The Lowell Red Devils Football Team have guaranteed their place in the Indiana sports annals and brought recognition to the small northwest Indiana town they hail as home. They have proven that you don't have to be big to win big. The Devils have shown all of Indiana what Lowell residents have always known. They showed them the heart, determination and never give up spirit that brought them victories over their opponents on several occasions.
When the Red Devils returned, late Saturday night, they were escorted down Rt. 2, from I-65 all the way into town by a police and fire escort. The team was honored with a late night fete at Zuni's of Lowell.
Lowell residents were nowhere near done celebrating; the team was honored with a parade and rally on Sunday. In spite of the rain, the parade route was lined with people paying homage to the young men's valor, spirit and their hard fought win. Following the parade, the spectators flowed into the high school gym for a rally that began with a standing ovation that ran the duration of the rally.
"We all have goals and dreams, and they just made my dream come true," declared Coach Kirk Kennedy, gesturing to the football team standing behind him on the red carpet. Kennedy gestured to the team again and to the trophy they were holding and stated, "I don't know if it has really sunk in yet. They have accomplished what no one outside of Lowell thought they could do. The only obstacle that stood in the way in the past was mental. This year's seniors were determined to win. They gained the courage to push their bodies and capabilities to the limit to win," explained Kennedy.
The players came forth one by one, to talk to the cheering crowd and say a word or two. Jimmy Ritter, who scored the fourth-quarter touchdown, stated that the team won for all the past players. Ryan King said that the players on the field were going through tough times, and that the Lowell crowd was so loud that he could hardly hear himself think. Jed Travis simply stated that the teammates were brothers.
The Lowell Town council issued a proclamation honoring the Red Devils. November 26th will always be known as Red Devil Pride Day. Representative Bob Kuzman is arranging for the team to be recognized in the State Capitol, and Lake County Commissioner Gerry Scheub has arranged for the Red Devils to be honored by the Lake County Council. This series of accolades follow a hard fought, record breaking year for the 2005 Red Devils Football Team.
The Indianapolis Roncalli Rebels had won 23 consecutive post season games. Their 4A championship against Lowell marked the eleventh time the Rebels had made it to the final game, tying Hobart's record. Roncalli had won an unprecedented eight state championships. They had also won the last three 4A state championships. Roncalli's roster listed nearly twice as many players as Lowell's -- a roster that featured players who, as a whole, were physically larger than the Devils. No member of the current Roncalli team had ever known the finality or sting of a post season loss. Ever. Those are facts.
Tradition is an intangible. Kirk Kennedy always gives credit where credit is due regarding the opposition. Kennedy has also maintained that tradition is a state of mind. Contrary to popular belief, tradition does not win football games. The battle is won between the goal posts. It is won by the team who plays the best for a full 48 minutes of football on that given day.
On Saturday, Nov. 26, the team from Northwest Indiana played their hearts out at the RCA Dome, located in our state's capital. They grew stronger as the game progressed. They defeated the hometown Roncalli Rebels 28-27.
There's a new sheriff in town. They are known as the Lowell Red Devils. They wear a badge. A badge of honor with the letters RDP etched upon it. They are the undisputed 2005 4A State Champions. It can never be taken from them. They proved that traditions, like records, can be broken -- if a team possesses the desire and determination to make it happen.
It's a state of mind.
They did it to us again. Opening kickoff: Roncalli all the way to the Lowell 42. David Lang, the man who started the play with his foot, makes the tackle by a shoestring. Having to advance less that half a football field on their opening drive, Roncalli's stud horse Chris Merkel scores from the 4-yard line five minutes into the contest, 7-0, bad guys.
Lowell sustained a nice drive of their own on their first possession of the game. Facing a 4th and 3 situation, the Devils decided to go for it but were called for illegal procedure, which ended up making it a 4th and 8 situation. They still went for it. Jim Ritter hit Jeff Clemens for the 1st down at the Roncalli 15-yard line. The quarter expired. Both teams had but one drive each.
Continuing their opening drive, Lowell opted to go for a 27-yard field goal ten seconds into the 2nd quarter. Lang was perfect, but the Devils were called for their 2nd procedure call. From the 32, Lang missed wide right. The Red Devils stopped the Rebs with 8:39 left in the half on the Roncalli 32-yard line. On their 1st play from scrimmage, Lowell was called for their 3rd illegal procedure infraction. On a 2nd and 8 play, Ritter handed off to Scott Gray, who made one of his patented cuts, which turned into a 56-yard gain. With 6:11 left in the half, Gray was given the nod again, this time facing a 3rd and goal to go from the six. Tie game.
Roncalli -- being Roncalli took less than a minute to strike back with a 64-yard bomb. 14-7, Rebs. The Devils got the ball back and with 4:30 left in the half, the usually sure-handed Gray fumbled at his own 22-yardline. Two minutes later, the Devils had once again fronted a formidable foe fourteen.
