Timeout football: Whiting has ‘revenge’ in mind against Wheeler
By Steve T. Gorches 648-3141 or firstname.lastname@example.org August 30, 2012 11:49PM
Oilers head coach Jeff Cain directs players during practice Tuesday afternoon during practice in Whiting Tuesday afternoon. | Jeffrey D. Nicholls~Sun-Times Media
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Updated: September 27, 2012 5:35PM
Whiting head coach Jeff Cain says the right things about this week’s Greater South Shore Conference opener against Wheeler.
“It’s just another week on the schedule,” he said before a practice.
But his vivid memory reveals the truth about how important this game is to the Oilers.
He went back to the 2007 game against Wheeler in which Whiting led 21-6 after two quarters. Back then, Wheeler wasn’t quite a power yet. The GSSC was in its first year, but the Bearcats had only one title in the old Lake Athletic Conference Blue.
On the other side, Whiting was Wheeler before Wheeler was Wheeler.
The Oilers had finished second in the LAC Black in 2006 with a 6-1 mark, losing to eventual champion Kankakee Valley in the final week of the regular season. That would have been three straight crowns for Whiting, which had won back-to-back LAC Black titles with undefeated seasons. The Oilers had also beaten the Bearcats in three of the teams’ first four meetings.
Then came that 2007 game Cain won’t soon forget. Wheeler scored three straight times in the second half and pulled away for a 37-26 victory.
“We were leading at halftime and they stormed back and I mentioned to one of the (assistant) coaches that night, ‘We lost and Lord only knows how long it’s going to take to get back (to the top)’” Cain said.
That’s what you call a premonition.
Whiting hasn’t come close to a conference title since then, finishing no higher than third. Wheeler has been the dominant Class 2A team in the region and has never lost a GSSC game.
Not only has Wheeler not lost, but it has completely destroyed most GSSC opponents over that span. Whiting has been a big recipient of the lopsided outcomes.
In 2008 it was 58-6 Wheeler.
The next year is was 63-0.
In 2010, Whiting hung a little closer, but still lost 34-9.
Last year the humiliation returned in a 53-0 loss.
It’s time for retribution.
“It would be a payback for everything they’ve done to us — they’ve outscored us 245-41 the last five years,” senior linebacker Andy Franko said.
Cain prefers not to think that way, though, as he says, “it’s one less thing” he has to worry about if his players are already pumped up for this game due to memories of past blowouts. But Cain would rather toe the company line.
“You get nine games and if you can’t get pumped for Friday nights then there’s a problem,” Cain said.
“It’d be nice to win conference but that’s not our ultimate goal. Our ultimate goal is to keep getting better each week. Games one through nine don’t matter. We’re playing well right now, but we want to be playing better when Week 10 rolls around.”
The veteran coach did admit the blowouts at the hands of the Wheeler juggernaut have been tough to take. Fans and coaches at Calumet, Lake Station, River Forest, North Newton, Bishop Noll and South Central probably feel the same way.
“I don’t care who you are, there’s always a pride factor,” Cain said. “When you lose by 50, it never feels good. We’ve always learned from (the Wheeler) game. We’ve always learned about ourselves. But it never feels good.”
Was there a specific game he was referring to?
“Take your pick,” he responded.
So if the Oilers do win, Cain knows it wouldn’t be irrational exuberance from his players.
“That was one of our goals coming into the season, because (the Bearcats) have beat us so bad the past few years and we want our revenge for it,” senior linebacker Joey Lytle said. “Yeah, we remember them. They’ve beat us worse that any other team.”
The Oilers are trying not to focus on Wheeler’s 0-2 start, even though it’s been a common topic of conversation in region football circles. The Bearcats change coaches — going from Dan Klimczak to his brother Tony — and lose a couple key contributors to graduation, and the result is losing back-to-back games to Boone Grove and Kankakee Valley for the first time since the end of the 2006 season.
“Anything can happen,” junior quarterback AJ Veloz said when asked about Wheeler’s start.
Lytle added: “It could be just a down start for them.”
As a coach at a small school, Cain understands what can happen. Just look back at those 2004 and 2005 seasons when the Oilers went 11-1.
“They’ve had some really good kids and good players,” Cain said of Wheeler. “They’ve had some great skill kids and their line the last couple years has been tough. But like any other small school, you have your ebbs and flows.”
Just don’t ask any of the Oilers to feel sorry for the players wearing orange and green.
“We just want to finally be able to beat them,” Veloz said. “We have a lot more experience back and a lot more confidence coming into this season. Our first goal is to win sectional, but I guess our second goal would have to be winning conference. And to do that, we have to beat Wheeler.”
Each of Whiting’s players has a t-shirt saying, “One Goal 33” referring to winning Class 1A Sectional 33. The last time that happened was 1997. Since then, the Oilers have lost to 14 non-area teams in sectionals, six times in the final.
Six losses have been to Culver (twice in the championship); six have been to West Central (three in the final); twice to Triton and twice to LaVille.
Whiting has easily been Northwest Indiana’s best 1A football program over the last two decades, but it’s those top programs to the east that have been a thorn in the Oilers side.
“This group of seniors has only had three years to wait, but we (coaches, fans) have waited forever,” Cain said about the sectional title drought.
“That’s what it feels like. For whatever reason — and we don’t use the word snakebit — but we’ve been a bridesmaid a lot. We’ve been right on the edge, but we’ll catch somebody on a roll. Culver had a great run. West Central had a great run. Over a period of time we’ve been consistent, but we’ve been consistently a bridesmaid.
“It’s time to get married.”
After winning the first two games by a combined score of 96-0, Whiting players can’t help but think this could be the year they collectively walk down the aisle.
“Of course we’d rather win all our games than lose any, but we just want to get better each game to be ready for sectionals,” Franko said.
Based on that logic, though, it’s hard to improve upon back-to-back shutouts. But if it’s a third straight, the defense gets another dinner.
“The coaches take us out to dinner for a shutout as incentive,” Lytle said, adding that it’s been at CiCi’s pizza the last two weeks.