There's a 'Buz' in the Hub: After another perfect regular season, Crown Point eyes state tourney run
CROWN POINT -- When Mike Prior visited Crown Point last month to present Craig Buzea with the Indianapolis Colts Coach of the Week award, a segment of his presentation rang particularly true with Seamus Malaski.
"He talked about what it took to get to the Super Bowl," the Bulldogs senior said. "He said the locker room's different. Everyone gets along. That's what it takes."
Prior, a former defensive back who has served as the Colts Youth Football Commissioner since 2005, had an interception for the Green Bay Packers in their 35-21 win over New England in Super Bowl XXXI in 1996.
That also happened to be the third year of a coaching career that landed Buzea in the Indiana Football Hall of Fame last spring.
"It's very similar," he said, comparing the growing expectations in the program to what happened at Portage after a run to the 5A state finals in 1994, his first year as a head coach. "Last year, it was, let's see if we can do it. This year, I think there's some pressure with it. It's a lot of the same guys. I've been there before."
Portage won three straight Duneland Conference titles between 1994-96 and 25 DAC games in a row under Buzea. His current club extended its own string to 14 when it ended its second unbeaten regular season in a row with a running clock shutout of Michigan City.
"I don't think these guys ever really let up," Buzea said. "It's never a team where we really have to get after them. That's what you have to guard against, reading scores, taking opponents lightly. These guys are great. A lot of them are multi-sport athletes, state champions in wrestling, track. I like everything about them. They're fun to be around. They come to work every day. They're good in the classroom. Three years ago, I looked at this group as freshmen, to see if this is a group I could do anything with. I saw them on film. I thought they could be OK, be competitive. In three years' time, they've been undefeated twice."
Lafayette Jefferson bounced CP in the Class 6A sectional final last season, 38-28, and the 'Dogs will get another shot at the Bronchos (5-4) this week.
"They were good and we didn't play well," Buzea said. "We turned the ball over three times. We struggled with their speed. We hope Merrillville, teams like this (Michigan City) get us ready. We lost to a hell of a team. They were one point from the team (Carroll) that played for the state championship. That'll be a challenge for us. We've got 'em in the first round, so we'll put all our energy into it and see what happens."
A 6A state title has been a white whale for Region teams and would be the crown jewel of Buzea's storied career. While it remains to be seen how close they really are, Crown Point is building in the manner that the Indianapolis-area powers have done it, with seemingly limitless resources that attract athletic talent like quarterback Noah Ehrlich, a Hobart football legacy who transferred to the Hub.
"I think it's more leadership this year," sophomore Trevor Gibbs said. "The new quarterback coming in, he took leadership right away. We've got seniors stepping up. The defensive side of the ball, we go out and work for each other. It's all about the team, even if we're down 50. There's a lot of positivity in this group."
"That's the standard in our conference, that's what we're trying to get to," Michigan City coach Cody French said. "It's good for us to see. Those guys do everything right. They operate in a first class manner."
The Bulldogs enter the playoffs having allowed 59 points all season. Only Valparaiso and Lake Central have reached double figures against them. On offense, CP's 37.4 has been diluted by several games with running clocks in the second half. Ehrlich has thrown for over 1,500 yards and durable running back Larry Ellison surpassed the 1,000 mark in the Michigan City. At a modest 160 pounds, he gets downhill quickly behind a massive offensive line.
"When I do get hit hard, I at least try to throw my whole body into him to get some momentum, so I'm not taking a full blow," Ellison said. "And I've got some moves."
Tight ends Gibbs (6-3, 230) and Malaski (6-5, 240), a state champion discus thrower who recently committed to Purdue, and receiver Landen Delich (6-3, 185), a Toledo commit, provide a trio of massive targets for the mobile, strong-armed Ehrlich.
"Coach Buz says, 'no blocky, no rocky,'" Malaski said of the offense's incentive plan. "We'll go run through teams. Four, five plays in a row, we're blocking, then all of a sudden, we'll sneak out and no one expects us. We can catch, too."
With the state tournament kicking off for 5A and 6A this week, Malaski likes the vibe that Prior alluded to in his visit to CP last month.
"We've got a great locker room," Malaski said. "We're starting to play way better as a team. That's very important. I think it's going to take us far."