GAME OF THE WEEK BREAKDOWN: Batavia (5-1, 3-0 Upstate Eight Conference River) at St. Charles North (3-3, 2-2 UEC River), 7:30 p.m. today
A sense of urgency, especially on North's part.
Unless North can upset Batavia, the North Stars can do no better than 5-4, which could lead to postseason heartache for the North Stars considering North isn't faring especially well on playoff points, based on strength of schedule. All three of the teams North has beaten (Plainfield Central, Elgin, Streamwood) are 0-6.
"You can't ignore it," North coach Rob Pomazak said. "One of our goals is to make the playoffs. [The players] know that 6-3 is automatic in, and 5-4 is kind of putting it in the hands of the football gods on the points we have. We know our strength of schedule has some teams that haven't fared very well so we know [tonight's game] is important. … 1-0, 1-0, 1-0 the next three games is what the goal is."
Batavia's defense vs. St. Charles North's offense.
Bulldogs coach Dennis Piron is practically giddy about his defense basically being at full strength for the first time all season.
Defensive tackle Ryan Minniti is expected back tonight and several of his fellow starters have rejoined the action in recent weeks after the Bulldogs were hit with a rash of injuries a few weeks back.
"We're going to kind of be able to do our whole thing on Friday night on defense," Piron said. "It's going to be fun."
Piron said the depth that was cultivated in the temporary absence of players such as linebacker Anthony Thielk, defensive linemen James Millette and Minniti, linebacker Donovan Kilker and safety Brandon Dean will be beneficial in emboldening the Bulldogs to go deeper on their rotations.
Batavia must contend with a North offensive line that is considered among the best in the area, and senior quarterback Erik Miller and senior running back Evan Kurtz are expected back after sitting out last week.
North's increasing depth at running back could keep Kurtz (106 carries, 821 yards, 13 touchdowns) fresher down the stretch.
In Kurtz's absence against Streamwood, sophomore running back Dom Sidari rushed for 126 yards in his varsity debut, and Pomazak said Sidari will remain up with the varsity team. Junior Nick Edlund is another viable option in the backfield for the North Stars, whose leading receiver is Ball State-bound tight end Garrett Johnson (15 catches, 177 yards, three TDs).
Best-case scenario for the Bulldogs
Veteran offensive coordinator Micah Gaspari, quarterback Micah Coffey and Co. aren't easily fooled, which should come in handy tonight against a North defense that throws more looks at an offense than most defenses.
"We've seen everything they do, just with different teams," Piron said. "So are you able to adjust and are you able to do the things you have to do, play in and play out. There might be some times Micah might have to change a call because of something that they're in."
Piron said North's defense might be as strong as any of the defenses the Bulldogs have encountered on the season but running back Anthony Scaccia (110 attempts, 770 rushing yards) and the Bulldogs' versatile passing game present large challenges for North.
Tonight's game is the start of a two-week stretch against the St. Charles schools for Batavia. Piron hopes the games – including a tough, road atmosphere tonight – help sharpen the Bulldogs for the postseason.
"Everything about these next couple weeks is a lot of fun for our team," Piron said.
Best-case scenario for the North Stars
North somehow keeps up what has been a remarkable streak.
The North Stars have yet to concede 100 yards to an opposing running back this season, Pomazak said, a pattern North could be hard-pressed to extend with the explosive Scaccia in the house.
Pomazak said he feels good about North's gameplan for Batavia but, referring to the Bulldogs' overall talent, noted "there's a reason they've been the top dog the last couple years."
Jay Schwab's prediction: Batavia 24, St. Charles North 20
This game will take on playoff intensity with North's sense of urgency and Batavia aiming to hit its stride as the postseason nears, not to mention protect its lead in the UEC River.
Both teams have terrific running backs and defenses capable of playing at a high level, but the Bulldogs have been much more prolific in the passing game. Unless North's offense is able to make Batavia pay for zeroing in on Kurtz and Co., it could be another hard loss for North to stomach in a season that's already had too many of them.
WEEK 7 CHECK-DOWNS
Between the distance to Richmond-Burton, the no-great-way-to-get-there and R-B's typically formidable team, heading toward the Wisconsin border is a beastly chore for most Big Northern Conference teams, including Burlington Central tonight.
"It's never fun to go there, but we try to use that as a motivational tool, also," Central coach Rich Crabel said.
