GIVING SOME INSTRUCTIONS

Lewis Cass coach Scott Mannering talks with his players during the second quarter of last Friday’s game against West Lafayette. The Class 2A No. 2 Kings will travel to Northwestern tonight. (Pharos-Tribune photo by Arnold Ernest).

By JAMES COSTELLO

Pharos-Tribune sportswriter

For the past nine seasons, the Lewis Cass football team has beaten Northwestern. The past two seasons, the Kings have held the Tigers to just one touchdown per game, while running up a total of 87 points on offense.

The Kings are off to a good start in 2006 with convincing wins over Delphi and West Lafayette, which have propelled Cass to No. 2 in the state rankings in Class 2A football. History is on its side as well as momentum, but tonight’s game is the Mid-Indiana Conference opener for the Kings, and if they want the conference title, they know they’ll likely have to post a perfect conference record since the MIC winner has traditionally done so. On paper Cass is the heavy favorite against the Tigers (1-1), but the Kings are still being cautious.

“Well, we’re always nervous before a game, which is a good thing,” said Cass coach Scott Mannering. “It’s our conference opener and it’s exciting, so there’s always going to be some nerves involved. We’re going to have to play well — we sure aren’t going to take anything for granted.”

Mannering’s biggest concern in the match-up is Northwestern’s passing game. Junior quarterback Cam Cossell returns after starting nearly half of last season for the Tigers. He’s quick and can scramble, and he has several capable receivers to choose from. What has been most impressive in the Tigers’ first two games has been Cossell’s long-range passing ability, and the Kings will have to be wary.

With a strong offensive line at his disposal, Cass may have trouble pressuring Cossell in the pocket, so it’ll have to be ready to cover his receivers.

“Their first two games, they’ve thrown the deep ball really well, and they’re capable of scoring from really far away,” said Mannering. “They’ve got good size on their offensive and defensive lines. ... Hopefully we’re going to be able to get some pressure, but obviously we’ve got to cover their receivers, and they’ve got two or three players that are really athletic and can not only catch the ball well, but they’re quick and they can run it.”

The Kings should have the passing problem covered. At defensive back, Taylor Bowser has already caught two interceptions this year, and cornerback Justin Kloski has one as well. Garrett Segraves also has some speed at safety and should play a strong role in minimizing the Tigers’ aerial attack. The real test for the Kings will be for their outside linebackers as both Dustin Roberts and Rory Mannering are relatively new to the positions.

On offense, Segraves and Alex Evans will lead the Cass rushing game to complement Bowser’s passing. Coach Mannering’s chief concern is in the likelihood of blitz attacks and the strength and speed of Northwestern’s linebackers.

“We’re a system offense and we’re not going to make a lot of changes,” he said. “The thing we need to do is handle their speed on the outside. They’ll blitz a lot and even stunt with their linebackers. We need to be able to pick up on that with our offensive line — it’s a different look than what we’ve seen this year.”

Pioneer at South Newton

After a home win last week against Midwest Conference rival Winamac, defending MWC champ Pioneer hopes to keep its conference record perfect as it faces the Rebels. Although the Panthers have beaten the Rebels the past four years, they will face a much-improved program this year that returned the majority of its 2005 roster.

The Rebels believe this is their year, and the evidence points to the strong possibility of a Panther loss. South Newton has won both of its games this year, including a 53-0 blowout of Covington in its season opener at home, while Pioneer is 1-1 on the season.

Pioneer coach Mike Johnson and his Panthers have reviewed the tapes as well as the scouting reports. What they have seen is an offense that bears striking similarities to Lafayette Central Catholic, which edged out Pioneer 27-14 in week one. In fact, Johnson says the Rebels display an even stronger passing game than the Knights.

In order to mitigate this offense, time will be Pioneer’s ally as the Panthers will try to run down the clock and take away scoring opportunities with relentless short drives up the wings. On defense, it’s unlikely that Pioneer can totally neutralize South Newton’s passing, so the Panthers will have to be able to catch the Rebels in the open field when they do inevitably connect on some passing plays.

At 6’2”, Nate Denton has already shown some incredible speed in Pioneer’s first two games, in spite of a quad injury. If he isn’t at 100 percent tonight, he should be close, and he’ll be a big asset in this department, along with Austin Beach, who, at 300 pounds, also shows some extraordinary scoots.

Winamac at North White

For the first time in Winamac school history, the Warriors will have two freshman on the offensive line tonight, which will obviously be a concern to them. But after last week’s lopsided 48-6 loss to Pioneer, in which the Warriors showed an inability to defend the wings, head coach Tim Roth knew he had to make some personnel adjustments. He recruited Matt Tolson at right tackle and Marc Heater at left guard to fix the problem, and while they’re inexperienced, at about 230 pounds each, they’re both certainly strong and athletic enough to do the job.

“So far they’ve picked it up pretty well, and we’ve just told them to play hard,” said Roth. “We know they’re not going to be perfect. They’re going to make mistakes as freshmen always do, but if they make mistakes hopefully they’ll make a mistake being aggressive and block until a whistle is blown.”

Winamac has experimented with some new offensive formations to fit with the new lineup, although the Warrior offense will look fundamentally the same tonight as it has in the past two weeks. The Warriors have focused primarily on defense throughout the week to deal with the Vikings’ unusual single wing offense, which Roth says is likely to be even more potent in North White’s homecoming game. As in the Pioneer match-up, the Warriors will try to stop the Vikings’ inside power, while picking up on and containing any outside sweeps.

The Warriors remain winless coming into tonight’s game, but that can sometimes be an asset, rather than a detriment.

“We’re sitting at 0-2 and hungry for win,” said Roth. “I like the attitude we’ve had in practice this week, and we hope that carries over and the kids get rewarded with a win on Friday.”

Carroll vs. Tri-Central

Like Cass, the Cougars will also begin their conference schedule tonight with a homecoming game against the Hoosier Heartland Conference rival Trojans. Historically, the match-up has been pretty close, as Carroll took a narrow 14-7 defeat at Tri-Central last season after posting an extremely tight win in overtime at home in 2004.

The teams look evenly matched this year, as well as both Tri-Central and Carroll are 0-2 so far. The Cougars are hoping to score their first win in front of a homecoming crowd, and while both teams are hungry for that first ‘W’, Carroll will benefit from a home field advantage that could be enough to push it over the top.

The major stumbling block for both teams will be their offenses, as the Cougars haven’t been able to get over the six-point hump in their previous two games, and the Trojans have racked up a meager six-points total this season after being shut out by Lapel in their kick-off game.

The result may be a drawn-out defensive battle until someone can gain an advantage in field position.

Caston at Frontier

The Comets will try to score their first win of the season and improve to 1-1 in the MWC. After struggling with blocking problems in its first week, Caston showed a marked improvement last week in its conference opener against West Central at the Crater. The Comets were shut out of their end zone in week one but scored three touchdowns against the Trojans, although they ultimately lost 28-20.

The Falcons will likewise try to score their first conference win as they took a 26-7 loss to the South Newton Rebels last weekend. Frontier is 1-1 this season, while Caston remains 0-2, and last season it defeated the Comets at Caston for the first time in three years.

Whatever the outcome, tonight’s game should be close.

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