by Beau Wicker
Lewis Cass football coach Scott Mannering’s 200th win was a fitting one.
The 35-7 throttling of North Judson in the sectional championship game last Friday night was a program win by a program team.
The Class 2A No. 7-ranked Kings (11-1) host No. 9-ranked Andrean (10-2) tonight for a regional game.
The Kings have utilized a formula that has been successful during Mannering’s 27-year reign that has produced seven sectional championships, four regional championships and a semistate championship.
The Kings are simply solid all the way around, and the program has produced depth which has come in very handy this year after season-ending injuries to four starters in wide receiver Justen Downhour (torn ACL), fullback Jacob Collins (broken leg) and offensive linemen Dillan Schroeter (torn ACL) and Raistlin Coppernal (bone chip in heel).
The extent of Downhour’s injury was recently revealed. He tried to make a go of it at the end of the season but couldn’t, and he will have surgery and miss the rest of the season. He had a team-high 12 catches for 343 yards and six touchdowns in eight games. Mannering said Downhour will have surgery and will likely miss the basketball season.
“Being a senior too, with him having such a good year, it’s a disappointing thing,” Mannering said. “He was probably our best defensive back and he was playing really well on the offensive side. He’s a good blocker in addition to being a good receiver.
“It’s been a tough year. Our guys have persevered and have been ready to play. When they’ve gotten the chance they’ve done really well. We were fortunate to have some depth at the start of the season. We don’t have a whole lot right now. We’ve lost some key players this year.”
The Kings once again have a multi-faceted running attack with several backs that have been effective en route to rushing for 3,677 yards and 58 TDs as a team. Halfback Drew Shepherd (746 yards, 10 TDs) leads the way, followed by quarterback Sheldon Slusser (603 yards, 15 TDs), fullback Gabe Welch (559 yards, 9 TDs) and halfback Garrett Riley (405 yards, 4 TDs).
Slusser has passed for 855 yards and 10 TDs.
“We’re pretty balanced offensively as far as carrying the ball,” Mannering said. “We have not thrown the ball much the last two weeks, but when we have we’ve been effective. We’re still working out the kinks of not having Downhour as the main receiver. We’re getting the split end more involved. We’ll probably have to throw the ball more than we have the last few weeks.”
Mannering said senior guard Grant Maxwell has been the team’s top offensive linemen, and that senior defensive end Luke Knutson (60 tackles, 2.5 sacks) and linebacker Blake Cain (79 tackles, 8 tackles for a loss) have been the top defensive players.
Andrean brings quite a tradition in football as well. The Fighting 59ers were the 2004 state champions in Class 3A. They’ve won 15 sectional titles, five regional titles and four semistate titles. Their last regional title also came in 2004.
Two famous Andrean alums include Luke Harangody and Dan Dakich.
“It’s a Catholic school in northwest Indiana in Merrillville. It’s just a couple blocks down the street from Merrillville High School,” Mannering said. “In the ’90s they were a 4A school. They won a state title in 3A. It’s their second year in 2A. They are pretty excited about getting in the 2A tourney, I think.
“They were undefeated last year and got beat in the first round by Wheeler. They thought this might be a rebuilding year, but they’ve been a lot better than they thought they’d be. They’ve got a lot of underclassmen but a great record. Once they got in the tournament they’ve really dialed it up, but last week against Rensselaer they didn’t play well. Until that they were very good.”
The 59ers have won eight straight games after early losses to Class 5A Merrillville (50-28) and Class 4A Hobart (37-28). They average 41 points per game.
“They play one other Catholic school, Hammond Noll. Everyone else is 4A and 5A, and they were competitive in all of those,” Mannering said. “We’re looking at a very tough opponent.
“They’re a spread option team. They have a very good quarterback [Matt DeSomer]. He likes to run the ball a lot. They have a sophomore tailback [Trevor Berg] who has ran for 1,500 yards, 200 last week. He’s a very good player. They have good skill players, a big offensive line. They’re a solid team.”
The Kings have also won eight games in a row.
“I think we’ve played well,” Mannering said. “We didn’t have an easy draw in the sectional and finished the season with Western, which has been a good thing for us. The guys know how to play in tough games.”