NEW CARLISLE — 2019 has been a season full of exacting revenge for New Prairie football.
On homecoming, the tour began with the Cougars' annual "bone game," a contest head coach Russ Radtke describes as one his team needs to win more than any other one that year. They did just that, putting a 55-28 beatdown on a South Bend St. Joseph team that beat them in the 2018 sectional semifinals.
The week after was another revenge game with New Prairie visiting Mishawaka. The Cougars came back late and thwarted a two-point conversion to edge the Cavemen in a 28-27 battle, overcoming a heartbreaking defeat last year.
Fast-forward two weeks, and the Cougars looked to avenge their worst loss of 2018 — a timid 35-7 performance against mighty Penn. New Prairie continued to exact some sweet redemption in a program-defining 21-17 victory that came down to a fourth-down play with less than a minute left.
If you're counting, that's three revenge games on the year, and three Cougars victories.
Revenge game No. 4 comes Friday at the Brickyard as New Prairie takes on Hobart in regionals. The Brickies defeated the Cougars in the 2016 sectional championship when the current-seniors were freshmen. While a majority of the team wasn't in high school at the time, the coaching staff made sure the players know the implications resting on Friday's game.
"That game didn't turn out well for us," said New Prairie associate head coach Bill Gumm. "We ended up turning the ball over four times and just played probably our worst game of the year. That game was definitely not any indication of the type of football we play. Things were just kind of out of sorts. So, yeah, you could say this is a revenge game of sorts."
In order to check off box No. 4 on the revenge checklist, the Cougars have to slow down a potent, yet balanced Hobart offense. The Brickies are more of a running team, averaging 194 yards on the ground per contest, but pass efficiently and effectively for almost 100 yards a game.
Junior quarterback Riley Johnston can get it done with both his arm and his legs, rushing for 45.7 yards and passing for 95.7 yards per game. Johnston is paired with a special tailback in senior D.J. Lipke, whose stats are staggering: 109 rushing yards per game and 1,308 on the season, all while compiling 27 touchdowns. Both are legacies in the tradition-rich football community.
Lipke has found the end zone multiple times in each of the Brickies' past eight games, nine of their 12 on the year, and has totaled at least three scores in five contests. He started the season fairly slow, rushing for a combined 97 yards and one touchdown in Hobart's first two games of 2019. Since then, Lipke has averaged just over 120 yards and two touchdowns, proving to be a formidable force.
"Their running back is absolutely outstanding," Gumm said. "He's a big-time threat. Along with their running game, they have a really nice running game, they can complete a lot of passes, too. Out of some of the teams we've seen lately, I think they're the most balanced with the run versus the pass. We have to make sure our defense is set up to stop the run, but also make the read and if they're sending their receiver on a route, come off the run and guard him. It'll be a good test, but we've got a lot of smart guys out there (on defense)."
The game could prove to be yet another offensive shootout, with a pair of electric players in Lipke and New Prairie quarterback Chase Ketterer. The Brickies haven't allowed a point in their past two games, making a regional title more challenging for Ketterer and company. If this season's results are any indication of how the Cougars will respond to that adversity, they should welcome it with open arms.
Class 4A Regional
New Prairie (11-1) at Hobart (10-2), 7 p.m.