Before the football playoffs kick off for five area teams this weekend, let’s take a final look back at the seasons of the six teams that came oh-so-close to joining them.
It was an unusual local football season in that none of our 11 area teams finished worse than 4-5, yet less than half – Batavia, Kaneland, Aurora Christian, St. Charles East and Aurora Central Catholic – made the playoffs.
Here are a few thoughts on the teams that will be watching the playoffs from the sidelines, starting with the two 5-4 teams that fell short on playoff points:
St. Francis (5-4). After starting the season 3-0, missing the playoffs was a huge disappointment for the Spartans.
St. Francis dropped four straight games from Weeks 4 through 8, including a costly loss to rival Marmion, which finished 4-5. The offseason buzz indicated the Spartans would have a tremendous running game, but highly regarded Bartlett transfer James Butler didn’t end up playing for undisclosed reasons and standout fullback Jack Petrando missed most of the season while mending an MCL injury.
The Spartans’ team chemistry took a turn for the worse as the losses mounted. It’s a shame for St. Francis not to cash in on having an offensive lineman with the caliber of St. Charles resident Kyle Bosch, who is off to Ann Arbor, Mich., for his future football pursuits.
Burlington Central (5-4). Like St. Francis, Central seemed well on its way to a postseason berth at the midway point before a late-season nosedive left the Rockets a few points from returning to the playoffs.
The Rockets were sitting pretty at 5-1 before losing three straight against Richmond-Burton, Rock Falls and North Boone. Losing to Rock Falls (3-6) was the head-scratcher.
In two of those three losses, Central combined for seven points. An injury to quarterback Ryan Ritchie and the offseason transfer of standout running back Joel Bouganon proved too taxing on the Rockets’ offense, which scored more than 28 points only once all season.
Geneva (4-5). While St. Francis and Burlington Central had injury problems of their own, nobody was hit harder than Geneva, which lost key starters on both sides of the ball early and often.
Vikings coach Rob Wicinski wants no part of excuses, so let’s go beyond the injuries. This team had some nice pieces but was mistake-prone, starting with an opening night fumble-fest against Oswego and continuing special teams miscues in a close loss to St. Charles East that sealed the Vikings’ fate.
Geneva went 0-for-the-Tri-Cities, falling to Batavia, North and East. That, combined with a rough non conference schedule, ended the program’s eight-year playoff streak.
Replacing another stud Geneva tailback – Bobby Hess – won’t be easy, and it will be interesting to see what the Vikings do at the quarterback spot with a pair of promising underclassmen, sophomore Daniel Santacaterina, who missed the final six-plus games with an injury and freshman Nick Derr, who gained valuable varsity experience in his stead.
St. Charles North (4-5). The North Stars’ defense was playoff-caliber but the offense was sporadic, underscored by a 14-6, Week 9 loss to South Elgin that kept the North Stars out of the postseason. (Those six points came on a kickoff return). In recent years, the North Stars seemingly have seen more than their share of instability at quarterback spot, and that was the case again this fall.
North now has missed the playoffs three straight seasons. You wonder if that might make it more difficult to promote from within to replace outgoing going Mark Gould, assuming there is interest from Gould’s staff.
Marmion (4-5). Strange for Marmion to miss the playoffs in a season when the Cadets beat St. Francis, but that’s how it unfolded.
The Cadets’ undoing was starting with non-conference losses to Jacobs and Fenwick – solid opponents, but not as tough as the meat-grinder Suburban Christian Conference Blue foes that awaited mid season. Like Geneva, Marmion was at its best playing carefree football in the closing weeks, after the playoff balloon had popped.
Wheaton Academy (4-5). While falling short of the playoffs is always disappointing, Wheaton Academy likely has the least heartache of any of the six.
Not much was expected of the Warriors, who ushered in a new coach, T.J. Ragan, after a 1-8 season last year. But the Warriors improved steadily as the season unfolded, even earning a shot at playoff-eligibility in Week 9, albeit a Mission Impossible Assignment at powerhouse Marian Central.
Given Ragan’s weight room emphasis, he envisions that it will take at least another offseason before the Warriors look more the part of the team.