Ali-Frazier. Bears-Packers. Coke-Pepsi. Indiana-Purdue. Democrats and Republicans. Hatfields and McCoys. Nice little rivalries. But for three hours on a Friday night every autumn they seem comparatively inconsequential to many in Porter County who are in the stands watching a high school football game.
Mix in the 4-0 records for Chesterton and Valparaiso bring into Friday night’s renewal of the rivalry at Chesterton and the buzz grows even larger, louder, more intense.
“It runs deep,” Trojans senior running back/linebacker Ethan Troy said. “I know some of the kids on the team. I’m friends with a couple of them, but when it comes game time, I’m not friends with them.”
Friends become enemies and battle with such intensity it’s a credit to them they’re able to put it behind them and resume friendships once the bruises have had time to fade.
As with most sports rivalries, this one started based on geography and grew with memories of past tussles.
“I think the really neat part is it’s very comparable communities,” Chesterton head coach Mark Peterson said. “When you take into consideration the volume of people who live in Chesterton, work in Valpo, live in Valpo, work in Chesterton, there is a great crossover. It’s been traditionally something where we see a very similar socio-economic composition. I think there are relatively similar values in our communities, so from that perspective, it’s neat because it’s like we’re playing against our brother school, and it breeds an even more competitive fire.”
This rendition of the rivalry features a Valpo team ranked No. 2 in the state 5A poll. Chesterton is No. 9 in the 6A poll.
“You always hear throw out all the records (in rivalries),” Chesterton defensive coordinator and former head coach John Snyder said. “Well, sometimes that’s good. Sometimes there’s just a big difference. With two teams coming in undefeated and feeling pretty good about themselves, it should be a great battle.”
Put simply, it’s a visiting team with a high-powered running game, paved by a big offensive line, triggered by a running quarterback and centered around a prolific running back, against an explosive passing game.
The rivals have faced two common opponents: LaPorte and Michigan City. Valpo beat them by a combined score of 105-54, Chesterton by a 67-26 margin, so that doesn’t offer much insight as to which team should be favored.
Jeff Sagarin’s Indiana high school football computer ratings, which can be found on John Harrell’s website, johnharrell.net, foretells a battle too close to call. Sagarin ratings award three points to the home team. Chesterton’s rating is 84.18. Add three points and it equals 87.18. Valpo’s rating is 86.17, which means the computer favors the Trojans by 1.1 points, thanks to the home crowd.
On the other hand, the advice to never guess against a winning streak favors the Vikings. Valpo ran its winning streak in the series to eight games last year, winning by a 30-21 score.
Two of Valpo’s offensive linemen from the 2020 game were recruited to Mid-American Conference schools.
“Last year, they were absolutely huge,” Snyder said. “And they’re still pretty big. And they move. Usually, you see the bigger guys trailing behind. These guys are running and moving.”
Valpo quarterback Logan Lockhart has completed 57.9% of his 38 passes for 301 yards, but it’s with his feet that he hurts opponents most. He has rushed for 237 yards and five touchdowns, averaging 7.6 yards per carry.
“To me, he’s their biggest difference from last year to this year,” Snyder said. “Last year, he kind of got thrown in there because the guy who was going to be their guy got hurt in the first game, he took over, the fact that he’s had a whole year of experience. He’s a different player. Runs well, throws better, he’s doing everything better. When I go back and watch film from last year, he’s not the same kid.”
Running back Hayden Vinyard already has rushed for 13 touchdowns and averages 9 yards per carry.
“They do a great job of getting body on body and letting the back pick and choose, and he’s very, very good,” Snyder said.
“He does a great job of picking his holes, but also the balance of the concepts that they do forces you to be physical with them and sometimes that’s difficult.”
The forward pass can be a great equalizer to counteract physical disadvantages, provided the quarterback has time to throw. Trojans senior quarterback Chris Mullen scans the field quicker than most, gets rid of it quicker and scrambles better than a 6-foot-4 passer typically does. He has thrown for an average of 222.25 yards per game and has 13 touchdown passes, compared to just one interception.
This has the chance to be one of those games that will be attended by a large crowd, that will pale in comparison to the number of people who will claim they were there years, even decades, from now.