Archive for November 14, 2015

KOKOMO FOOTBALL WINS FIRST-EVER REGIONAL TITLE, NEXT STOP CLASS 5A FINAL FOUR

Kokomo Celebrates 2

BY DEAN HOCKNEY

KOKOMO, Ind. – It is hard to make Brett Colby speechless, but when he arrived in the Walter Cross Field press box after Friday night’s game, that is what he said he was, “Speechless.” And he should be – his Kokomo Wildkats are headed to the IHSAA Class 5A Final Four.

“I am happy for our kids. I am happy for our fans. I am happy for the school,” said Colby with a huge smile.

“It feels great,” said senior Jeron Gray. “To be out there with those guys each week is fun; we are having a fun time right now. We are a family.”

In one of two IHSAA North Regionals, the fourth-ranked Wildkats withstood cold temperatures, cramps and a very good Westfield team to earn a 21-19 thriller to claim the school’s first-ever football regional title and punch the Kats ticket into the semi-state. The victory was every-bit as close as the score indicated and the game came down to fundamentals – Kokomo hit all three of its extra points and protected the ball (one turnover) while Westfield missed an extra point and turned the pigskin over five times.

“We coach turnovers every day in our practices,” said Colby. “We teach to punch at the ball. I told them if they carry the ball low, we would get some turnovers. We worked on that Tuesday and Wednesday this week – our guys pay attention and do what they do.”

Kokomo once again got out of the gates quickly, despite a four-and-out on its first possession. On Westfield’s first play from scrimmage, Jonathan Swindan ran 13-yards to the left side only to have the ball stripped by Perry McCullum and taken away by Brevin Beard. Eight plays and 53 yards later, Kyle Wade called his own number and ran up the middle for the first touchdown of the night. Robby Lambert added the extra point, which was not a given considering the gusty winds and cold temperatures.

“Robby has been hot; he has kicked 10 in a row since we have got him from soccer,” said Colby of his place kicker, who was a perfect 3 for 3 in the game. “We have him kicking with us every day now, and our kicking game has gotten better.”

Westfield entered with the No. 10 ranking for a reason, and two series later they found the end zone courtesy of one the Kats few miscues – a fumbled snap on a punt at the 11 yard line. It took Andrew Sweet one play to score and the game was knotted one seven.

Westfield stopped Kokomo on its next series, but the Rocks returned the special team’s mistake by fumbling the punt reception and Beard fell on it. Marcelle Kenner then flexed his 6-foot-2, 260 pound muscle and bulldozed his way into the end zone on a 13-yard run, which was set up by his previous 17-yard trot. Lambert’s kick made it 14-7 at the end of one stanza.

“Marcelle had a lot of good, tough yards tonight,” said Colby. “I am real happy for him, and happy for everyone.”

Westfield looked to tie the game with 2:53 left in the first half after Ryan Pepiot found a wide-open Milo Beam for a 27-yard touchdown. But William Harrison’s extra point went wide and the teams went to the locker room with Kokomo leading 14-13.

A defensive battle took over the third, and Kokomo’s Wreckin’ Crew stopped Swindan on three consecutive rushes to start the fourth quarter and take over on downs. Kokomo used a combination of Gray, Keenen Wheeler and Kenner – plus a pass from Kyle Wade – to move the ball to the nine. Kenner then ran over the right guard slot, spun and scored to put the Kats up 21-13 in front of nearly 2,000 fans.

Westfield returned to the end zone on its next possession, marching 64 yards on five plays and scoring on a Pepiot to Max McCool 13-yard touchdown with 4:43 left. Forced to go for the two-point conversion, Pepiot’s pass was knocked down by Luke Cameron in the end zone and Kokomo held a 21-19 lead in the IHSAA Game of the Week (broadcast worldwide on the internet via the IHSAA Champions Network).

On Kokomo’s next possession, Colby knew he had to eat some time. On second down, he went to the trick play book and pulled out a halfback pass from Gray to Keenen Wheeler that turned into a key first down. Then Gray dropped back for another pass three plays later and Westfield was called for pass interference to prolong Kokomo’s drive and eat up key time off the clock.

