By Joanna Chadwick / Photos by Philip Zivnuska
Northwest vs. Bishop Carroll football is Friday night.
So what will happen?
Will it be a one-point, last-second win like Northwest’s win in the 2018 season opener?
Or will it be 84-67 like when Northwest beat Carroll in the Class 5A playoffs in November?
“Honestly? Flip a coin,” Northwest coach Steve Martin said. “Seriously, I don’t expect the playoff score. I’ll tell you that for sure. I think it’s way too early.
“They have a lot of question marks at their skill positions … we have so many questions on both sides of the ball. It will be dictated by what defense will make the least mistakes. Another great game, but it will be what defense minimizes mistakes and turnovers.”
Northwest returns senior quarterback Reagan Jones, who accounted for 3,800 rushing and passing yards while leading the Grizzlies to the 5A title game. Jamar Martin and Julius Bolden are battling for the starting running back spot.
Bishop Carroll returns junior quarterback Aiden Niedens, who started at quarterback after John Honas suffered a season-ending injury when he needed surgery on a thumb.
Honas, a senior slated to start at running back, broke a lower leg during a scrimmage last week. It’s the fourth time he has suffered a season-ending injury in high school.
“He’s such a great kid, one of the best you want to have be a leader of your program,” Carroll coach Dusty Trail said. “High-character kid. Pretty big blow to this team.”
Honas was also taking reps at quarterback.
Senior Skylar Hampton is back at running back for Carroll.
As for Niedens, he gained confidence running the show in 2018.
“He played six, seven games last year,” Trail said. “… I see him playing with a lot more confidence, confident in what he’s capable of doing. His arm strength has improved, and he’s just very versatile, very elusive, quick feet, good feet. He brings a lot to the table.”
And Carroll returns four starters on the offensive line — Ben Purvis at center, guard Matt Bachman, left tackle Ethan McMillan, who is a three-year starter, and right tackle Gabe Havlovic.
“All those guys started every game for us last year,” Trail said. “That experience is invaluable, obviously. It helps us anchor the team. It keeps the offensive unit kind of calm. These guys have a lot of confidence in them.”
Max Bullinger, a tight end, will be moved around a lot, including splitting him out in similar fashion to the way Carroll used Clay Cundiff last season.
Carroll has defensive questions with only four starters back. Justin Powell and Dalton Nichols are key performers in the secondary, and the defensive line has Phoenix Smith and Joseph Korte.
But the linebacking corps is completely new.
“They’re not as big as last year’s group, but I think they might be a little more athletic than last year’s group,” Trail said.
But what will happen Friday?
Trail isn’t sure.
“That’s what makes this such a great game to start out with,” he said. “… It’s a rivalry game, and it’s a good rivalry. We’re enemies only on nights that we play.
“Really it’s about making each other better. It’s a good test for both programs, figure out where we’re at and what we need to work on to compete at a high level.”
What sets this season apart from 2018 is the Division I guys are gone. Northwest had Breece Hall (now at Iowa State) and Marcus Hicks (at Oklahoma), while Carroll had Cundiff (now at Wisconsin).
“We’re both replacing a lot of people,” Martin said. “It will be a story of what we’ve embodied and what they’ve been doing for 25 years. It will be fun to see the programs on display, not the Division I talent. It will be the programs.”