Tippecanoe Valley football preview:
After first undefeated regular season since 1981, hungry players wait for chance
BY VAL TSOUTSOURIS
Sports Editor, RTC
Those people who only saw the Tippecanoe Valley football team lose to Mishawaka Marian 29-0 in last year’s sectional semifinals missed 10 games of domination prior to that.
In those 10 games, all wins, Valley scored 40 or more points seven times and 50 or more points four times.
They also had three shutouts on defense, and during a five-game period from Weeks 4-8 of the regular season, the defense allowed a grand total of one touchdown.
They went 9-0 during the regular season, which was their first undefeated regular season since 1981.
“It was nice to see all the hard work pay off for those kids,” Valley coach Stephen Moriarty said. “A lot of them have been in the system for awhile now, and it paid off for them in the end. A very talented group of seniors last year and great leadership.
“So hopefully that will propel us into this season.”
In the bigger picture, Valley is 27-11 since their come-from-behind win over a previously undefeated Rochester team in the 2018 Bell game.
“That kind of poured the foundation, and since then, we’ve tried to build upon that,” Moriarty said. “That kind of started it. Since then, each class has built upon the house that we’re trying to build overall. I think last year’s class really did a good job of making sure that we know where we want Valley football to be and where we want to hold it to.”
Seven first-team all-TRC players graduated: Rex Kirchenstien, D.J. Estep, Wade Melanson, Branson McBrier, Jamasyn Virgil, Braden Shepherd and Hunter Eherenman.
But two are back in Wade Jones, a junior who broke the school single-season interceptions record, and Dalton Alber, a junior who was a force at both fullback and on the defensive line.
That has left hungry players waiting for a chance, and they have maintained a businesslike attitude.
“To now that you’re in the role that you’re going to be that guy for a returning team that had success last year, they’re very hungry. With this group – and we’ve talked as coaches – it’s almost to the point that it’s eerie when we talk that there’s no talking. Normally, you’ve got some horsing around in the background. We don’t have that this year. It’s pretty quiet. They seem very focused, no complaining, when we run. And we’ve been pushing them pretty hard these last two weeks. So it will be pretty interesting if that translates onto the field, their discipline.”
McBrier’s graduation leaves a three-way battle at quarterback between Nate Parker, Cody Eastgate and Marcus Jansma.
“Each of them have their strengths and weaknesses,” Moriarty said. “We used all three of them (in the scrimmage against Knox Friday) to see where they were at, and they all had success. … I was pleased with all of their plays.”
Moriarty sees Nate Parker, Karl Parker and Alber getting carries. Jones, a state finalist in the 200 meters in track, will see time at the wing position that Virgil occupied last year.
Sophomore Brandon Stiles and junior Nate Engstrand are also capable ball carriers, according to Moriarty. Senior Markus Bernicky is a newcomer to football who will be “a big factor on our team,” according to Moriarty.
Alber was all-state last year at defensive end, and fellow juniors Cameron Mason and Kyler Johnson will also rotate in at the other defensive end spot.
Evan Maish and Alex Bailey will play defensive tackle.
“Both of them are big anchors in the middle,” Moriarty said. “That will be the foundation for our defense.”
Noah Prater, Karl Parker and Landon Durkes will be key performers at linebacker.
Juniors Nate Parker and Cody Black will join Engstrand at the cornerback spot. Mason Young, a senior who moved in from Niles High School in Niles, Mich., will also compete for playing time along with Bernicky.
Jones will be the free safety.
Moriarty said the focus has been on the fundamentals.
“Working on our defense, there’s been a lot of working on tackling, playing hard, assignment football,” Moriarty said. “It’s nice to have film on that, so you can see if you don't do your job, what’s going to happen. They’re going to gaiun three or four yards just because you didn't block down or pinch down.”
Gage Overbey is a freshman who could be a factor as a placekicker. Jones will be the punter. Moriarty said it’s a “toss-up” as to who will be kick returners.
Indianapolis Chatard, who has won a state record 14 state championships and who is ranked No. 1 in the first Associated Press Class 3A poll of the season, is part of Valley’s new sectional in Class 3A, Sectional 28. Moriarty has studied exactly how far Indianapolis Chatard is from Valley.
“Two hours and four minutes on a bus drive down to our first-round sectional opponent potentially seems a little bit much maybe for a sectional game,” Moriarty said. “That seems more like a semistate opponent. I’m disappointed I guess that we went down that far and got with Chatard, which is ranked number one in 3A.
“We’ll play whoever we play. Our attitude is though that to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best. They’re going to have to play a heck of a game to beat us.”
Aug. 19 – vs. Wawasee, 7 p.m.
Aug. 26 – at Northfield, 7 p.m.
Sept. 2 – vs. Peru, 7 p.m.
Sept. 9 – at Manchester, 7 p.m.
Sept. 16 –vs. Rochester, 7 p.m.
Sept. 23 – at Whitko, 7 p.m.
Sept. 30 – vs. Maconaquah, 7 p.m.
Oct. 7 – vs. Wabash, 7 p.m.
Oct. 14 – at Southwood, 7 p.m.
Oct. 21 – Class 3A, Sectional 28 quarterfinal
Class 3A, Sectional 28
The Tippecanoe Valley football team will open the season with a home game against Wawasee at Smith-Bibler Memorial Field Home of Death Valley Football at 7 p.m. Friday.