Remember when …
Surging Geneva projects to overwhelm host Elgin tonight, but at least the Maroons don't have to sweat Bobby Hess.
The graduated Geneva standout – now a walk-on at Indiana – blistered the Maroons for six touchdown runs in last year's 49-6 Geneva win at Burgess Field.
Sleeper game of the week
St. Francis at Marmion.
This might come as a surprise to the ACC crowd, but Marmion coach Dan Thorpe called St. Francis "our archival."
"It'll be an emotional evening," Thorpe said of Marmion's senior night.
That also holds true for the Spartans (3-3), in desperate need of a win to stem a three-game slide.
Batavia coach Dennis Piron projects the outcome of tonight's Batavia-North game will come down largely to in-game, tactical adjustments, based on how well both teams know each others' tendencies by Week 7.
"I'm very pleased with our preparation," Piron said. "It's an opponent we've been able to see live a couple times and know quite a bit about, and I'm sure they know quite a bit about us this time of season."
Wheaton Academy (3-3) visits St. Edward (4-2) tonight, and a strong case can be made that it's a must-win for both teams, considering the Warriors and Green Wave each have powerhouse Marian Central left on the schedule, and St. Edward also must travel to St. Francis.
"They know it, we know it," interim Warriors coach Brad Thornton said of the playoff implications. "We expect it to be a great game."
– Jay Schwab, firstname.lastname@example.org
WEEK 7 CAPSULES
Streamwood (0-6, 0-3 Upstate Eight Conference River) at St. Charles East (4-2, 2-1 UEC River), 7:30 p.m. today
Last week's results: Streamwood lost to St. Charles North, 55-6; St. Charles East lost to Geneva, 35-21.
The skinny: St. Charles East's season is at somewhat of a crossroads. The Saints have lost two of their last three games and also face substantial injury challenges. Standout Michael Candre (foot injury) is the latest Saints linebacker to be sidelined, and receiver AJ Washington (groin injury) is among the other seniors who will not play on senior night at Norris Stadium. The Saints, though, should be able to regroup against winless Streamwood, and coach Mike Fields is zeroing in on improved line-play as the path to long-term recovery. "Our offensive line really has got to step up," Fields said. "We really have not been able to run the ball efficiently. I think we're averaging like 82 yards a game [rushing], and that's just not acceptable." Fields said senior running back Erik Anderson is in line for more carries after being used as a receiver last week. Fields would not commit to a starter at quarterback; Mitch Dupuis relieved fellow senior Jimmy Mitchell late in the Geneva game.
Extra point: East's third-down defense was poor last week, another point of emphasis. "[Geneva] completed nine, third down conversions in the first half," Fields lamented. "I told [Geneva coach Rob Wicinsk] he needs to go to Vegas – you don't get that in a high school football game, no matter what the situation, so I give them a lot of credit."
Geneva (4-2, 3-1 UEC River) at Elgin (0-6, 0-3 UEC River), 7:30 p.m. today
Last week's results: Geneva beat St. Charles East, 35-21; Elgin lost to East Aurora, 25-22.
The skinny: Geneva's confidence is swelling after three straight wins against Larkin, St. Charles North and St. Charles East. "We might be little bit over our skis, believing a little too much, but that's OK," Geneva coach Rob Wicinski said. "That's better than where we were at the beginning of the season. I didn't even think they thought they could get out off the huddle." The Vikings' offense was dynamite early in the wins against the St. Charles teams, allowing the Vikings to play from ahead and manage the clock in the second half. Against reeling Elgin, Wicinski is simply looking for focus, asking that his players "don't slop around." A win would make the Vikings playoff-eligible after Geneva missed the postseason last year for the first time since 2003.
Extra point: Noting he's lived through his share of extended losing streaks at both Geneva and Niles North, Wicinski said he was happy for East Aurora to snap its 44-game, program losing streak last week against the Maroons. "You don't want to wish [that long a losing streak] on anybody," Wicinski said. "For them to persevere and win their Super Bowl, that's just huge."
Yorkville (4-2, 1-1 Northern Illinois Big 12 East) at Kaneland (6-0, 2-0 NI Big 12 East), 7:30 p.m. today
Last week: Yorkville lost to Rochelle, 30-14; Kaneland beat DeKalb, 35-12.
