told me twice this year how underrated Jake Raspopovich is as a quarterback. He gets lumped into a group of QBs who are known for their running ability more than their arm. But “Raspo” has been a thoroughbred with both his arm and legs with almost 700 yards rushing and more than 2,000 yards passing for the second straight year.

The only slight disappointment in the DAC is that Lake Central wasn’t a third team sharing the title. The Indians’ defense has lived up to the preseason hype for the most part, but the two aforementioned teams were just a little better than LC.

When looking at how the other conferences ended up, that’s where the bigger surprises popped up.

Not many believed that Hobart coach Ryan Turley could turn around the program in just one year. But the Hobart graduate has turned the Brickies back into a conference champion and sectional title contender in his second year on the job.

The product on the field isn’t a well-oiled machine like those powers at the top of the DAC, but that doesn’t matter. When you have a special teams that’s pretty special — starting with Aaron Del Grosso’s nuclear leg — and a pair of running backs who do their job, that can be the perfect formula for turning three straight losing seasons into a 7-2 campaign.

Joining Hobart as a surprise on top of the NCC is Kankakee Valley. The Kougars also earned a share of the title with the Brickies and Andrean, thanks in large part to running back Tyler Birky. He’s second in the area in rushing with 1,423 yards, even though he was held in check last week by Munster. But even when an opponent focuses on stopping Birky, KV still has other weapons to compensate. KV coach Brad Stewart and Turley are both prime candidates for coach of the year honors.

It’s a shame Hobart and KV drew each other in the first round of the sectional. It would have been a better story to have them meet in the final, meaning one team’s storybook season would have an even happier ending. Instead, one team will be disappointed with the final result on Friday night, though both programs have reason to be optimistic.

In the Greater South Shore, it wasn’t a surprise that Whiting finished on top. The Oilers have been good in recent years, but have lived in the shadow of Wheeler in the GSSC since the conference began.

Not anymore. Whiting not only escaped that shadow, but it finished undefeated and is looking for its first sectional crown since 1997. Coach Jeff Cain told me before the Oilers defeated Wheeler 34-7 in the first GSSC game of the season that his team had several goals and they were compartmentalized — one at a time.

First, it was beating the Bearcats for the first time. Second, it was winning the GSSC. Now it’s winning a tough sectional that includes fellow state-ranked team West Central.

The bigger surprise in the GSSC was Wheeler, which most knew wouldn’t be as good as in recent years. But it started out really bad with three straight losses, then ended really well with six straight wins. Which is the real Wheeler? We’ll see against Andrean in the sectional opener, but Tony Klimczak deserves some credit for righting the ship after the tough start, as well as moving Jeremy Truchan into the starting quarterback role.

Another candidate for coach of the year honors is Stacy Adams at East Chicago. The Cardinals don’t have a conference title to hang their hats on. The independent can only look toward putting up a nice regular-season record, and hope for a good draw in the sectional to get a win. Things have changed with EC now in Class 4A, and a couple other teams having down years (i.e. Griffith and Morton).

The Cardinals couldn’t win their first sectional title, could they? If QB Carlos Fernandez and all-around athlete Martyveus Carter (1,046 yards from scrimmage, 18 TDs) have anything to say about it, the answer is a resounding yes.

Let’s get ready for the second season in which I’ll bet there are even more surprises.



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