Lowell gave it another try starting at their own 30 and advanced all the way to the Rebels 30, but Roncalli sacked Ritter on a 4th and 10. The Devils returned the favor as Jeff Barker plastered Rebel QB Paul Cosaro, who fumbled as a result of the jolt. Eric McGee pounced on the ball. With ten seconds left in the half, Ritter left one fly from the Roncalli 37 and hit Clemens near the goal line, but the catch was ruled out of bounds. At halftime it was 21-7, Indianapolis. What else is new? The Red Devils would be receiving to begin the 2nd half… They had actually gained ten more yards of total offense than the Roncalli Rebels… Could the comeback kids do it again?
The Lowell Red Devils opened up the second half with a 15-play drive that started from their own 30. It ended with Gray taking it in from the one-yard line. Comin' back? Roncalli answered with a score of their own, nine plays later ala Brandon Axum's 24-yard run. With only 1:25 left in the 3rd quarter, the scoreboard read 27-14, Roncalli. It would stay that way thanks to Jimmy Ritter. Reminiscent of a starting pitcher helping his own cause by hitting a home run, Ritter batted down the Rebels' point after. At the time, most probably deemed it a moral victory at best. Time was running out.
The Devs took over at their own 30 with a minute remaining in the 3rd. The drive continued on into the final quarter of play. With eleven minutes left in the state championship game, the Lowell Red Devils were faced with a 4th and 2 on the Roncalli 45-yard line. They went for it. A testament to what Kirk Kennedy thinks of both his offense and defense. Not much has been mentioned about this particular call in the area newspapers.
The Devils got the 1st down. How huge was that play? If Lowell gets stuffed, and Roncalli takes over at midfield and adds to a 27-14 lead in the 4th quarter -- The Devils go home bridesmaids. It was a gutsy call made by a gutsy coaching staff and performed to a tee by a gutsy team.
Ritter goes on to hit Clemens for a 20 yarer with 9:12 left in the biggest game in Lowell football history. 27-21, Roncalli. Definitely, comin' back!
With 7:26 left, Josh Kuiper picked off Cosaro and rumbled to the Roncalli 27, electrifying the already wired Lowell faithful. Gray broke one loose to the seven with 6:35 showing on the clock. Thirty-five seconds later Gray would tie it up at 27. Lang would give Lowell the lead with the point after.
Lang kicked off. With 5:37 remaining the 4A state championship Roncalli ran the ball all the way back for a touchdown. A yellow flag lay at midfield. Clipping against the Rebels! Roncalli would have to do it the hard way -- starting at their 22-yard line. The Lowell sidelines, cheerleaders, cheerblock, and 2,500 other Lowellians screamed vehemently, "DEFENSE!" It was defense they got. Lowell linebacker Chris Lampa manhandled Cosaro all the way back to The Slippery Noodle out on Illinois Street. Huge loss! With 75 ticks left on the clock and Roncalli down to their last bullet (4th and 3), Chris Lampa, playing in his final game as a Red Devil, sealed it at the 50 with a tremendous hit. The Devils took over and ran out the clock.
The Red Devils outgained the Rebels 334 total yards to 270. Scott Gray carried the ball 19 times for 153 yards, and scored three touchdowns. Jimmy Ritter was 7-13 passing with no interceptions. Jeff Clemens and Josh Kuiper led the Devils in tackles with 12 and 9 respectively.
Coach Kennedy shouted above the roar of the crowd to members of the media, "You gotta love these kids! A lot of plays were made, especially in the 2nd half -- every single one of them contributed. When it goes down to the wire, we all see the interception. We all see the 4th down stop at the very end. It is the other plays that are not so obvious that also helped win this game. Our kids hung in there. They kept fighting. They just kept fightin'. The smartest thing I've ever done since coming here to Lowell was to hire some darn good coaches. I've been blessed with kids who get it done on the field, too. I'm just a benefactor."
Kennedy's modesty runs off on his players. When senior Chris Lampa's performance at crunch time was mentioned, he shrugged off both his late sack and stop. "We know we needed to score on our first drive of the 2nd half; we got the 1st downs and the score. That was big; Kuiper's pick was also a big momentum changer, but don't forget the blocked field goal -- that one point. Look at Jeff Clemens -- fired up on every play; Ryan King -- it's a team effort. This is what I've been dreaming for. All of my high school football dreams have come true."
Some treated the Red Devils more like red-haired stepchildren (as the saying goes). Days before the game, Lowell was considered a nonentity by Indy's media. Lowell was merely deemed Roncalli's next victim. The morning after the games, in the Sunday edition of the Indianapolis Star, there was a photo of a jubilant Warren Central celebrating their 5A championship. There was a photo of 3A state champion Northwood celebrating. The photo of the 4A game showed only a dejected Roncalli team. The 2005 Red Devils never quit. They believed. They showed 32,000 people in the Indianapolis' RCA Dome, including their adoring fans (amazingly, one-third of Lowell, Indiana's population) that they are true champions. State Champions.
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