ST. JOHN — As Michigan City quarterback Giovani Laurent threw his fifth interception of the day to effectively dash any hopes the Wolves had of defeating Lake Central Saturday afternoon, a stunned, emotionless group of players slowly walked over to the sideline.
The clock hit zero on the play, giving the Indians a shocking 13-7 Duneland Conference victory over a once-highly-touted Michigan City team.
"This is bad, man," cornerback Kejuan Rufus muttered under his breath as he ripped his helmet off. "This is bad. (Losing to) Lake Central? C'mon."
An eerie silence overtook the Wolves' players and coaches after shaking hands with Lake Central, heading into the postgame huddle. Following a quick prayer, head coach Phil Mason stood in the middle of his players with a disappointed look on his face, not saying anything for some time.
"Well, there it is," Mason said. "Where are our hearts, where are our minds in all of this? How are we going to get ourselves back on track? There's a million things I could say, but it doesn't do any good. I don't think what's going on here is a lack of effort. It's a lack of concentration and assertiveness. There's no sense of urgency ever."
That sluggishness Mason alluded to was the pitfall for Michigan City. The Wolves turned the ball over five times and couged the ball up four more times, recovering each fumble. It may have been the 11:30 start time combined with an hour-plus bus ride early in the morning that led to a lethargic performance, but the lack of effort Mason was talking about was evident from the get-go.
On the opening kickoff, the Indians' Felix Garcia set the tone early with a monster return to the Michigan City 23 yard line. The offense didn't get a first down, but was in good enough territory to kick a 37-yard field goal to take an early lead.
Lake Central's sideline was rocking all game long, eager to upset a team that was projected to be one of the best in 5A in the state before the season started. The Wolves' sideline was the polar opposite of the Indians', with plenty of players standing around and looking disinterested of sorts, proving what Mason's point of a lack of urgency.
"Sometimes, we just come out here and think it's gonna be an easy win," Laurent said. "And then, I don't even know how to explain it. We just don't get the job done. We didn't execute the way we were supposed to. We've gotta work harder, (especially) on the mental stuff. We can't have little mistakes push us back like how they did today. We had multiple situations where we were right there and we had something like an offsides or a misalignment penalty. We can't have mistakes like that. Mistakes killed us today, and that includes my five picks."
The past three weeks have been an absolute shocker to a Michigan City team that was ranked as high as fourth in the state in the IFCA Coaches' Poll this season. A pair of losses to No. 2 5A Valparaiso and No. 6 6A Merrillville the two weeks prior were concerning, but still stood as quality losses.
But a sloppy performance and a loss to an Indians team that came in as the second-worst 6A team in the Sagarin rankings generates a great cause for concern, bringing the Wolves' record to 2-4 in the process.
"Offensively, we're just not executing right now, plain and simple," Mason said. "We'll get it figured out. We've still got three games left, and I think we can get better."
That's certainly a fixable issue, considering City started to move the ball much more efficiently late in the second half by keeping it simple and physically running the football down the field. But Mason's biggest concern with the past few weeks stems from something that's hard to coach.
"We don't have a lot of emotion for some reason," he said. "I don't know what that is. There's just not a lot of leadership right now, and we're going to have to figure out how to develop that leadership."
Maybe a matchup with Portage next week will prove fortuitous for the Wolves. But they can't overlook any opponent at this point.
Saturday's loss showed that.
Lake Central 13, Michigan City 7
The Wolves committed five turnovers.