LAKEVILLE — If there’s a football version of the fictional town of Hickory from the basketball movie “Hoosiers,” it very well could be this northern Indiana town, the home of LaVille High School.
This rural community, for all intents and purposes, will be closed down Friday night so many of its 800-or-so inhabitants can follow the school buses carrying coach Will Hostrawser, his staff and his 9-2 Lancers on their 67-mile trip to Walton, where top-ranked Lewis Cass awaits to decide the Class 2A-Sectional 34 championship.
“We’re such a small community, everybody has our back,” senior nose tackle Jake Martin said. “Every teacher is cheering us on, the students are always there and loud.”
The 10-1 Kings have run roughshod through most of their football competition. Having ended the 30-game winning streak of two-time Class 1A state champion Pioneer with a 28-22 victory in the season opener, Lewis Cass has stumbled just once this season — to Class 3A West Lafayette 58-21 on Oct. 4, a loss they avenged two weeks later 49-42. Lewis Cass then routed Pioneer in the first round of the Sectional 34 playoffs 43-8 and manhandled Rochester 53-9 in last Friday’s semifinals.
Now coach Jeff Phillips’ team is supposed to easily handle Hostrawser’s Lancers, who lost to Pioneer 36-14 in week three, lost to Class 3A power Knox 13-3 in week six and then struggled in three games before finding their playoff legs against Wabash (44-21) and Bremen (34-14) the last two Fridays.
The Lancers aren’t backing down.
“I’m glad we get a chance to go against someone like them,” LaVille senior offensive tackle Jacob Hominiuk said. “I like the challenge.”
One prep pigskin prognosticator is predicting the Lancers are as much as three-touchdown underdogs.
Hostrawser knows that the odds, no matter how great they are, can be overcome just like the Huskers did over South Bend Central in “Hoosiers” and real-life Milan did against Muncie Central in 1954.
“My seniors get tired of me telling them I once played for a team that beat No. 1,” laughed Hostrawser, who was a wide receiver at Glenn in 1987 when the Falcons opened with a 16-13 victory over then top-ranked North Judson that was a season removed from playing for the Class 1A state title.
Hostrawser ended up at Glenn’s neighboring rival LaVille after getting the coaching bug from his father John, who led the school’s football fortunes for 13 seasons before stepping down in 1984. Hostrawser is 55-25 in his seventh season as head coach at LaVille and his 2017 team won only the school’s fourth sectional title since it began playing football in 1965. His 2016 team went 10-2, losing the sectional championship to Southwood, 43-40.
This squad, which finished third behind Pioneer and Knox in the Hoosier North Conference, is averaging 29.4 points per game while surrendering just 11.5. It is led on offense by junior quarterback Ayden Doyle and features running backs Robby Pope, Kolby Watts and Andrew Dill and tight end Jimmy Fischer. The defense features two-way players Doyle and Pope (linebackers), Fischer and Connor Manges (defensive backs) and two-way tackles Hominiuk and junior James Bettcher.
“They really respond to what we ask them to do,” Hostrawser said. “It’s just fun because the work ethic year in and year out is something that is very unique.”
“I made a pledge to myself that I need to work hard every day,” Pope said.
Fischer still carries some of the pain.
“It hurt a lot because we knew how much potential we had,” Fischer said. “It still stings today. So it would mean a lot to beat those guys (the Kings) and make up for it.”
You gotta believe. No doubt, the LaVille Lancers do.
“Everyone is doubting us,” Martin said. “It’s motivating us. Go out and hit hard — that’s all we can do. Go and play.”
Their coach, their hometown have no doubt the LaVille Lancers will.
* * * *
G A M E D A Y
TEAMS: Class 2A #12 LAVILLE (9-2) AT Class 2A #1 LEWIS CASS (10-1)
GAME TIME: 7:30 P.M.
COACHES: Will Hostrawser (55-25 in seventh year at LaVille). Jeff Phillips (25-20 in fourth year at Lewis Cass; 71-54 in 12th year overall)
LAST OUTING: LaVille defeated Bremen, 34-14. Cass defeated Rochester, 53-9.
SERIES LAST 35 YEARS: Lewis Cass leads LaVille, 4-0.
LAST MEETING: Lewis Cass defeated LaVille 49-6, August 27, 2004.
SECTIONAL TITLES: LaVille 4 (1982, 2002, 2003, 2017). Lewis Cass 7 (1990, 1994, 2005, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2012)
SECTIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME RECORD: LaVille 4-6; Lewis Cass 7-10
REGIONAL APPEARANCES: LaVille 4 (1982, 2002, 2003, 2017). Lewis Cass 5 (1990, 1994, 2005, 2007, 2008)