The start of the high school football season in Northwest Indiana has taken on a special meaning at Hanover Central this year. It’s the first time the school fields a varsity football team in 43 years.
And what a way to get things started. The Wildcats scored early and often in a 46-26 defeat of visiting Bowman Academy on Friday, snapping a 14-game losing streak that dated back to 1970.
“The stands are packed, the fans are cheering and everyone is into the game,” said John Mueller, a Cedar Lake resident who has four children in the Hanover Community School Corporation. “I’m just hoping we are competitive in every game.”
The Wildcats were more than competitive against Bowman. That Wildcat roar could not be mistaken early on as Dustin Lindley broke loose for a 38-yard rushing score on Hanover’s first drive of the game. It was the first touchdown scored in Cedar Lake in years, but one of many the Wildcats would put on the scoreboard against the Eagles.
Michael Hubbard responded to the opening score, taking a 77-yard carry to paydirt for Bowman, but Hanover Central responded with a touchdown of their own and found themselves up 20-12 at halftime.
Lindley made the beginning of the second half similar to the start of the game, rushing for a 26-yard score with 10:48 remaining in the third. At that point, there was no looking back. Hanover Central was on their way to an easy win in their long-awaited varsity football return.
“I’m super excited about this,” said Sara Hunt, a 2009 graduate of Hanover Central who recently earned a degree at Ball State University and has moved back to Northwest Indiana. “My long-time neighbor was here when they ended football here back in 1971 and I know this is real special to him.”
Hunt says that even though she is now a Wildcat alumni, graduates are “always welcomed back.”
“I’m especially happy for my sister, who is a senior here and on the cheerleading squad,” she said. “It is wonderful for her to be able to cheer at high school football games, that’s what cheerleading is all about.”
Friday’s win was the first since a 9-0 triumph over North Newton on September 26, 1970 for Hanover Central. During halftime, disco music played and current events from that time period were read across the public address system to remind fans just how long it’s been.
Kyle Hendriks is a junior at the school now, and even though he is not what you would call a football enthusiast, the excitement of Friday night lights is not lost on him.
“It’s been more than 40 years, so it’s pretty cool to have this back,” he said. “It is a great way to spend time with friends and family on a Friday night.”
Even though Hanover did have a team in 1971, the Wildcats finished 0-8 that year and were outscored by a combined 316-22, being shutout in six of those games. Needless to say, Friday’s win was a long time coming.
Not only did the Wildcats score more points than they did the entire 1971 season on Friday, they set the tone for what could be a sleeper season in the Greater South Shore Conference.
Next up for the Wildcats is a trip to Bishop Noll. The Warriors dropped their opener at Andrean on Friday.