La PORTE — In its first football matchup with Valparaiso in Week 3, La Porte hung tough in the first half against the formidable Vikings.
Even though it faced a daunting defense, the Slicers moved the ball effectively most of the opening stanza. The final score didn't show it, a 35-0 loss, but they were competitive before the break.
The Slicers (3-7) are gunning to build off that solid opening half when they square off with perfect Valparaiso (10-0) for the Class 5A Sectional 9 title at 7 p.m. Friday night at Kiwanis Field, looking for its first sectional trophy in five years.
“It's all about us,” first-year La Porte coach Jeremy Lowery said. “It's all about us cleaning up our mistakes. We felt like we played them very well the first time, when we got out of our own way. We were able to put some nice drives together early in that game. Then we kind of stubbed our toe in the red zone with some penalties and some different assignment mistakes.”
While the Slicers are fresh off a dramatic 14-10 semifinal win over Michigan City, Valpo blasted winless Munster 69-6. The Vikings reached semistate in 6A last year, losing to Carmel.
Back on Sept. 6, La Porte trailed Valpo only 7-0 late in the first half, then was down 14-0 at the break. The Vikings followed by scoring touchdowns on three straight possessions in the second half to take control.
“I don't know if it was really learning anything, but just confirmation that they're a really darn good football team, a very complete football team,” Lowery said. “There's not any weakness in the armor. They're solid across the board at all positions.”
Valpo's potent offense is scoring 43.3 points per game, while its defense is surrendering a mere 11 points an outing.
Lowery understands facing the Vikings' defensive front is an enormous challenge, adding that's one of the things that impresses him most about them as a squad.
“You've got to have a plan of attack for those guys,” he said. “Those two defensive ends can be a two-man wrecking crew just on their own. Then you put some other nice players around them. You've got to have a plan of attack for those guys up front in everything you do. They just don't make a lot of mistakes. They're a very well-coached, very disciplined football team.”
Usual Slicers' starting signal caller Collin Bergquist is still out with a left hip injury, but Lowery added he's progressing very nicely and doing some physical therapy.
“You can just tell he's looking and feeling a lot better,” Lowery said. “He's starting to look a lot more like himself."
Robbie Kiner will again start in place of Bergquist, making his third straight start. Kiner has combined to finish 11-of-21 passing for 143 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the last two contests.
La Porte generally relies on its rush game, however, in its last two games Kiner has passed the ball admirably. Jeremiah Ruiz guides the Slicers in rushing. In the earlier contest versus Valpo, Ruiz rushed for 78 yards. Ruiz has been productive in recent weeks as well, finishing with 88 yards on the ground, including a 73-yard touchdown run in the victory over the Wolves.
Defensively, La Porte turned a corner midway through the campaign and started clicking.
That unit is allowing just 10.3 points per contest its last three times out, including not giving up more than 14 points in that span.
"Everyone just sticking together, everyone knowing their jobs has been key," Slicers llnebacker Zach Purnell said. "Going through adversity all the time. We don't ever back down. When we see someone, we want to beat them. We're very competitive on the defense."
The winner of this contest meets the Elkhart Central (9-2)/Mishawaka (7-3) winner in a regional final next Friday night.
"Those are incredible moments and those are the moments we play this game for and we coach for," Lowery said. "Our kids have done a great job of sticking with us all year long and our coaches have done a great job of keeping this team together. We just want to hang around in that game and give ourselves a chance to win it in the fourth quarter, that's our goal."
Class 5A Sectional 9
AT KIWANIS FIELD
Valparaiso (10-0) at La Porte (3-7), 7 p.m.