St. Charles East (4-1, 2-0 Upstate Eight Conference River) at Geneva (3-2, 2-1 UEC River), 7:30 p.m. today
The buzz in the stands
There seemingly are never-ending ties between Geneva and St. Charles East.
By now, the storyline of former Geneva assistant Mike Fields coaching against his mentor, Rob Wicinski, is dated, but former Vikings QB Shaun Ratay is in his first year directing East's offense, earning praise from his old coach for his early results.
"He's got just enough squirrelliness in him to keep you on your toes as a defensive coordinator, and he's been very, very disciplined with his run game," Wicinski said. "Nobody's stopped him. Nobody so far has stopped East with their offense.
"It looks like it's been a pretty good move for Fields to step aside there a little bit," he added mischievously.
East's Jimmy Mitchell and Geneva's Daniel Santacaterina don't play head-to-head, but both have taken major steps forward in their second seasons as varsity QBs after Santacaterina's first season was shortened by injury.
Through five weeks, Mitchell has thrown for 1,213 yards and 17 touchdowns with four interceptions, while Santacaterina has thrown for 1,212 yards with 13 TDs and eight interceptions. That's right – the QBs are one yard apart.
Tighter discipline continues to be a point of emphasis for Geneva, and could be the difference in what projects as a close game.
Wicinski said this year's team "easily" is among the most penalty-plagued teams he's coached.
"We've had some really emotional games, too, so the tempers get high, but you've just got to keep your head focused regardless of what team you're playing," Vikings linebacker Wyatt Shodeen said.
Wicinski also is dissatisfied with his team's number of giveaways.
"We're about two turnovers per game right now, and it's just way too many," Wicinski said.
Best-case scenario for the Saints
East doesn't have to rely too heavily on do-it-all seniors Brannon Barry and Mitch Munroe.
Both players are capable of hurting the Vikings in all three phases, but if the Saints' complementary players are clicking, it would keep the speedy duo fresher for crunch time.
"Mitch Munroe played every single down in the Neuqua Valley game and Brannon, he's playing almost every single down as well," Fields said. "To put both of them out there like that, it's tough, it takes its toll, but it's high school football. Those guys know that, they understand that. I'd love to have 22 starters out there, but as coaches we're going to do what we think is best to help our team as a whole."
Another of East's impact players, running back Erik Anderson, is still not healed from a shoulder injury that sidelined him in last week's rout of Elgin. Anderson, however, is expected to play tonight, and also assumes kicking duties with Pat Frio out with an injury.
Best-case scenario for the Vikings
Lengthen the periods of momentum, minimize the downturns.
Wicinski joked he was only going to send Fields game film from the second half against St. Charles North – when the Vikings nearly squandered a huge lead – but running hot and cold is a real concern for the Vikings.
Wicinski said he thinks this could end up being among his better Vikings teams, but that only can become reality if the Vikings sustain quality play for longer stretches, particularly in the second half.
The Vikings' defensive line is one unit that could become dominant, with senior end Billy Douds looking especially dangerous. Sophomore defensive tackle Stephen Kemp leads the Vikings with 37 tackles, a "real big surprise" to Wicinski.
"Having a kid this active, I don't think we expected that out of a sophomore," Wicinski said.
Jay Schwab's prediction: Geneva 30, St. Charles East 24
Maybe it's the lights-out, first-half performance against St. Charles North talking, but the Vikings have the look of a team that's primed for a late-season roll.
Mitchell and the Saints' passing game has been up to the task all season, but a lot could be asked of them if Anderson is physically limited, and the Vikings seem to have the aerial firepower to match the Saints.
Look for the game to boil down to special teams. If the Vikings can tighten the ship there compared to last year's meeting – especially when it comes to kick coverage – it could be a joyous homecoming at Burgess Field.
WEEK 6 CHECK-DOWNS
Road tripping …
Batavia players, and their fans, know the drill.
The Bulldogs will make their second Saturday afternoon trek in a three-week span as Batavia visits Larkin, with the game to be played on Elgin High’s campus. The Bulldogs hope the trip goes as smoothly as their visit to another U-46 conference rival, Streamwood, on Sept. 21, a running-clock victory for the Bulldogs.
Considering Batavia’s opener against Glenbard North was pushed back a day by lightning, this will be the Bulldogs’ third Saturday game through six weeks.
Remember when …
Geneva’s playoff hopes were extinguished by Week 6 last season as Geneva lost at St. Charles East, 34-27, sending the Vikings to a 1-5 record. East’s Mitch Munroe, then a junior, had a 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and an interception return for a TD in the game.
