NAPPANEE — Nate Andrews knows what to expect when his unbeaten and No. 2-ranked NorthWood football team travels to Lowell on Friday with a berth in the Class 4A state championship on the line.
But that doesn't mean stopping the red-hot Red Devils is going to be easy.
"We know they love to run the football and are a very tough football team ... a typical Region team,'' Andrews said. "They are getting hot and playing their best football at the right time and we know they will fight us all night.''
Game time is set for 7:30 p.m. Eastern, as the teams battle to determine who goes to Lucas Oil Stadium on Nov. 25 to play for a state title. Friday's winner faces the winner of Indianapolis Roncalli (13-0) vs. East Central (11-2) for the championship.
Lowell (9-4) opened the season losing four of its first six games, before sophomore quarterback Ethan Igras took over behind center. Since the 5-foot-9, 163-pound Igras became the starter, Lowell has gone 7-0 and is averaging 44 points, including a 44-23 win over Hobart last week.
"Any time a quarterback can throw the ball when you have to concentrate so much on stopping the run, it's dangerous,'' Andrews said. "Their offense has really played well in the tournament and our defense will have to play them tough and match their intensity.''
Igras has completed 36-of-74 passes for 660 yards and nine touchdowns, while also rushing for 238 yards and a 9.9 average.
But the workhorse for the Devils' offense is 6-foot, 185-pound junior halfback Trevor Espravnik, who has carried 285 times for 1,757 yards and 27 touchdowns, while only fumbling once in 13 games. He rushed for 183 yards in the win over Hobart. As a team, Lowell has rushed for 3,040 yards.
The wild card in the game could be junior Jordan Jusevitch, who missed two games with an injury and has recently returned to action. Jusevitch is Lowell's leading tackler from his defensive back spot and also leads the team with five interceptions. He returned a punt for a touchdown against Hobart and also carried six times against the Brickies.
Among the teams reportedly recruiting Jusevitch are Notre Dame, Wisconsin and Michigan State.
"He will be a guy we'll have to be aware of offensively,'' Andrews said. "He's really just getting back healthy and we're not sure how much or how they will use him offensively. But he's a great athlete and we'll have to know where he is on every play.''
Meanwhile, the Panthers (13-0) continue to play at a very high level.
In NorthWood's 52-28 regional win over New Haven in the regional last Friday, junior halfback Brayton Yoder set a NorthWood record – formerly held by Andrews – with 251 yards rushing, while scoring four touchdowns. Broson Yoder added 65 yards rushing, while quarterback Trey Bilinski was 15-of-23 for 148 yards and a touchdown pass to junior DeAndre Smart.
Jusevitch leads the Red Devils' defense with 91 tackles, one more than sophomore defensive end Blake Janski, who has seven of the team's 32 sacks. Lowell also has picked off 11 passes on the year.
"They will play rough and tough defensively and really try to intimidate you, but we have a tough group of kids, too'' Andrews said. "At this time of the year, we know who we are offensively and know what we're going to do. The key is coming out and executing and winning the matchups along the front line.
"We know it's going to be a great atmosphere at Lowell and I'm sure it will be a full house. But we're playing for a semistate championship so I'm confident our kids will be ready.
The Red Devils, coached by 1991 Fairfield High graduate Keith Kilmer, are looking for their fourth trip to state and first since 2009, while NorthWood will be shooting for its seventh trip to a state title game and first since 2005.