Deja Vu All Over Again: Hanover's football rise to prominence reminiscent of Lowell in the early 90s
By STEVE HANLON
CEDAR LAKE – The ground was rumbling as colors exploded all around. The reds and blacks wrestled against the Cardinal reds and Columbia blues on a cooling Friday night as the sun was setting.
The sounds of the marching band pierced the sky just before the whistle blew to kick off the affair.
Such a painting is exactly what people were hoping for a decade ago when Hanover Central restarted its football program.
Wildcats coach Brian Parker took a deep breath then passed on a message to his staff through the headphones.
“Boys, we’re about to play Lowell in a football game.”
For the past 30 years Lowell has been a dominant program in Northwest Indiana. The Devils have won 16 sectional championships since 1992 and have advanced to four Class 4A state championship games in that time, winning it all in 2005
Hanover, in turn, started playing football in 2014, winning its lone sectional championship in 2021.
Last Friday night was a classic Old School vs. New School scenario.
“We’ve played some good teams around here in recent years,” Parker said on Monday. “We’ve taught our kids to not be afraid of the moment. We’ve had a lot of firsts. But when you beat Lowell, it is no small feat.”
A 28-point third quarter led Hanover to a 35-0 win over its rivals to the south. And a standing room only crowd breathed it all in.
Senior quarterback Matt Koontz finished 23-of-29 for 173 yards and became Hanover’s all-time leader in pass completions at 244. Junior running back Caiden Verrett carried the ball 16 times for 135 yards and three scores.
Hanover had 399 yards of total offense.
The dominance resulted in a running clock in the second half.
Hanover’s defense held Lowell to 143 total yards. Rocco Bartolomeo, Kyron Turner and Jarek Gomez had six tackles each. And Bartolomeo also had an interception stopping Lowell’s lone deep drive.
Who would’ve thunk of such a thing a few years back?
“When you look at it, it is eerily similar to what we did,” said former Lowell coach Kirk Kennedy, who will bring his Kankakee Valley Kougars to the Wildcat Den on Friday.
It was Kennedy who took the Red Devils out of the scrap heap and turned it into a state power.
“They look like we did in the early 90s,” Kennedy continued. “It’s a growing community. They’ve got their kids to buy in. They’ve got a great coaching staff. It’s almost like looking into a mirror.”
Just like Hanover, Lowell played in a small-school conference when it began its turnaround. The Devils were in the Northwest Hoosier Conference from 1993 through 1996, just enough time to get the juices flowing.
Then, Lowell joined the schools that are now in the Northwest Crossroads Conference.
Hanover was in the Greater South Shore Conference until this autumn when it joined the NCC. The Wildcats are now 4-0 overall and 2-0 playing with the Big Boys.
“Everyone was doubting us,” Koontz said of the league switch. “We were told we couldn’t compete against schools like Lowell, Hobart and Andrean. But we were always confident we could hang. We all knew that we had a good team.”
“We heard it from other guys at other schools in other conferences,” Verrett said. “They said we couldn’t play with these big schools. But we used it as motivation. Everyone was doubting us when the season began. But we believed.”
The history is off the radar for many of these current players. Most weren’t born when Kennedy led Lowell to a 28-27 win over Indianapolis Roncalli on Nov. 26, 2005. But the elders in the community, the thousands in the bleachers who looked on, understood what last Friday all meant.
Koontz’s mom had some friends who were Lowell alums. They had a reunion on Saturday night to talk about the glory days. And one thought continued to be uttered.
“Hanover is the real deal. They are legit.”
And that brought a smile to the current QB’s face.
Parker fully understands what it meant. Age sprinkles wisdom on the breakfast of champions.
He was a standout at Crown Point before graduating in 1998. The fall before C.P. restarted its rivalry with Lowell. In a 41-19 win, Parker rushed for 265 yards and scored four touchdowns. He also had a pick.
With Kennedy now at K.V., along with long-time friend and defensive coordinator Brad Stewart on the sidelines with him, Parker knows this Friday night will be a battle. Another one.
Old School vs. New School. Chapter 2.
“When I played against coach Kennedy I thought he was larger than life,” Parker recalled. “He wore those black shorts, the black shirt. And he had that mustache. What he did at Lowell was amazing. That’s why he’s in the Hall of Fame.
“It is similar to what we’re trying to do here. I expect it to be a great game this week.”
Parker was with his wife and kids in 2017 shopping at Sam’s Club. The then-Merrillville assistant coach had put his name in the hat for the Hanover job after Pete Koulianos had left for the Highland job. So after filling the trunk up with goods, they decided to take a drive down to Cedar Lake and look around.
His jaw dropped with every turn.
“We couldn’t believe it,” Parker remembered. “We were like, ‘When did all this happen?’ There were houses going up everywhere. I knew this was where I wanted to be.”
Parker’s first year, he had 42 players. Now, the roster says 74. There are now over 800 students in the school, which means Hanover will likely bump up to Class 4A next school year.
Just like Lowell.
“I have gotten so many messages and emails from people since we beat Lowell,” Parker said. “Because we had always been Lowell’s little brother. I’m not sure our kids fully understand what they did. But they should. It was a really big deal what they accomplished.”
Hanover Central had another statement win Friday, blanking Lowell 35-0. The ascent of the Wildcats program mirrors that of the Red Devils back in the 1990s.
(Photo courtesy of Hanover Central Athletics)