Football: DAC crown on the line
By John O’Malley Post-Tribune correspondent October 11, 2012 11:48PM
Merrillville quarterback Jake Raspopovich is chased down by Lake Central's Jacob Bermingham near the end of the second quarter Friday night at Lake Central High School. | Jeffrey D. Nicholls~Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 13, 2012 6:35AM
To say tonight’s Duneland Athletic Conference game between Chesterton and Merrillville is important is putting it mildly.
Chesterton coach John Snyder has been preaching to his players lately about exactly how important every week is from here on out.
“We’ve told our players, you’re playing for some kind of championship every week,” Snyder said. “This week, it’s a share of the DAC title. Next week, it’s sectional championship. Our focus is the sectional championship, but we can’t do anything about that until we get there.
“These are 16 and 17-year-old kids, so you don’t know how they’re thinking. It might not be as important to them as it is to me, even though you’d like to think my goal is their goal. I think our kids know and understand it’s a big game.”
If Chesterton (7-1, 5-1) wins, it earns a share of the DAC title with the Pirates. The last time the Trojans won or shared the DAC title was in 2008 when they finished tied with Valparaiso.
Coincidentally, the Pirates, who have won nine of the last 10 meetings, beat Chesterton in the regular-season finale in 2008 and in the sectional title game.
If the Pirates (7-1, 6-0) emerge victorious, they win the title outright and won’t have to share it with the Trojans. Merrillville coach Zac Wells, though, downplayed the focus of the game for his Pirates.
“The importance of the game is simple in that the conference title is on the line, but if you’re like most football teams, you’re playing to win each game,” Wells said. “Chesterton has only lost one game in the conference, so we need to make sure we continue to play well and focus on the game at hand. We want to make sure we can put two big games together. Last week (a 38-17 win over Lake Central) was a big game for us and this week’s a big game for us, too.
“This is going to be a nice benchmark, a measuring stick to see if we’re going to be able to do that. Our focus (tonight) is on winning the football game. It’s not on winning the conference title or tying for the title. What we always try and focus on is winning our game each week and improving as a team from week-to-week.”
The Pirates, who average over 43 points per game, are a headache for any defense to defend effectively.
“Nobody’s been able to stop them at all except Warren Central,” Snyder said.
Quarterback Jake Raspopovich, who threw for over 300 yards and four touchdowns without an interception in last week’s romp over LC, is the triggerman for the Pirates.
“He’s the key that makes it go,” Snyder said. “He’s so elusive running the ball and he manages the game outstandingly. You can’t man-up and go one-on-one with their receivers, because of their speed. They can all catch the ball and make plays. They’re just very, very good. We just have to come ready to play.”
There are at least two keys to the game from Chesterton’s perspective.
“We definitely can’t turn the ball over and we’ve struggled with that the last couple of weeks,” said Snyder, whose team has lost six of 11 fumbles the past two games.
Another key is, keeping the Pirates’ explosive offense on the sidelines as much as possible.
“We can do that by controlling the ball and controlling the clock a little bit,” Snyder said. “Another thing is, you have to score and you have to match their scores. Their speed is outstanding, so their return game kind of scares you, too.”
Junior running back Bryant Isabell, who took over as the starter last week after DyLon Collins was lost for the season with a torn ACL, rushed 21 times for 125 yards and a TD against LC. Receiver Aaron Dye, meanwhile, has caught nine TD passes.
Chesterton, which is coming off a 28-21 win over Crown Point, has plenty of offensive weapons of its own. Quarterback Chris Katsafaros is a strong runner, who makes plays, while Joe Troop is a versatile player who can kill you running, receiving or returning kicks.
Katsafaros, Troop and Jon Horvath all have around 450 yards rushing, while Troop has made 23 receptions for 420 yards and six TDs.