Gorch on the Porch: Repeat after me: Wolves won a football sectional

Photo by Scott AllenMichigan City head coach Phil Mason, right, and assistant coach Ken Bye are surrounded by players after the Wolves officially won their first sectional title on Friday night.

It’s not quite as hard to believe as the words, “The Cubs won the World Series” when they were uttered for the first time almost exactly a year ago to the day.

But considering the history of the specific sport at this particular school, they are still words that are hard to say for Michigan City High School graduates.

Michigan City won a football sectional title.

Those words can now be said without chuckling or any sarcasm after the Wolves’ 38-10 victory over La Porte on Friday night at Ames Field.

Let’s say it again … Michigan City won a football sectional title.

Do you believe it?

I do, but then again, I didn’t graduate from City or any other high school in La Porte County.

And I also know the Wolves’ second-year head coach, Phil Mason, from his years at Andrean, Wheeler and my alma mater, Hammond Clark, while I covered high school sports for another Northwest Indiana newspaper.

I also came from a school that doesn’t have a stellar football history. Like City before Friday, Clark has never won a sectional title.

I do remember being part of a student section storming the field like what happened at Ames a couple days ago.

It was my senior year of 1987 and we were facing Hammond Bishop Noll at Pioneer Field (that was Clark’s stadium, though it was more like a cow pasture with stands on two sides). We hadn’t beaten Noll in nine years and we were up 26-23 with a couple seconds left. But the Warriors were going for a game-tying field goal from about 35 yards or so.

The snap was bobbled, a Clark player tackled the holder and we won. I was one of a couple hundred students who jumped over the fence and ran onto the field to celebrate … a regular season win.

That’s how sad we were since we never dreamed of winning a sectional.

And that’s how most football fans from other schools — at least those in the Duneland Conference — thought of Michigan City before Mason arrived last year.

A laughing stock with no chance at winning anything except a couple games a year — one of which was usually against Gary Roosevelt in the first two weeks of the season.

Mason said he would change the culture and he was right.

Michigan City won a football sectional title.

Never mind that he won a state title at Andrean in 2013 and returned to the state final in 2014. What impressed me more was what he did at Wheeler, a school that didn’t have a football program until 2000. Mason’s first year as head coach was 2001. In 2002, the Bearcats had their first winning season at 6-4. The next year they went 9-0 in the regular season to win a conference title before losing in the sectional.

Mason turning Wheeler into a contender showed he could turn City into a winner.

Last year the Wolves had a chance at the DAC title. Same thing this year. But winning a sectional in the second year under new leadership … that’s pretty impressive.

Michigan City won a football sectional title.

Sure, there was plenty of talent on the roster. But I always remember hearing that when I was at that other newspaper. City has talent, but it never comes together at the end of the season.

Well, it came together this year.

It wasn’t just Mason. He put together a great staff that includes Ken Bye, who was the head coach of Michigan City Elston in 1984, the only other time any football team in the city won a football sectional, and defensive coordinator Roydon Richards, who won four straight sectional titles at Hammond Morton from 2009 to 2012 and a regional title in 2010.

Morton had never won a sectional before Richards and hasn’t since, so he knows about raising a program from the dead, too.

Michigan City won a football sectional title.

Oh, and Richards knows how to make adjustments with his defense.

The first time the Wolves faced La Porte this season, the Slicers put up 500 yards rushing and 58 points. This time, with more on the line, Richards’ defense was a monster.

“How about giving up 48 less points than last time?” Richards exclaimed after the game.

“That was a complete team effort on defense,” Mason added. “Roy had a really good game plan.”

Speaking of plans, Mason had one — like Theo Epstein had with the Chicago Cubs, and we all know how that worked out.

He didn’t have to leave Andrean for Michigan City.

“I had another option of a school to go to, but (my family) would have had to move,” he said after taking part in multiple team photos with the sectional trophy in the east end zone at Ames Field. “We came in with a plan. The administration gave me an opportunity and I looked at it as a great challenge.

“My wife (Dee) told me, ‘If you’re as good as you think you are, you’ll get it done.’ I don’t know if I really thought I was that good, but we got it done.”

Say it one more time … Michigan City won a football sectional title. But Mason’s plan doesn’t stop there. Remember, he’s been to Lucas Oil Stadium twice, and he misses that trip.

Reach sports editor Steve T. Gorches at sgorches@thenewsdispatch.com or (219) 214-4206. Follow him on Twitter @SteveTGorches.

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