While there were no sectional titles won by area high school football teams this fall, that doesn't mean there wasn't a shortage of good stories or excitement.
One year after posting an 0-9 record and having to forfeit a game due to not having enough healthy players, the Fairfield Falcons finished 6-6 and reached the Class 2A sectional title game before losing to Eastside.
Concord posted an 8-2 mark and earned a share of the Northern Lakes Conference title on the final night of the regular season, holding on to beat Warsaw, while NorthWood was taking down previously unbeaten (in the NLC) Plymouth.
And perhaps the biggest story of the fall was the strong season from Elkhart Central.
Riding an all-time season from halfback Mark Brownlee, the Blue Blazers posted a 9-3 mark, falling just short in the Class 5A sectional title game, losing to Mishawaka 42-36 when a last-second onside kick settled into the hands of a Caveman.
Central also had a win over No. 1 (4A) New Prairie on the final night of the regular season.
Thanks in part to their amazing season, the Blue Blazers lead the 2019 Elkhart Truth All-Area football team with eight players chosen for nine positions, with senior Sean Holman making the team on both the offensive and defensive line.
But the year's biggest story was Brownlee, who earned The Truth's Player of the Year Award for rushing 275 times for 2,073 yards and 32 touchdowns, despite missing two games. He was also the team's second leading receiver with 17 catches on the year.
Brownlee also set an Elkhart Central record with 307 yards rushing in a sectional semifinal win over Concord, while also scoring five touchdowns. The Ball State commit was over 200 yards rushing six times during the season.
But Brownlee wasn't alone for coach Josh Shattuck's team, as classmate Dominic Davis had an outstanding year as a runner and receiver, including rushing for 253 yards and six touchdowns, while filling in for Brownlee against Benton Harber early in the year.
Meanwhile, defensive linemen Holman and junior Division I recruit Rodney McGraw anchored a defense that posted four shutouts and held their opponents to single digits six times.
After just three players repeated on our All-Area team last season, there are 10 this season, including Brownlee, McGraw and Concord senior Carter Neveraski – who made the team both at halfback and in the defensive backfield.
Other repeat selections are offensive linemen Garret Anglemyer of NorthWood and Blake Garretson of Jimtown, junior all-around back Derrick Woods Jr. of Elkhart Memorial, kicker Ariel DeLaPaz of Concord, defensive linemen Jake Lone of NorthWood, junior defensive back Vinny Ambrose of Central, and junior Nate Newcomer of NorthWood, selected as an At-Large offensive choice after having an outstanding year for the Panthers.
There is just one sophomore on the team this season, that being Concord receiver Amarion Moore.
• SEASON OVERVIEW: It's hard to call Concord's 8-2 mark a bounce-back season after the Minutemen won a 5A sectional title in 2018, but head coach Craig Koehler had a much smoother season as Concord earned a share of the Northern Lakes Conference title.
Behind the play of senior quarterback Ethan Cain and classmate Neveraski at halfback, along with sophomore receivers Moore and Jack D'Arcy, the Minutemen used a passing game and an opportunistic defense to post a strong season.
Cain, our All-Area quarterback, would finish the year with 2,047 passing yards and 20 touchdowns, while also ranking second to Neveraski in rushing. Moore, D'Arcy and Neveraski combined for 134 catches during the season, with Neveraski leading the team with 55 out of the backfield.
One of the key reasons for the Minutemen's success was a plus 15 turnover ratio, as a defense led by linebacker Spencer Arnold, along with Neveraski and Roemello Moon in the defensive backfield, produced two shutouts and held two other teams to under 10 points.
Concord also had a strong kicker in DeLaPaz, who boomed a 50-yard field goal against NorthWood early in the season.
• Coach Matt Thacker did an incredible job in helping raise the Fairfield program up from the ashes.
The Falcons, 2-27 in the past three seasons, rode the passing and running of quarterback Cory Lantz to a 6-6 season, including wins over Bluffton and Prairie Heights in the state playoffs.
Fairfield was helped by the play of senior Nolin Sharick, who earned All-Area honors both offensively as a tight end and as a defensive back. Sharick caught four touchdown passes, while also intercepting five passes.
Sharick was one of several players on the Falcon roster playing football for the first time.
Lantz would finish with 652 yards passing, while also rushing for 780 yards. He combined for 20 total touchdowns.
• In its final season before next season's merge with Elkhart Central, coach Scot Shaw's Elkhart Memorial Crimson Chargers posted a 3-7 mark, including a two point loss to Culver Academy and a three-point defeat to a strong Warsaw team (38-35) in what may have been the game of the year.