“I practiced that play and I knew he could catch it,” said Gray of the pass. “I knew it would happen.”

The Shamrocks would eventually stop Kokomo with 33 seconds left, but a desperation Hail Mary was picked off by Cameron at the buzzer to give the Kats its first taste of a football Final Four.

“We started picking at that scab, and they started bleeding in that fourth quarter,” said Colby.

Kenner finished with 83 yards on 17 carries and two touchdown. Wheeler had 77 yards rushing on nine touches while Gray had 70 yards on 21 carries. Wade was 11-20-1 for 129 yards. Gray caught six of those for 81 yards.

Swidan led Westfield with 127 rushing yards. Pepiot was 16-27-2 for 196 yards.

Cameron, a sophomore, had the game of his life with 10 tackles (six solo), one forced fumble, one interception and the big two-point conversion stop. Perry McCullum had a forced fumble and interception, Cameron Fitts had a sack and Jordan Matthews recovered a fumble.

“We are excited to be playing one more week,” said Colby. “Now we are 48 minutes away (from the state championship game in Lucas Oil Stadium) instead of 96.”

Kokomo (12-0) will travel to No. 5 Fort Wayne Snider (11-1) in the one-game semi-state this Friday night at 7 p.m. The Panthers defeated No. 7 Mishawaka 42-32. Kokomo has never defeated Snider – the Panthers have knocked the Wildkats out of the state football playoffs four times, including a 7-0 regional title game in 1985.

IHSAA CLASS 5A FOOTBALL SEMI-STATE

The Final Four – November 20, 2015

#4 Kokomo (12-0) at #5 FW Snider (11-1)

Castle (8-4) at #1 New Palestine (12-0)

WILDKATS READY FOR FOOTBALL REGIONAL BATTLE AGAINST WESTFIELD

Football - Kokomo

BY DEAN HOCKNEY

KOKOMO, Ind. – Kokomo has played varsity football for 93 seasons, but Friday nights IHSAA Class 5A Football Regional title game may be the most important contest in the school’s 892 outings. Win number 510 would give Kokomo its first-ever regional championship and a trip to the Final Four.

Despite the two schools relatively close proximity, Kokomo will battle Westfield on the gridiron for just the fifth time in history. The undefeated and fourth-ranked Wildkats (11-0) will host No. 10 Westfield (7-4) at Walter Cross Field in the one-game regional on Friday at 7 p.m. The Shamrocks defeated No. 14 Lafayette Jefferson 45-27 in its sectional championship game while the Kats knocked off Huntington North 57-0.

“They are a good team, and their schedule is a nightmare,” said Kokomo head coach Brett Colby of Westfield. “If we played that schedule and had seven wins, I would think I would have a good shot at winning the sectional and regional. We will have to be ready.”

Kokomo is a perfect 4-0 against the Shamrocks, having won in 1923 (twice), 1925 and 1947. Yes, it has been 68 years since the two schools separated by a mere 30 miles have met in football. Led by fifth-year coach Jake Gilbert (34-24 at Westfield, 64-60 in 11 overall seasons), the Shamrocks have four losses, all to larger Class 6A schools: No. 6 Hamilton Southeastern defeated the Rocks 34-18, Brownsburg won 59-30, No. 7 Avon earned a 35-20 win and No. 8 Fishers slipped past Westfield 42-28.

“Jake Gilbert is a good and old friend of mine and we coached against each other when he was at North Montgomery and I was at Frankfort,” said Colby, who is second on the Kokomo career wins list with 72. “He has done an unbelievable job since he arrived at Westfield and I have the utmost respect for Jake.”

Kokomo and Westfield have two common opponents this season – the Rocks have knocked off Harrison twice (38-21 and 42-22) and the aforementioned Jeff game. Kokomo beat Jeff 46-14 and Harrison 48-14. Both squads have quality wins this year: Kokomo defeated 6A No. 13 Chesterton 7-6 and Westfield knocked off 6A No. 15 Zionsville 45-30.

“It is going to be a fun week preparing against him,” said Colby. “Rob Padgett is also down there and is a good friend too and they are not going to overlook us.”

