GORCHES: West Side, Bowman make Gary football ‘relevant’
By STEVE T. GORCHES 314-3797 or firstname.lastname@example.org November 1, 2013 11:18PM
West Side's Jon Vea' Johnson evades the tackle of Highland's Seth Hardy to run for a touchdown in the second quarter of play during their sectional game held at Highland High School on Friday November 1, 2013. | Charles Mitchell/for Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 1, 2013 11:32PM
HIGHLAND — Who said football is dead in the city of Gary?
Sure, there are a couple schools that treat the sport like a second-class citizen. Heck, maybe even third-class. But there are two Gary football teams that will be playing for a sectional title next week, and it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone.
Back in July, a few weeks before the official start date for football practice, West Side and Bowman Academy had a scrimmage — a football scrimmage, not basketball.
Cougars coach Jason Johnson told me back then it was the second scrimmage the two teams had in the summer.
It’s paid off after West Side fell behind 21-6 in the second quarter at Highland, only to score 34 unanswered points to pull away for a 46-27 victory, while up in Gary, Bowman took a 20-0 lead, fell behind 21-20, then scored a touchdown with about a minute left to beat Boone Grove 28-21.
The Eagles (6-5) will host Rensselaer, while West Side (7-4) will host East Chicago.
“I can’t wait to play those guys,” West Side coach Jason Johnson said.
Yes, I said host … at least that’s what Johnson said after his team’s victory.
“We have the clock fixed and paid $20,000 for new goal posts,” Johnson said about his maligned field that resulted in the first-round game against Lowell to be moved to East Chicago. “We’ll get the IHSAA commissioner up here Monday and make sure everything is good to go.”
It’s no coincidence that Bowman and West Side are still playing. Besides the scrimmages against each other when Lew Wallace and Roosevelt were weeks away from thinking about football or knowing if they would have enough to field teams, the two coaches — Johnson and first-year Eagles coach David Nelson — are good friends and have mutual respect for each other. That’s something that can’t always be said about all of the Gary basketball coaches.
“I gave Nelson his first (football) job back when we were at Emerson Middle School,” Johnson said. “They’re doing a great job at Bowman and they have great kids.”
It means the bad jokes about Gary football should stop — at least with half the schools.
“Football is relevant in Gary … it’s relevant,” Johnson said with a huge smile on his face.
West Side did the same thing on Friday that it did against Lowell. The Cougars fell behind early and couldn’t stop the run. Then a little persuasion in the locker room at halftime turned the defense around. They recovered four Highland fumbles, the last one coming in the end zone with 58.5 seconds left when the Trojans were trying to get a little closer.
There were the trademark big plays — a 63-yard touchdown run by Jon Vea Johnson in the first half, another 38-yard end around by Johnson and a 38-yard TD reception by Anton Coleman — but it was West Side’s toughness that resulted in the comeback.
Toughness just isn’t a word associated with Gary football much.
“These kids are resilient,” Johnson said. “Adversity … that’s our middle name. We know how to handle that.”
It’s Gary football. Adversity is a way of life. But if West Side or Bowman can win one more game, winning titles could also be a way of life that hasn’t happened in football in the Steel City in a long time — 1989, to be exact, when Lew Wallace won the city’s only sectional title.