Football: Highland gets better of West Side
By TOMMY WILLIAMS For Sun-Times Media August 15, 2014 11:20PM
Updated: September 17, 2014 6:15AM
GARY — Ah, yes, football is back.
That was evident during Friday night’s Highland-West Side scrimmage.
Case in point: on West Side’s first possession, a Cougars running back took a handoff and headed off left tackle for what looked to be a substantial gain. One problem, though. Highland linebacker Griffin Grider delivered a tackle so midseason-perfect it should have been replayed in slow motion with NFL Films music playing in the background.
“It felt pretty good,” Grider said. “It almost knocked my helmet off and twisted my chin strap, but I’m good.”
The same could be said for Highland’s performance against the team that eliminated the Trojans from last year’s sectional. You don’t keep score in games like these, but the response of both coaches spoke volumes.
“After the first eight plays, I liked a lot of what I saw,” Highland coach Trent Grider said. “After we settled down, those were the kids [who have] been preparing since Dec. 2. Those were the kids who were working out in the weight room at 6 a.m.”
Even the plays that were not supposed to work ended up well. Andrew Kinley dropped back to pass, saw a defender coming at him, ducked to avoid the rush and threw a 17-yard scoring pass to Andy Carstensen. Grider said Kinley accidentally told the back who was supposed to block the West Side defender to go the wrong way.
Sean McQuillan also scored three times for Highland.
West Side will have to run without graduated stars Jon Vea’ and Lonnie Johnson and quarterback Ramone Atkins, who transferred to Merrillville. Atkins’ replacement could be left-handed sophomore Bryce James, who once led his Gary Steelers Pop Warner team to the national finals. James showed promise, but overall, coach Jason Johnson wasn’t overly pleased.
“Our defense is way far ahead of our offense,” Johnson said. “I was impressed with the first three series, but it went south after that. I attribute that to conditioning, kids not being in shape.”
Johnson noted that due to the inexperience at the quarterback position, his offense will have to be “basic” and not as wide open. Last year, West Side featured one of the highest-scoring units in the state.
As for losing Atkins, Johnson said: “If there was a problem, it was never brought out. We’re fine with that. He’s a great kid and he’ll do great things. But we have to keep going.”