The Chargers had a strong offense led by juniors Woods Jr. and Tyren Mason.
Woods played halfback for most of the year, but also spend some times running the Wildcat offense as a quarterback. He would finish with 896 yards on the ground with eight touchdowns, while also catching 26 passes for 387 yards and five scores.
Meanwhile, Mason caught 37 passes for 586 yards, including a four touchdown performance against Warsaw.
Memorial has a number of upperclassmen, including Woods, Mason, Dylan Rost and Graham Elli, who will be playing for the Elkhart High Lions next fall.
• NorthWood head coach Nate Andrews got a big year from quarterback Nate Newcomer, as the Panthers posted a 7-4 record, with their biggest win coming in their final regular season game when they beat Plymouth, to force a tie for the NLC title between the Rockies and Concord.
Replacing Mr. Football finalist Bronson Yoder at quarterback, Newcomer rushed for 1,137 yards and 13 touchdowns, while also passing for 805 yards and 10 more scores.
The Panthers lost a tough game to Concord early, one week after dropping a 48-21 decision to eventual 3A state champ Indianapolis Chatard.
NorthWood's rushing attack was very strong, led by Newcomer, Jaden Miller and Ben Mestach.
• Jimtown had a solid season and head coach Mike Campbell won his 100th career game, as the Jimmies reached the sectional finals before losing to Marian 14-13.
In addition to two losses to regional champ Marian, Jimtown also lost to area powers Concord and Elkhart Central.
Campbell went back to the familiar ground-and-pound offense this season with the quarterback under center, letting a strong defense carry the Jimmies. Junior halftback Ethan Devol did go over the 1,000 yard mark for Jimtown while scoring 11 touchdowns.
Safety Clay Campbell, along with linebackers Casey Pratt and Jacob Werts were the top tacklers, but the Jimmies' defensive line was also stout throughout the year.
• Northridge had an interesting season, as head coach Tom Wogomon's team battled injuries but were able to get a number of young players some experience for 2020.
Halfback Caid Lacey had a great year for the Raiders, finishing with 1,085 yards and 16 touchdowns. Wogomon also had two solid receivers in juniors Jett Gott and Breckin Judd.
The Raiders closed the year at 4-6 after opening 3-0 against South Bend Adams, South Bend St. Joseph and Wawasee.
In addition to Gott and Judd, second leading tackler Zack Howey will also return for the Raiders in 2020.
• For the second straight season, Goshen won its season opener and then lost nine straight to close the year.
But as they did last year, the RedHawks continued to improve throughout the season.
Head coach Kyle Park found a solid passing combination in quarterback Colin Turner to receiver Andrew Pletcher, while junior linebacker Isaac Sawatzky made our All-Area team with 93 tackles on the year.
• The Penn Kingsmen faced an upgraded schedule coming into this season and then lost starting quarterback Ron Powlus in the second week of the year.
After losing to Class 5A finalist Valparaiso in their opener, Penn would fall to 1-3 after losing to Illinois state power Homewood-Flossmoor and Ohio power Cincinnati St. Xavier.
But coach Cory Yeoman's team rebounded to earn a share of the Northern Indiana Conference North Division title with New Prairie, before falling to Warsaw in the Class 6A sectional finals.
Running back Kyle Riffel finished with 1,313 yards rushing on the year, while Nick Favilla moved from receiver to quarterback after Powlus' injury and led Penn to late season wins over Elkhart Central and Mishawaka to help the Kingsmen earn a share of the NIC North.
Rushing – Carter Neveraski 106-471 (8 TD's), Ethan Cain 81-306 (2 TD's), Jamyris Rice 32-244 (2 TD's). Passing – Cain 174-285-2,047 (20 TD's). Receiving 55-558 (4 TD's), Jack D'Arcy 40-490 (5 TD's), Amarion Moore 39-490 (6 TD's). Tackles – Spencer Arnold 36 solo–55 assists (91 total), Neveraski 30-22 (55), JenDariun Greer 22-33 (55).
Rushing – Mark Brownlee 275-2,073 (32 TD's), Dominic Davis 81-651 (11 TD's). Passing – Isaiah Chandler 115-201-1,531 (8 TDs). Receiving – Davis 32-371 (2 TD's). Tackles – Sean Holman 36-59 (95), Kennath Davis 44-41 (85), Vinnie Ambrose 46-38 (84), Rodney McGraw 28-45 (73).
