I still recall the days of covering Craig Buzea when he was the head coach at Michigan City, and Portage before that.
He was the typical high school football coach who looked like Happy of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs fame when his team won, and Grumpy when his team lost.
So when he saw me after his Homewood-Flossmoor squad plastered Michigan City 63-21 on Friday night out in Flossmoor, Illinois, of course he was smiling.
I knew it wasn’t that he was glad to see a familiar reporter from his Northwest Indiana days, though I don’t remember Buzz ever being angry or upset with me. He did call the football beat writer at a previous newspaper I worked at “a piece of trash” in a voice mail recording that was so popular, the writer saved it until he left the paper … but I digress.
And why wouldn’t Buzea be happy. Besides the fact that I was the only newspaper reporter at his game, his team is a perennial postseason contender in Class 8A in Illinois — yes, there are eight classes, and you have to qualify for the tournament, unlike Indiana where everyone gets a trophy, um, I mean makes the tournament.
The Vikings are so good, that their 63-point effort came with a backup quarterback starting, marking a first in Buzea’s long and illustrious career.
“This is the first time in 30 years I’ve started a sophomore quarterback,” Buzea said of Dominick Jones, who didn’t have much time to prepare with original starter Kellyn Gerenstein on the sideline with an injury. “We only had three days to get him ready, so we relied on the running game.”
That Buzz is a smart guy, because that running game produced 444 yards with one back (Justin Hall) topped 200 yards and another (Leon Tanna) surpassing 100.
Hence, why City coach Phil Mason said, “They’re freakin’ good” after the game.
Since leaving City in 2009 after producing the program’s last winning season before Mason’s first campaign last year, Buzea has produced a monster at H-F. His record with the Vikings is now 66-18 after Friday’s win, and 31-6 over the last three seasons.
And before anyone thinks Buzea and H-F were running up the score on the Wolves, you can thank Illinois’ playoff system for the extra 14 points the Vikings scored in the fourth quarter meaning something.
“This win is big for our playoff seeding,” H-F assistant coach and former Gary West Side head coach Alex Pratt said.
You see, not only does the amount of wins matter in making the Illinois postseason, but the quality of the wins matter, too. So Pratt added that they hope City does great the rest of the season here in Indiana because that will make the Vikings’ win look even better.
Buzea admitted, though, he pays attention to both of his former teams to the east.
“I really hope they do well — both Michigan City and Portage,” Buzz said.
Besides Pratt, there’s a Northwest Indiana flavor on Buzea’s staff. Former Merrillville head coach Zac Wells and one of Buzea’s former standouts at Portage, Albert Evans, are on the H-F staff. And Buzea says he’s paid attention to Mason when he was at Andrean, and City assistant coach Roydon Richards when he was at Hammond Morton.
“I’m familiar with them,” he said. “This is the first time I’ve faced them because we were in different leagues (and different postseason classes, for that matter). But Phil is doing a fantastic job at City.”
And Buzea’s squad pummeling the Wolves could help the latter as Duneland Conference play starts this coming Friday against Chesterton. After all, H-F would probably win the state title in Indiana in any class.
Reach sports editor Steve T. Gorches at firstname.lastname@example.org or (219) 214-4206. Follow him on Twitter @SteveTGorches.