It would have been hard to find many football teams across Illinois in lower spirits on Sept. 7 than St. Charles North.
Not only were the North Stars an alarming 0-3 in longtime coach Mark Gould’s farewell season, but North had just lost, at home, to archrival St. Charles East.
Confidence and morale were major worries, not to mention the nuts-and-bolts football shortcomings in urgent need of fixing.
“We were real concerned after losing to East and going 0-3,” Gould said. “Everyone was pretty down. The kids were pretty down. You could just feel it. We tried to keep them up, look at the positives of what was coming up, and when we came to practice on Monday, that was great. It was the same, old group.”
The timing of the next week’s opponent might have saved the season for the North Stars, who have rattled off three straight wins to climb to .500. In Week 4, North faced hapless Elgin, a scheduling godsend given North’s fragile state.
“You needed something to get your confidence up,” Gould said. “If we had Batavia the next week, that wouldn’t have been very good for our confidence, so that certainly helped.”
North does have Batavia this week. But even if North can’t swing the upset against the unbeaten Bulldogs, the North Stars will have a fighting chance to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2009 if North can cap the regular season with wins against Larkin (2-4) and South Elgin (3-3).
After blowing out Elgin, North turned in a dynamite defensive effort in a key, Week 5 win against Geneva before handling Streamwood on Friday, 31-14.
“The second third of the season has been pretty good,” Gould said. “Now the big part comes.”
North has allowed 14 points or fewer in four of its six games, and leads the Upstate Eight Conference River Division with fewest points allowed (87) on the season.
Senior safety Nick McCullough is making a legitimate run at conference defensive player of the year honors, returning from an injury-shortened junior season to emerge as a ball-hawk in the secondary, not to mention a game-breaker on special teams. He had an interception and a punt return for a touchdown Friday against the Sabres in what almost has become a typical night at the office.
“He’s got that confidence,” Gould said. “He knows he can play football with the best of them. ... He’s been a big playmaker for us.”
While North’s defense has played above average football most of the season, the North Stars’ offense has made significant strides during their current winning streak.
Assistant coach Jared McCall, who swapped roles with Gould this season to oversee the offense, has reined in some of the ambitions North harbored entering the season about unveiling a more risk-taking spread offense.
Scoring 20 points through three weeks – as North did to open the season – tends to make a coaching staff open-minded.
“I think coach McCall scaled back a little bit,” Gould said. “We don’t have the biggest line in the world so I think we had to change some things around a little bit just because the line isn’t real big. We have scaled back some. I don’t know if he foresaw going into the I-formation earlier in the year but it was something we thought we had to do with the two running backs we have.”
If the next two weeks play out as most would expect, North would be 4-4 leading into a dramatic, regular-season finale against South Elgin on Oct. 19. In what could be Gould’s final game with the North Stars, a playoff berth likely will hang in the balance.
That’s some serious late-season drama, a lot more fun than the North Stars could have anticipated at 10:30 p.m. Sept. 7.
• Jay Schwab is sports editor of the Kane County Chronicle. He can be reached at 630-845-5382 or firstname.lastname@example.org.