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There's been uncertainty with future high school football conference realignments being discussed, but something positive has also come from the shifting allegiances. The loss of Harding and Elmhurst from the Summit Athletic Conference and Southern Wells from the Allen County Athletic Conference has created some schedule openings.
Most teams are using those to book intriguing matchups. Almost every week this season, there will be great games featuring schools that five years ago never would have considered playing each other or had the opportunity to. It's similar to the old "made for TV'' college football matchups in the 1980s.
Some of those games this year include East Noble at Northrop last Friday night, and Carroll at Huntington North, DeKalb at Garrett, North Side at Delta and Valparaiso at Homestead this week. Because conference schedules are beginning, there aren't any special out-of-league games Sept. 6, but Sept. 13 defending state champion Bishop Luers takes on ACAC champion Leo and Snider plays Penn in a contest between traditional northern Indiana powers and playoff rivals.
During the season's second half, fans can highlight North Side at Mishawaka, Indianapolis Cathedral at Bishop Dwenger and Lakeland at Concordia Lutheran.
These games are all in addition to regular rivalries among conference foes. Last year Bishop Dwenger played state finalists Bishop Luers, Snider, Indianapolis Cathedral and Indianapolis Chatard -- all during the regular season. It's hard to imagine a tougher high school schedule.
For players, the competitive juices flow pretty hard when big games like these appear on the schedule. Most coaches would prefer their players didn't treat these games any differently from conference contests, but they understand the extra adrenaline.
"It's like a state championship game, that's the way they take it,'' Bishop Dwenger coach Chris Svarczkopf joked. "Unfortunately, that's the way the opponents have taken it, too. We've been on the receiving end of a couple of those.''
Games like these are also a chance for northeast Indiana squads to expand the area's brand of play and to prepare for playoff situations when they might face tougher teams from farther away.
"I think there's an always an excitement when you play a new team that you don't play normally,'' Snider coach Kurt Tippmann said. "We get that some in the playoffs when you play a new team, and I know as coaches it's always fun preparing for a team like that.''
Whenever the Panthers play Penn, it's a chance for the Snider coaches to tell the players about how some program traditions were built through great playoff games against the Kingsmen.
One reason Homestead wanted to start a four-year series with Valparaiso this season was to possibly see a different style of play, to get used to a long bus ride and to see what football in northwest Indiana was like. The Spartans also wanted to play a bigger school.
When the Spartans and Carroll leave the Northeast Hoosier Conference in two years, they will try to exclusively schedule bigger schools. Snider will play both teams annually for its two nonconference regular-season games.
Leo was also looking for a challenge in facing Bishop Luers to help the Lions prepare for their move into the Class 4A playoffs and a transfer to NHC in two years.
"We know they are competitive and it's going to be a challenge, and we need that, especially with the sectional we're in now with teams like East Noble, NorthWood and Dwenger,'' Lions coach Jared Sauder said. "With us moving into a new conference in a couple of years, we have to prepare for that. Our kids are excited about it. They are looking forward to that game. It will be a good test for us to see where we're at.''
But that's also a game any high school football fan would want to watch.
"You only get better when you play good competition,'' Svarczkopf said. "We just look at it that way. We tell kids if you have a great play or a great game against competition like this, that's saying something for you.''