Times Sports Editor
Tonight's Western Indiana Conference football battle between Northview and South Vermillion has a little more at stake than any time in the past seven years.
The Wildcats come into their homecoming game with an unbeaten 6-0 record and a chance at a conference championship. The Knights also have an eye on that WIC title as each team comes into the 7 p.m. kickoff with unblemished conference records.
Northview coach George Gettle has the Knights sitting at 5-1 this year overall and the team is ready for a big game this evening.
"We've had a great week of practice. The kids are loose and with this bunch of kids, the looser they are the better I feel. I think it's going to be a great football game," Gettle said.
Northview has owned the series of late and hasn't lost to South Vermillion since the 2001 season, a 35-20 decision.
Leading the Wildcats is an experienced group of skill position players that is putting up points at a rate nearly as prolific as the Knights have this year. South Vermillion is averaging nearly 41 points per contest while allowing just nine per game.
Senior quarterback Andy Walsh, a four-year starter, has thrown for 1,230 yards this season and has an impressive 20 TD to just three interceptions on the season. He's also run for 416 yards and four scores. His ability to throw the ball along with some talented receivers means that tonight's contest could see some fireworks.
"I think it's going to be a track meet possibly. They are a very good football team and are very skilled at the quarterback position and the wide receiver position," Gettle said. "So we've done a lot of work this week on getting to the quarterback and we basically told the kids we have to hit him on every play. It's just going to be an exciting football game. It's not necessarily for the conference championship, but it'll go a long way towards deciding the championship. So it's a game we're really looking forward to."
Walsh's success has come partly due to some explosive receivers with Cody Mumaw being his favorite target with 23 receptions for 473 yards and 11 touchdowns. Patrick Harpeneau has caught another 13 passes for 285 yards and four TDs.
Facing off against one of the most talented passing teams that the Knights will see this year, Gettle has prepared his team for the aerial attack of the Wildcats.
"We've really just fine-tuned our pass coverages and try to mix some things up a bit and maybe not sit in some things like we maybe have in the past because (Walsh) is a good quarterback, he's got good receivers and their coach has done some nice things with their offense," Gettle said. "They pose some challenges that we haven't quite faced, but Terre Haute North was pretty good at throwing the football and have a good quarterback. So we feel like we've faced some pretty good competition and that's helped us prepare for this game."
One weapon the Wildcats won't have at their disposal is junior James Craigmyle.
The speedster, who won the 400 meters at last year's Terre Haute North track sectional, recently had his appendix removed and will miss tonight's game. He's averaged just under six yards per carry on 21 attempts and has caught eight passes for 180 yards and five touchdowns.
"That's a tough blow for them," Gettle said. "He's an extremely good kid, extremely quick and from what (our kids) tell me, he's exceptional in track. So I would think that's a pretty big loss for them, but obviously those types of things happen. As a football coach and a football team, you have to deal with adversity and injuries so I'm sure they've prepared for it."
Other than Walsh's running ability, Nick Alfke is a rushing threat as well. The bruising 6'1, 246 lb. fullback has pounded out 309 yards on 51 carries and has scored five times.
One area that the Knights would seem to have an edge is depth along both the offensive and defensive lines and Gettle feels that the Knights can exploit that aspect.
"The one thing we know for sure is that (South Vermillion) has six or seven guys that play both ways and up front that spells trouble late in football games and we feel that's one advantage we'll have (tonight)," Gettle said. "Up front, your front seven on defense and your offensive line we're going to be fresh the whole night and we're hoping to wear them down. Along that theme of hitting the quarterback every play, you have to win the battle up front and we're prepared to win that battle."
The weather could also play a role in how things play out tonight as a 30 percent chance of rain along with gusting wind could wreak havoc on each squad's passing games.
"The rain, as long as it's not a monsoon like the Franklin game, isn't that big a deal, but (tonight) they are predicting 20 mile per hour winds in the afternoon," Gettle said. "(The wind) is supposed to die down by game time, but honestly, wind is a bigger issue than rain. If the wind kicks up and stays through game time than it will pose a much bigger problem than rain."
One fact can't be denied however, the Knights have piled up points against South Vermillion every season during the seven-game win streak. Northview hasn't scored fewer than 40 points in the streak and has outscored the Wildcats by an average score of 53-6.