It marked the first East win over Geneva since former Vikings assistant Mike Fields took over the Saints’ program in 2009.
Sleeper game of the week
Marmion at Aurora Christian. The stakes are high for both teams, as Aurora Christian looks to keep pace with Montini atop the Suburban Christian Conference Blue standings while Marmion is eager to bounce back from its lone loss of the season.
It’s a game that could end up spelling the difference between a road or home first-round playoff game for the Cadets come pairings time.
Kaneland heads to DeKalb, a program once led by current Knights volunteer coach Marty Sanders. Sanders assists with the Knights’ freshman and sophomore teams.
“It was great when he approached me on [joining the Kaneland staff] because he had moved into the district here,” Kaneland coach Tom Fedderly said. “I was like, ‘Hey, we would love to have you,’ and it just worked out for us, and I knew Marty. He was a student teacher for me a long, long time ago.”
Burlington Central could become the first area team eliminated from playoff contention if the 1-4 Rockets fall to visiting Marengo tonight. Central, although, could live to see another day – the Indians arrive at Rocket Hill sporting an 0-5 record.
WEEK 6 CAPSULES
Streamwood (0-5, 0-2 UEC River) at St. Charles North (2-3, 1-2 UEC River), 7:30 p.m. today
Last week’s results: Streamwood lost to Larkin, 27-21; St. Charles North lost to Geneva, 35-28.
The skinny: The bad news for North is quarterback Erik Miller and defensive back Jonathan Elliott (concussions from Geneva game) and standout running back Evan Kurtz (shoulder injury) are expected to be sidelined. But the North Stars’ timing could be much worse as North should be able to prevail against the winless Sabres minus some key parts, with an eye toward getting healthier for a Week 7 showdown against Batavia. In Miller’s absence, North turns to junior Nathan Didier, who has Miller’s endorsement as a quality, dual-threat QB. Tailbacks Nick Edlund and Chris Page might be in line for more carries, but North also promoted promising back Dom Sidari from the sophomore team. Without Kurtz and Miller, it would be a nice game for North’s defense to lead the way. That unit played much better in the second half against Geneva after a first-half performance that left coach Rob Pomazak highly upset.
Extra point: Both of North’s victories have come in running clock romps while the North Stars’ three losses were each by seven points or less.
Kaneland (5-0, 1-0 Northern Illinois Big 12 East) at DeKalb (3-2, 0-1 NI Big 12 East), 7:30 p.m. today
Last week’s results: Kaneland beat Rochelle, 49-20; DeKalb beat Streator, 42-14.
The skinny: Kaneland’s remarkable run of regular season success (33 wins and counting) continued without injured standout left tackle Joe Komel the past two weeks but Knights coach Tom Fedderly is nonetheless relieved that Komel is cleared to play this week. “If you can get a 6-4, 280 pound kid, that always makes me feel better,” Fedderly said. Fedderly likes his defense’s overall depth and the way it has tackled throughout the season. Tackling precision could be especially critical against the always athletic Barbs. “What causes a problem to defend is they have a running quarterback and weapons along with him,” Fedderly said. “ … They like to spread you out with their athletes and if you miss a tackle, it can lead to seven points.” Running back Eriq Torrey ran for 138 yards in the Barbs’ win at Streator.
Extra point: Tonight is only Kaneland’s second road game, the other being a 48-7 romp against Sterling on Sept. 13. The Knights play three of their last four regular season games away from Maple Park.
Batavia (4-1, 2-0 UEC River) at Larkin (3-2, 2-1 UEC River), 1:30 p.m. Saturday (at Memorial Field)
Last week’s results: Batavia beat West Chicago, 48-7; Larkin beat Streamwood, 27-21.
The skinny: Batavia has had few problems this season, but conceding too many big plays dogged the Bulldogs against elite opposition early. Larkin is no Glenbard North or Richards but the Royals are explosive offensively and on special teams, so Saturday should be a revealing barometer of where the Bulldogs’ defense stands. “We have done things week in and week out to try and limit teams’ big-play percentages and big-play numbers,” Batavia coach Dennis Piron said. “We think our team pursuit is always something that improves throughout the year. That’s something we’ve got to be on top of.” The Bulldogs expect to welcome back several regulars who have missed the past two weeks with injuries, including linebackers Anthony Thielk and Donovan Kilker and defensive end James Millette.
Extra point: Piron said he likes the Bulldogs’ depth enough that he doesn’t anticipate much more two-way play late in the season – as is often the case for the program – thought he said Thielk could see more time in the offensive backfield, Millette more work in double tight end sets and receiver Rourke Mullins might play more defensive back in the season’s late stages.
