Northlake Christian coach Tony Agresta likes to send the message to his team that the most important game on their schedule is the one in front of them. Any other games — past or future — can only serve as a distraction from the task at hand.
Agresta may want you to believe that the relevance of Friday night’s game against district-foe St. Thomas Aquinas is only rooted in its proximity to the current date. But, with a school-record 17-game regular-season winning streak on the line against a 5-1 opponent, this has to be a game the Warriors have circled on their schedule, right?
“It hasn’t been that much of an issue for us until people have started asking us about it,” Agresta said. “We haven’t dwelled on the streak thing that much at all. We focus on the next opponent.”
Well, this game’s relevance isn’t only because of its impact on the 2014 season. These two teams played a game for the ages last year at Strawberry Stadium in Hammond, ending with Northlake pulling out a 14-13 victory in an overtime thriller that concluded with the Warriors swatting away a potential game-winning two-point conversion attempt.
Former Northlake running back Taylor Mussachia said last year’s game was, “the most amazing football game I ever played in,” and quarterback Josh O’Rear added it was, “the craziest game for me by far.”
“Anytime you can be successful against another program that you have respect for, that goes a long way with your kids,” Agresta said. “St. Thomas Aquinas was a great team last year. They proved it when they beat Riverside in the playoffs, and they’re great again this year.”
Having seniors like Mussachia and O’Rear was a big reason the Warriors were able to survive games like that and finish the 2013 season 10-0 as District 7-2A champions. But now, Mussachia, O’Rear and several other seniors have moved on from that class and the Warriors haven’t missed a beat.
“A lot of the guys we lost were two- and three-year starters, but we brought back the majority of our offensive and defensive lines,” Agresta said. “We’re not where we want to be, but we’ve made some strides.”
Northlake has outscored its opponents 182-56 this season and a big reason for that has been the growth of senior running back Miguel Black. Black — who had an 80-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown called back in the final minutes of last year’s game against St. Thomas Aquinas because one of his teammates made contact with an official on the sideline — has increased his role from mostly a defensive player last year to one of the most productive offensive players in the metro area this year.
Black leads the north shore in rushing yards (904) and rushing touchdowns (12) through six games and trails only Belle Chasse’s Andrew Hicks and Shaw’s Trey Ragas for the lead among all runners in the metro area.
“The thing that has impressed me the most about Miguel is that no matter what role we ask him to take on, he’s done it with a great attitude,” Agresta said. “He’s had to wait behind a couple 1,000-yard rushers we’ve had here, but he’s waited patiently for it and he’s making the most of his opportunity.”
Black saw the departure of several senior leaders as his opportunity to step to the forefront and take a leadership role.
“I took this offseason really serious. I knew it was my senior season and I needed to give it my all,” Black said. “I just felt like my team needed a leader. … Coach says this is our opportunity to make our mark in the history books for our school, so that’s what we are trying to do.”
With a win over St. Thomas Aquinas on Friday night, the Warriors can extend their winning streak, solidify themselves as the power atop District 7-2A and put themselves in a great position to pull off another 10-0 season (the remaining teams on their schedule have a combined 6-12 record).
But, as Agresta won’t hesitate to remind you, it all starts with the next game.
“Our focus needs to always be the next team on the schedule,” he said. “If it’s anything other than that, then maybe we need to take a step back and re-focus.”