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Schwab: Opening week looms large for some teams

Opening night (or opening day, for you St. Charles East fans) is a big deal for every football team in the state.

While kickoff finally arriving ends one countdown, it begins another toward the postseason, an especially meaningful transition this year for three teams in the Tri-Cities.

The Batavia-Glenbard North game Friday shapes up as a tremendous matchup. As Batavia coach Dennis Piron put it, interested spectators “better get here about noon” to secure their seats.

But the Bulldogs, unless they fall miles short of their lofty expectations, would be able to brush aside a loss to the defending Class 8A state runner-up without much damage done.

That’s not necessarily the case for Geneva, St. Charles East and St. Charles North, each of which face key season openers in the context of their playoff aspirations.

Let’s start with the Vikings, who visit Oswego on Friday night.

Oswego, which walloped Geneva at Burgess Field to open the 2012 season, is a quality program – the class of the Southwest Prairie Conference.

But the problem for Geneva is the Vikings’ next two opponents, Wheaton North and Batavia, are arguably even better.

If the Vikings fall short in Oswego, it would require a heavy-duty upset to avoid an 0-3 start, which would put Geneva’s playoff hopes on life support before the leaves start turning. The Vikings would love to distance themselves from a disappointing 2012 season, but their clean slate could have a short shelf life if one of the youngest teams Rob Wicinski has coached can’t post an opening night ‘W.’

If that sounds like a lot of pressure, the Vikings can take solace in knowing that their buddies in St. Charles ought to feel a similar sense of urgency.

St. Charles East coach Mike Fields hopes to start a long-term series with South Elgin, beginning with Saturday’s opener, saying the programs are similar and should play competitive games.

That’s a fair assessment, making East’s opener the kind of toss-up game that has the potential to tip the scales of a season in either direction.

The Saints drew a beastly UEC crossover this season – a Week 4 visit to Neuqua Valley – meaning East has less room for error in nonconference play than most of their conference brethren. With opponents like Neuqua and Batavia to contend with later on, banking some early wins is crucial.

As for East’s crosstown rival, St. Charles North, the tail end of former coach Mark Gould’s tenure illustrates how back-breaking it can be to falter out of the gate.

The North Stars went 4-2 in UEC River play last season yet still failed to reach the playoffs, having dropped their two nonconference games to open up, plus a frustrating Week 9 UEC crossover against South Elgin.

Nonconference woes have plagued North during its current, three-year postseason drought, and that’s a trend new coach Rob Pomazak needs to change – starting Friday at Elk Grove – if the North Stars are going to return to a postseason-caliber program.

It’s understandable that Friday’s Batavia-Glenbard North showdown generates much of the local chatter leading up to Friday night. A win for the Bulldogs would be something to crow about, but an opening loss would be no reason to sweat.

That’s a luxury the other Tri-Cities teams don’t have.

• Jay Schwab is sports editor of the Kane County Chronicle. He can be reached at 630-845-5382 or jschwab@shawmedia.com.

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