Marmion (4-1, 2-1 Suburban Christian Conference Blue) at Aurora Christian (5-0, 3-0 SCC Blue), 7 p.m. today
Last week’s results: Marmion lost to Montini, 27-3; Aurora Christian beat St. Francis, 24-14.
The skinny: Aurora Christian coach Don Beebe was elated with the way the Eagles’ defense thwarted St. Francis running back James Butler and Co. last week. He said defensive lineman Jonah Walker was “impossible to block,” and also gave especially high marks to cornerback Legend Smith’s pass defense and open-field tackling and linebacker Trevor Hills. Beebe sees a more varied challenge in the Cadets. “They’ve got an awesome defense, they’ve got a really good quarterback and they’ve got five, six running backs that can all run the football,” Beebe said. “That’s harder to concentrate on than one guy like we did last week.” Marmion coach Dan Thorpe knows Aurora Christian isn’t exactly a made-to-order opponent for an offense that is looking to regroup from struggles against Montini. “They’re big, they’re strong and they fly around,” Thorpe said of the Eagles. “Their schemes were traditional [against St. Francis] but the difficult part is they’re so well coached that if you do move the ball on their traditional defense, they’re [able to] give you a variety of looks that will confuse you.”
Extra point: Thorpe said the Cadets are banged up from dealing with the powerhouse Broncos. Powerful running back Lucas Warren is likely to be sidelined tonight.
St. Francis (3-2, 1-2 SCC Blue) at Marian Central (4-1, 2-1 SCC Blue), 7 p.m. Friday
Last week’s results: St. Francis lost to Aurora Christian, 24-14; Marian beat IC Catholic Prep, 49-17.
The skinny: St. Francis might not yet be in desperation mode but the Spartans can badly use a win after falling each of the past two weeks to Montini and Aurora Christian. The SCC Blue schedule offers little charity, though, as a daunting road trip to Woodstock awaits. The Spartans are determined to re-establish running back James Butler after a rare off week against Aurora Christian but also must gird themselves for a Hurricanes passing attack that saw quarterback Billy Bahl throw for 328 yards and four touchdowns in last week’s stomping of IC Catholic Prep.
Extra point: Four St. Francis defenders have notched interceptions on the season – Justin Berry, Jack Ahern, Joe Connelly and Ryan Benton.
Aurora Central Catholic (3-2, 1-2 SCC Gold) at Walther Lutheran (1-4, 1-2 SCC Gold), 1 p.m. Saturday
Last week’s results: ACC lost to St. Edward, 35-21; Walther Lutheran lost to Wheaton Academy, 47-25.
The skinny: ACC coach Brian Casey scouted Walther Lutheran and came away thinking sealing the edge will be a chore. “On a piece of paper I would think a lot of people would think [beating Walther Lutheran] is a given but, from seeing them in person, I’m not comfortable saying that,” Casey said. Chargers senior linebacker Cody Ekstrom is coming off a 19-tackle night in the St. Ed loss.
Extra point: Tightening up third-down defense is a priority for ACC after St. Ed converted 6 of 10 third downs last week.
Guerin (2-3, 0-3 SCC Gold) at Wheaton Academy (2-3, 1-2 SCC Gold), 7 p.m. Saturday (at St. Francis)
Last week’s results: Guerin lost to Chicago Christian, 28-14; Wheaton Academy beat Walther Lutheran, 47-25.
The skinny: Wheaton Academy interim coach Brad Thornton said Nathan Lopez – originally the team’s QB – will switch permanently to wide receiver in the aftermath of a minor shoulder injury. Strong QB play from sophomore David Thasher emboldened Thornton to make the switch, and he said Lopez is a major asset at receiver. Thornton said senior defensive end Alex Budzisz played his best game of the season in the Walther Lutheran win.
Extra point: The Warriors will play their sixth straight game on turf Saturday, albeit their first at St. Francis. Most of their home games are at Wheaton College.
Marengo (0-5, 0-3 Big Northern Conference East) at Burlington Central (1-4, 1-2 BNC East), 7 p.m. today
Last week’s results: Marengo lost to Harvard, 35-13; Burlington Central lost to Genoa-Kingston, 43-0.
The skinny: Central’s running game bogged down at Genoa-Kingston, putting the Rockets on the brink of early postseason elimination. While 0-5, Marengo has had close shaves against Mendota (13-10) and Rock Falls (22-21).
Extra point: The Rockets are in danger of what would be their first losing season under coach Rich Crabel, who is in his third season.
– Jay Schwab, email@example.com