Colby knows for Kokomo to earn its first regional football title – Westfield won regionals in 1992, 1993 and 2013 – they will have to play a physical and quick game.

“We are sure not going to look at that record – they are a good football team and we know they are going to play very physical,” said Kokomo’s veteran coach. “They have a lot of speed and I hope we can match up with them well. If we do, it will be a heck of a football game.”

Tickets are available at the gate for $7.

Class 5A Football Elite Eight

North Regionals

#7 Mishawaka (8-3) at #5 FW Snider (10-1)

#10 Westfield (7-4) at #4 Kokomo (11-0)

South Regionals

#15 Zionsville (5-6) at #1 New Palestine (11-0)

#3 Bloomington South (11-0) at Castle (7-4)

CALLED FOR TRAVELING: DON SMITH LOOKS AT DIFFERENCES BETWEEN HOOSIER HYSTERIA AND HOOPS ON THE WEST COAST

Golden Valley HS Cougars

CALLED FOR TRAVELING WITH DONALD SMITH

MERCED, Calif. – As many of you know, my wife, Karen, and I left Kokomo and relocated to Merced, California, to be closer to our kids, grandson, family (remember, Karen is a California girl), to revel in the climate and to enjoy retirement.  As part of that retirement, and as a means of integrating into the community, why not coach some basketball?

Through my daughter who works in the district attorney’s office as an assistant DA, I got connected to Keith Hunter, who is the head basketball coach at Golden Valley HS. Evidently, he checked out the story about me that was published by the Sports Journal in June 2015 and I was invited to come to the school for a tour and to meet the athletic director. I was subsequently offered, and I accepted, a position as the freshman basketball coach at Golden Valley HS here in Merced.

The city of Merced has a population of about 88,000, which might include all of the dogs and cats. They have three high schools of which Golden Valley is one and they are part of the Central California Conference, which includes five other schools. Golden Valley is classified as a 3A school with an enrollment of about 1,700.

What I am going to do is write a series of articles comparing the differences between Indiana and California high school basketball. I suppose the game of basketball is just a game with standard rules (10-foot goals and 15-foot free throw lanes), but the differences show up in style, culture and performance. You play it, coach it and watch it enough and you grow to understand that. This is the introductory story which will hopefully set the stage for the comparison.  Before I get to a single dribble, here are some of the immediate differences that I have noticed:

· Golden Valley has one gym, which is a little smaller than the gym inside Kokomo High School (the one we affectionately refer to as the “old” gym or Haworth Gym) and has a capacity of 2,600. That’s it! The locker room is similar to that of the P.E. locker room you would find at KHS; and no, I did not have to put “Ollie” on my shoulders to measure the height of the rim or distance to the free throw line.

· There are certainly no basketball temples such as Memorial Gym, Everett Case Arena or the New Castle Chrysler Fieldhouse.

· They use a 35-second shot clock at the high school level AND many times practice outside on the asphalt courts as there is such a big demand for the one gym.  The weather is accommodating for outside practice; it’s just like Foster Park except the student managers don’t ever have to shovel the snow off the court.  Many of the facilities are open air including the weight room and the swimming pool (water polo is big here).

· In order to be certified to coach, I had to undergo extensive testing and pre-coaching requirements, in addition to the standard finger printing and criminal background check. For instance: TB test; on-line training and tests for concussions; on-line training and test for being a “mandated reporter” for child abuse; in-class training for blood borne pathogens, diabetes, asthma, first aid and CPR; and an all day class in Fundamentals of Coaching and Transfer Student Recruiting.

To conclude this first column, I have come to accept that the differences between the West Coast and the Midwest are mostly about culture. Out here it is not surprising to see people with green hair and pink dogs (although that might have been a Halloween thing), along with the general attitude that basketball is “just another sport.”

Blasphemy!

The season starts next week, so the next article will focus on skill levels; and how the players adapt to an old, bald guy from Indiana.

Don Smith is a 1968 Kokomo High School graduate and former Wildkat basketball standout. He spent 20 years as the color commentator on WIOU for Wildkat basketball broadcasts and was the longtime freshman hoops coach at KHS. He recently retired in California to be closer to his family.