Rushing – Derrick Woods Jr. 134-896 (8 TD's), Ivan Soeum 52-268 (3 TD's). Passing – Tyler Lehner 99-168-1,368 (15 TD's). Receiving – Tyren Mason 37-566 (7 TD's), Woods Jr. 26-374 (5 TD's). Tackles: Breydan Weston 60-42-102, Clayton Lundy 53-44 (97), Ty Winters 66-22 (88).
Rushing – Cory Lantz 155-652 (13 TD's), Dalton Cripe 50-391 (2 TD's), Carson Abramson 110-362 (1 TD). Passing – Lantz 43-81-780 (7 TD's). Receiving – Nolin Sharick 17-387 (4 TD's), Cripe 7-154 (1 TD). Tackles – Colton Fisher 73-26 (99), Abramson 52-19 (71, Sharick 36-18 (54).
Rushing – Bryant Grewe 107-398 (2 TD's), Wesley VanHooser 42- 227 (5TD's). Passing – Colin Turner 120-256 1,161 (2 TD's). Receiving – Andrew Pletcher 36-377 (2 TD's), VanHooser 18-135. Tackles – Isaac Sawatzky 48-45 (93), Roman Schrock 31-33 (64), James Troyer 35-28 (63).
Rushing – Ethan Devol 185-1,047 (11 TD's), Cole Thompson 121-650 (6 TD's), Clay Campbell 89-327 (8 TD's). Passing – Campbell 50-117-762 (6 TD's). Receiving – Dustin Whitman 18-245 (2 TD's). Tackles – Campbell 68-32 (100), Casey Pratt 46-30 (76), Jacob Werts 55-21 (76).
Rushing – Caid Lacy 159-1,045 (16 TD's), Dominic Crowder 88-525 (3 TD's). Passing – Oliver Eveler 78-166-1,234 (7 TD's). Receiving – Jett Gott 32-385 (1 TD), Breckin Judd 21-506 (6 TD's). Tackles – Austin Floria 43-18 (61), Zack Howey 25-31 (56), Gott 30-28 (48).
Rushing – Nate Newcomer 162-1,137 (13 TD's), Jaden Miller 120-737 (9 TD's), Ben Mestach 55-588 (10 TD's). Passing – Newcomer 43-82-805 (10 TD's). Receiving – Miller 16-224 (2 TD's), Jason Borkholder 10-331 (4 TD's). Tackles – Borkholder 29-39 (68; 9 games), Mestach 13-51 (65), Miller, 27-36 (63).
Rushing – Kyle Riffel 209-1,313 (11TD's), Alec Hardrict 55-161 (3 TD's). Passing – Nick Favilla 42-75-492 (4 TD's), Ron Powlus 21-36-389 (5 TD's). Receiving – Tiegan Bothun 21-329 (2 TD's), Carson Mumaw 14-186 (1 TD). Tackles – Michael Garcia 63-11 (74), Zack Messer 57-16 (73), Tye Zahner 48-27 (75).
QB: Ethan Cain sr. (Concord)
RB: Mark Brownlee sr. (Elkhart Central), Carter Neveraski sr. (Concord), Caid Lacey sr. (Northridge)
WR: Dominic Davis sr. (Elkhart Central), Amarion Moore soph. (Concord), Tyren Mason jr. (Elkhart Memorial)
TE: Nolin Sharick sr. (Fairfield)
OL: Jonathon Decker sr. (Elkhart Central), Sean Holman sr. (Elkhart Central), Garrett Anglemeyer sr. (NorthWood), Tyler Graff sr. (Penn), Blake Garretson sr. (Jimtown)
K: Ariel DeLaPaz sr. (Concord)
AT LARGE: Nate Newcomer jr. (NorthWood), Cory Lantz jr. (Fairfield), Derrick Woods Jr. jr (Elkhart Memorial)
DL: Rodney McGraw jr. (Elkhart Central), Sean Holman sr. (Elkhart Central), Joe Apata jr. (Penn), Jake Lone sr. (NorthWood),
LB: Spencer Arnold sr. (Concord), Breydan Weston sr. (Elkhart Memorial), Isaac Sawatsky jr. (Goshen), Jacob Werts sr. (Jimtown).
DB: Clay Campbell sr. (Jimtown), Kennath Davis jr. (Elkhart Central), Nolin Sharick sr. (Fairfield), Carter Neveraski sr. (Concord), Austin Floria sr. (Northridge).
P: Bryan Ramirez, sr. (Elkhart Central).
AT LARGE: Vinnie Ambrose jr. (Elkhart Central), Michael Garcia sr. (Penn), Jason Borkholder sr. (NorthWood).