Lions looking for regional redemption

Alex Stouder and Justin Zumbrun make the tackle with Jacob Wunder coming up to help. The Lions defense will need to be tough to get past unbeaten Whiting at Bunge Field Friday.
Ron Haramia
Sports Writer

Bremen’s football team got a little revenge in last week’s sectional final by taking out Bluffton, who ended the Lions’ season a year ago. Maybe now they can do the same in the regional round.
“It’s a lot of fun when you are preparing for games in November,” said head coach Jordan Leeper after winning the first sectional trophy under his direction and the school’s 15th overall. “Our guys were pretty hungry for a sectional championship after a two-hour drive over (to Bluffton).”
Bremen’s 10th win of the season now puts the Lions in the Elite Eight. They will play for a regional championship – at home – this Friday against the Whiting Oilers. It will be a late kickoff, with game time set at 8 p.m. Admission is $8.
Bremen (10-2, #11 AP Poll/#8 Coaches Poll) is shooting for its eighth regional crown, the most recent coming in 2011. Whiting won back-to-back regional titles in ’15 and ’16. The Oilers made it all the way to the state finals in that ’15 season (losing, 33-6), defeating Bremen along the way, 28-21, at Don Bunge Field in the regional championship. Jeff Cain was the head coach of the Oilers then and has been for the last 25 years. His career record is 194-82.
“Watching them on film reminds us of us,” added Leeper. “When you are down to eight teams in the state, you are expecting the best of the best and I think that’s what we’ve got this week.”
Whiting (12-0, #3 AP Poll/#6 Coaches Poll) hosted two of its three sectional contests but will make the 82-mile trek to Lion Country this time. On offense, the Oilers average 245 yards rushing and 68 yards passing per game playing out of a shotgun formation. They have only attempted 53 passes all season (a little more than four per game.)
Leading the way, in almost every way, is senior Nino Barbosa, who wears #10. If any player needed the nickname ‘Slash’, it would be this guy because the speedy, shifty 5-foot-10, 145-pounder is a running back/wide receiver/corner back/return man/kicker for the Oilers. He averages 75 yards per game rushing and has almost 900 yards for the season, scoring 13 touchdowns running. He is also the leading receiver with 12 receptions, five for TDs. He is 50-for-61 on extra-point kicks and is 3-for-3 on field goals. Defensiveley, he leads the team with 10 interceptions, while averaging 38 yards per kickoff return. Barbosa has run three kickoffs back for TDs, three punts and two INTs.
Quarterback Steven Connelly (#13) averages 62 yards per game passing. The junior only has 26 completions for the season, but 10 have gone for TDs (one INT). Six-foot-1, 235-lb. senior Tom Davenport (#33) is the fullback and averages 71 yards per game and has 18 TDs. Senior Thomas Knight (#4) is the second leading receiver as the tight end with 11 receptions, four for TDs.
The Oilers have two massive linemen in juniors Nathaniel Terrazas (#75, listed at 6-0, 355 pounds) and Emiliano Rodriguez (#61, 6-5, 248).
“Barbosa is a fantastic athlete and he does a lot of good things on special teams for them,” Leeper said. “They will run a double-tight formation with a lot of guys in the backfield. They are going to run downhill, off tackle, right at you. They are going to pull guys so it will look like eight guys going to the hole. They try to outman you and outflank you, creating gaps for their playmakers to run. You have to stop the point of attack. They want you to go around blocks to create gaps. If we are physical and take on blocks up front, I think we will be successful.”
Senior Joel Torres (#17) leads the defense with nine tackles per game, three INTs, three fumble recoveries and 3.5 sacks for the year.
“Defensively, they stop teams from scoring, even better than we do,” added Leeper. “Offensively, they are able to put points up on the board. They like to take the football away from teams and they don’t give it back to them. They really excel in special teams. They run a 3-4 defense and upfront they are pretty big. Their linebackers are fast and aggressive. Their defensive backs like to take the ball away. They are good at creating turnovers.”
The Oilers won the Greater South Shore Conference North Division. Second place was Calumet (6-3), a Class 3A school. Griffith (8-3), a Class 4A school and winners of the South Division, lost to Whiting, 30-6. Although going undefeated is impressive, Whiting’s opponents were just 52-59 overall for the season and Class 2A schools were 26-35.
Bremen’s offense continues to sparkle. The Lions are averaging 43 points per contest in the postseason, allowing just 18.
Quarterback Ryan Caldwell threw just eight passes against Bluffton, but two went for touchdown, giving him 20 on the season to just five INTs and 1,500 yards through the air. Receivers Justin Zumbrun (24 rec., 7 TDs), Sam Huffman (19 rec., 8 TDs), Collin Kerr (21 rec., 4 TDs), and Nathan Mullen (12 rec.) continue to give opposing teams plenty to worry about.
Mullen now has 17 rushing TDs and averages over 100 yards per game. Caldwell is a threat to run as well and Jacob Wunder runs with the same punishing style as Mullen. Alex Stouder is another capable runner and is back to booming punts close to 40 yards per kick.
“Offensively, we’ve had a lot of success,” concluded Leeper. “I give credit to a lot of different guys who have stepped up, not being selfish and just enjoying playing football together. Our defense has played really well this year. Hats off to the defensive coaches and the game plans they put together each week. I think we’ve given up about 14 points per game. We think our offense should be able to put up at least 21 points.
“(Whiting) practices and plays on turf so playing on grass might be something (to slow them down) and the weather isn’t going to be great. They’ll be prepared though. I think both teams are good football teams, but the team that avoids the mental mistakes and executes the game plan is the team that’s going to win. At this point, you have good teams that do things really well, but it’s only one game. The team that plays one really good game, is going to win. They are great on special teams. They have scored a lot of points that way. Gameplan-wise, we need to score more points than them.”
The regional winner plays the winner of the Eastbrook/Lapel contest in next week’s semi-state. Bremen would travel to Eastbrook (11-1, #5 AP/#3 Coaches), but host Lapel (8-4, unranked in both AP, Coaches).