MERRILLVILLE — Rensselaer Central’s history with Andrean in football boils down to just one game.
But it was a doozy.
The Bombers — which owned a 6-5 mark prior to this only meeting in 2012 — were embroiled in a 21-21 tie with the 59ers in a Class 2A sectional title game.
A dropped pass on a potential scoring drive earlier in the game kept another score off the board for the Bombers, who allowed a late touchdown to Andrean. The Niners, who were one season away from a state title, then had to sweat out a late drive inside their own territory by the Bombers to survive a 28-21 championship victory.
The quarterback for that Bombers team was Hunter Hickman, whose brother, Eli, leads a 9-2 squad into enemy territory on Friday night. Hunter now serves on the Bombers’ coaching staff.
Andrean brings a 7-3 mark into the game, including last Friday’s 27-0 shutout of previously unbeaten Boone Grove.
The Bombers dispatched rival North Newton, 35-6, last week.
Like many teams of the past, the Niners feature a big line and a handful of talented skill position players.
And their kicker? The best RCHS will see this fall, according to coach Chris Meeks.
“They have an all-state kicker in JJ Wadas,” he said. “He can kick it from 50 yards.”
Meeks expects Friday’s rematch to be a battle for field position. A major goal for the Bombers is shortening the game with long, sustained drives.
“We’ve got to control the ball, finish out drives and put points on the board and play great defense,” Meeks said.
Andrean’s solid offense got better last week with the return of junior receiver Nicky Flesher, an all-state-caliber pass catcher who broke his collarbone in week two.
Flesher was a starter on Andrean’s state championship basketball team last winter.
Senior Noah Hamilton, a transfer from Lake Central prior to the season, is the quarterback, with junior Ryan Walsh at running back.
Walsh leads the Niners in rushing with 1,707 yards and 21 touchdowns.
“They are very, very, very big up front,” said Meeks, who compares Andrean to Western, which the Bombers beat 28-14 in week three.
“Western’s offensive and defensive lines were massive,” he added. “They have a great running back in the (Jerry) Padgett kid. They had some big-time playmakers like Andrean.”
Adam Warren, a two-way starter for the Niners, is a 6-foot-2, 270-pound senior who stars at guard for Andrean. Bishop Byrd (5-11, 210) is another solid lineman for coach Chris Skinner’s squad.
The Niners opened the season at 2-3 with a few key players nursing injuries. Skinner said they lost a lineman for the year to shoulder injury and a slot receiver who plays cornerback on defense. But he has since returned along with Flesher, who was an all-state receiver on last year’s 10-2 Niners squad.
Flesher gives Andrean another weapon to combat Rensselaer’s aggressive defensive style.
“Their defense has a nose for the football,” Skinner said. “They go to the football fast, they go hard and they go after it physically. We need to try to deter that and slow that down as much as possible. We need to create space for our backs and our receivers; give them room to run.”
The Bombers are led offensively by senior Noah Bierma, who has rushed for 1,130 yards since becoming a focal point of the offense in week three. He’s rushed for 10 scores and caught seven TD passes.
Junior Addison Wilmington is knocking on the door for 1,000 (984 yards) and sophomore Kelton Hesson (595 yards rushing, 9 total TDs) has blossomed into an offensive weapon as well.
“The best thing about our offense is you can’t really key on one player,” Meeks said. “Bierma goes out and does his thing. We have two strong backs in Wilmington and Hesson. Luke Standish is a receiving threat. We have a lot of weapons also.”
Meeks is counting on the uniqueness of his single-back offense to keep his team in the thick of things this week.
“They have not seen an offense like we run,” he said. “We just have to got to do what we do well, which is run the football and mix in the pass. The key for us is we need to finish out drives.”
Skinner said his Niners have worked on simulating the Bombers’ style of play on offense, particularly basic plays.
“Rensselaer runs a very unique offense and they are really good at what they do,” he said. “We’ve tried to replicate it as much as possible in practice, but there’s no way you can fully replicate it the way they do it. That will be the challenge for the defense. We need to get a feel for what they do and find ways to stop it.”
Andrean’s losses have come against Merrillville, New Prairie and Hobart, all of which are competing for sectional titles Friday. Since their loss to Hobart, Andrean has reeled off six wins in a row.
Skinner said he’s not surprised by his team’s resurgence after winning 18 games over the past two seasons with players no longer on the roster.
“We had a pretty good team last year,” he said. “We just happened to run into a great West Lafayette team. We graduated eight players from that team who were three-year players for us as either starters or part of our rotation. Am I surprised by our season? Not really, because we have a lot of pride in our program and a lot of tradition. We’ve come to expect winning and competing hard every year.”
Hoosier a football conference
Rensselaer Central is one of four Hoosier Conference teams battling for sectional championships this week.
West Lafayette (9-2), which is ranked fourth in the Class 3A coaches poll, will travel to No. 1 Indianapolis Chatard (10-1) Friday. LaVille (9-2) will travel to No. 1 Class 2A Lewis Cass (10-1), which won a Hoosier Conference championships this fall, and Class A No. 7 Lafayette Central Catholic (8-3) will travel to Traders Point Christian (9-1).
Spartans seniors leave their mark
Despite Friday’s loss to RCHS, North Newton’s senior group finished with another winning record at 7-3. That gives seniors Colin Wagner, Vince Taylor, Trevor Kolodziej and David Scheeringa their fourth straight winning record.
In four years, the foursome won 29 of 44 games, including 8-3 in 2016, 8-5 during a sectional championship season in 2017, 6-4 in 2018 and 7-3 this year.
The 1978, 1979, 1980 and 1981 classes at North Newton all enjoyed four straight winning seasons from 1975-81. The ’78 team finished 7-3 as freshmen, 9-1 as sophomores, 7-3 as juniors and 10-1 as seniors. The Spartans also had winning seasons in 1979 (6-4), ’80 (6-4) and ’81 (7-3).
“I’m proud of these guys,” said Wagner, a four-year starter. “I’ve known them all my life. They’re like my brothers. Coming out here is like playing in the backyard with all my friends from the neighborhood. It was a blast to play with them. There’s no other team I’d want to be part of.”
The Madam Picks: Overtime
The last time RCHS played an overtime thriller came during the 2011 season, but Friday’s game with Andrean has that overtime feel. The match-up features two very similar teams in terms of tradition and talent, though how they go about their business is quite different. The Bombers’ unique offense should challenge a solid Andrean defense, while Andrean’s offense has a fair share of playmakers. The Bombers will need to keep those players in front of them to eliminate big plays. It should be a back-and-forth affair in regulation and the two overtimes it will take to decide this one. Look for the Bombers to get one more score into the end zone than the Niners in a 28-21 victory.