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Hanover Central’s historic football season ends in regional

By STEVE HANLON

JP on Preps Correspondent

CEDAR LAKE -- What a long, strange trip it’s been.

Less than a decade ago, just a couple blocks east on 133rd Street, there was a school board meeting in Cedar Lake.

The discussion of bringing football back to Hanover Central was on the agenda that night. There was a resounding push from many in the community. But there were some also fighting this concept for one simple reason.

With one confusing question.

“What’s going to happen to our boys volleyball program?”

Yes. you could hear the screeching breaks outside on the pavement.

I don’t believe much was said in response.

But on a cold, blustery, snowy Friday night, a jammed bleacher section watched their Wildcats battle state blue-blood Mishawaka Marian in the Class 3A Regional championship, just one week after coach Brian Parker’s team won the program’s first sectional championship.

The crowd cheered Tony Bartolomeo Jr. when he chases down a Marian defensive back who had picked off a pass late and was running for a touchdown. Often, many players will just hang their head this late in a game.

But Bartolomeo refused to quit. He tackled the Knight around the 10-yard line as grass and mud chopped upward against the falling snow.

This one play symbolized the effort of these Wildcats, who lost the game 33-6.

And never has a scoreboard been so wrong in the history of Indiana high school sports.

“This is a group I will never forget for the rest of my life,” Parker told his team after the final whistle.

The score of this game was 14-6 at the beginning of the fourth quarter.

Not bad for a program that started with middle school football, then went to junior varsity before starting the varsity program eight years ago.

And in those early days, the Wildcats were just trying to hang with the powers of the Greater South Shore Conference like Wheeler and Whiting. Without a running clock.

“This has been extraordinary,” Hanover senior Colten Zableckis said. “The seniors got here, we wanted to make a difference. We wanted to make history. And the guys coming back, they can keep this going. I really believe they can make a run in the coming years.”

Hanover only plays one more season in the GSSC. Then, the bar will be raised as the ‘Cats join the Northwest Crossroads Conference. It will be tougher and the league blowouts will cease. But playing the competition will help this program greatly in games like this against teams like Marian.

Hanover drove down to the 1-yard line at the end of the second quarter, but fumbled on a fourth-down rushing attempt. Then, the Wildcats drove down and scored on the opening possession of the third quarter on a 7-yard scoring dash by sophomore quarterback Matt Koontz.

“That was big,” Parker said. “If we don’t fumble, the entire game changes.”

The Knights were playing in their seventh regional game in the last ten years. This was Hanover’s first. That played a big part in the little things -- like hanging on to the football, the kicking game, etc.

But Parker had to order more helmets in August for the middle school team, which won a championship this autumn. And while he ordered the equipment for his growing program at least three more subdivisions were put up in the district.

Hanover isn’t “there” yet, but the ‘Cats are knocking on the door.

And one day soon they will kick it down with some attitude.

“Coming into this game we knew there was a gap between us and them,” Parker said. “We wanted to see how big that gap was going to be. I honestly don’t think we’re that far apart.”

Coach, I agree.

My frozen fingers are just a smidgeon apart.



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