After last Friday’s 38-10 victory over La Porte in the Class 5A Sectional 9 championship game, Phil Mason admitted his wife told him two years ago that if he was ‘as good as you think you are, you’ll get it done,’ in reference to Mason deciding to take the Wolves’ head coaching job.
But just because Mason has an ego like most coaches — hey, after being married 24 years, I’m not going to disagree with the real boss of his family, Dee Mason, no siree Bob! — doesn’t mean he won’t look for the best assistant coaches to put around him to produce the best formula for success.
On City’s staff, the one that sticks out most is the guy with the longest history in Michigan City.
It’s fitting that the current high school’s first football sectional title came with Ken Bye on the sidelines. After all, Bye was the head coach of the only other team to win a football sectional in the city — Michigan City Elston in 1984.
Bye also coached four years for the Wolves, going 16-26 between 1998 and 2001.
“He said he wanted to be involved with the program,” Mason said of Bye, who also was the head coach at Highland for three seasons (2009-11) and faced Mason at Andrean.
“He’s had experience in the school system, so I wanted him to be an advisor to me, knowing the inner workings of the high school, the faculty, the administration, and community relations outside of football.
“You can call him our director of football operations.”
Bye works part-time at MCHS as a resource officer and in career college support. He was also on the interview committee that helped hire Mason two years ago.
“I’m in the gym most of the day and not really in the school population, so Ken takes cares of the stuff I can’t,” Mason said.
During practices and games, he coaches the defensive line, which was key in stopping La Porte’s vaunted run game last Friday at Ames Field.
“It was wonderful,” the 74-year-old Bye said of the sectional championship effort. “I can’t remember a half of football go that well.”
Bye still remembers that 1984 Elston squad fondly, and sees a lot of it in this year’s sectional champs.
“We were truly a team, offensively and defensively; we were balanced with no individuals standing out,” he said. “The kids all liked each other and played well together. And we were physical.”
His D-line was that way last Friday.
“Yeah, we really were physical — as good as I’ve seen,” Bye said.
Not so surprisingly, Bye’s favorite game from the year Elston won 10 games (city record) and a sectional wasn’t the final when the Red Devils defeated Portage 32-0. It was the week before when Elston defeated the mighty Penn at home.
“We had parent-teacher conferences on Thursday and Friday, so we played the game on Wednesday night,” he recalled. “Our players (from back then) still remember that game.”
One memory Bye doesn’t recall fondly is being an athletic director and head football coach at the same time at Highland.
“That was so tough,” he said. “Our numbers were down, so I put a staff together and filled in as coach.”
That’s the kind of guy I remember Bye being as Highland’s A.D. He was always professional and great to deal with and went above and beyond the call of duty. He’s doing the same at Michigan City three years after he officially retired.
In addition to being part of another sectional title in Michigan City, maybe Bye can witness more history the next couple weeks.
MICHIGAN CITY (8-3) at Concord (10-1)
Friday, 6:30 p.m., at Jackowiak Field
Series over last 30 years: No meetings
Skinny: It’s not surprising these two teams have never met. Their histories on the gridiron are polar opposites. Since the consolidation in 1995, City hadn’t posted back-to-back winning seasons — until now — and had never won more than seven games — until now. On the other hand, Concord hasn’t had a losing season since 2003, and only produced less than seven wins once in that period of time — last year when the Minutemen went 6-4. They have bounced back nicely with a 10-1 campaign and first sectional title since 2013. In 2006, Concord was undefeated before losing in the state championship game against Indianapolis Cathedral. So one team has succeeded in a town known for football greatness — Elkhart, which is also home to Class 6A juggernaut Penn and perennial Class 3A contender Jimtown. In fact, in a four-year span, Elkhart was football central. In addition to Concord’s 2006 appearance at the dome, Penn reached the state final in 2003 and the semistate in 2004, and Jimtown won a state title in 2005 (with a 14-1 record and the only loss coming at Concord during the regular season). City is trying to build a similar tradition, and a good start would be a win in Elkhart right now.
Prediction: Michigan City 35, Concord 31
NEW PRAIRIE (11-1) at Lowell (12-0)
Friday, 7 p.m., at The Inferno
Series over last 30 years: New Prairie leads 1-0
Skinny: For all of the talk from City coach Phil Mason about how Andrean-Griffith might be the best rivalry in Northwest Indiana when Mason was leading the 59ers and current New Prairie coach Russ Radtke was at Griffith, Radtke has more of a history with Lowell at two different schools. At Griffith, Radtke’s final two times facing the Red Devils were in 2007 and 2008, both losses in the regional after the Panthers had reached semistate the previous two years. Griffith also lost to Lowell in the 1999 sectional final, while ending the Red Devils postseason in 1996 and 2001. With the Cougars, Radtke watched his team survive a 28-27 win over Lowell in the 2014 regional. New Prairie went on to reach the state final before losing to New Palestine. We have another possible classic this week as the Cougars and Red Devils came into the postseason ranked No. 6 and No. 1, respectively, in the media poll. Lowell is undefeated, but has a Sagarin rating of 46th overall and seventh in Class 4A, thanks to playing in a weak Northwest Crossroads Conference. New Prairie's Sagarin rating is 28th and No. 2 in 4A after winning a second straight Northern Indiana Conference South Division title. Lowell is known for its defense, holding opponents to a paltry average of 5.2 points per game. But can the Red Devils do that against a Cougars’ offense that averages 46.2 points per game?
Prediction: New Prairie 25, Lowell 22
Reach sports editor Steve T. Gorches at email@example.com or (219) 214-4206. Follow him on Twitter @SteveTGorches.