The skinny: Kaneland has won each of its six games by 20 points or more and has a potential battle of unbeatens to look forward to next week against Sycamore, but the Knights plan to channel their usual focus tonight against a Yorkville team that Kaneland coach Tom Fedderly said might require patience to unravel. "They're a team that I think wants to keep us in front of them, make the tackle, make us put drives together, and they do that pretty well," Fedderly said. "We're going to have to execute to score, so we've got a challenge this week." Offensively, the Foxes tend to keep the ball on the ground, and have not scored more than 14 points in any of their last three games, including a disappointing Week 4 loss to LaSalle-Peru (1-5) that spoiled a hot start to the season.
Extra point: Quarterback Drew David is among a handful of Knights sporting a season-long beard as part of a pact heading into the season. "When homecoming came around, there were people trying to push for me to shave it, but football overrides that," David said.
St. Francis (3-3, 1-3 Suburban Christian Conference Blue) at Marmion (5-1, 3-1 SCC Blue), 7:30 p.m. today
Last week's results: St. Francis lost to Marian Central, 34-28; Marmion beat Aurora Christian, 35-14.
The skinny: Marmion pulled off a big win at Marian earlier this season, only to follow it with a subpar showing against Montini the next week. Cadets coach Dan Thorpe is looking for a sharper encore tonight in the aftermath of last week's impressive win at Aurora Christian. The Cadets, though, are dealing with the loss of their second starting offensive lineman to an ACL injury – offensive tackle John Gauthier tore his ACL leading up to the season, while center Andy Matthews did the same in the Aurora Christian game. "It impacts three positions because now we're down our center, [Luke Juriga] has to move from guard, so now we go from our 255 pound, athletic, running guard, we move him to center and he's not as good a center as he is a guard, and then obviously a guard replaces Juriga who's not as good as Juriga, and Juriga can't play defense because we only have one center." Marmion's defense shined last week, with senior defensive lineman Joe Talbot proving adept at run-stuffing in short-yardage situations.
Extra point: St. Francis coach Greg Purnell is encouraged by his team's recent progress in the passing game, and thinks the key to stopping his team's three-game slide is a better start defensively. "The thing we've got to do is stop giving up 14 points the very first quarter," Purnell said. "If we do that, I think we're capable of winning some games [down the stretch]."
Aurora Christian (5-1, 3-1 SCC Blue) at IC Catholic Prep (3-3, 2-2 SCC Gold), 1 p.m. Saturday
Last week's results: Aurora Christian lost to Marmion, 35-21; IC Catholic Prep lost to Montini, 38-21.
The skinny: Freshman QB Ben Weerts is slated for his first varsity start in replacing the injured Austin Bray, who is likely to miss at least the rest of the regular season with a separated shoulder. Going to a freshman might seem drastic, but Eagles coach Don Beebe thinks Weerts is capable of giving the team solid play without having to move one of the team's receiving weapons, such as Brandon Walgren or Noah Roberts, to QB. "He's going to be fine," Beebe said of Weerts. "To kind of put it into comparison, he is better than Austin was when [Bray was a freshman]. He's going to be a pretty nice little quarterback for us in years to come." Defensive end/tight end Jackson Carpenter also remains sidelined with a separated shoulder for the Eagles.
Extra point: Coming off the Marmion loss, Saturday's game with IC Catholic Prep could be key for Aurora Christian to avoid a slide with powerhouse Montini looming next week.
Aurora Central Catholic (4-2, 2-2 SCC Gold) at Guerin (2-4, 0-4 SCC Gold), 1 p.m. Saturday
Last week's results: ACC beat Walther Lutheran, 41-6; Guerin lost to Wheaton Academy, 55-14.
The skinny: ACC appears poised to win via running clock for the second straight week, going against a Guerin team that has fallen apart after starting the season with two wins against city competition. Brian Bohr and Julian Rios both are clicking in the ground game for the Chargers, who cruised last week despite failing to complete their first seven pass attempts.
Extra point: Saturday's game is the Chargers' last road trip of the regular season, with home games against crossover powers Marmion and Montini on tap the final two weeks.
Wheaton Academy (3-3, 2-2 SCC Gold) at St. Edward (4-2, 2-2 SCC Blue), 7 p.m. today
Last week's results: St. Ed beat Chicago Christian, 53-6; Wheaton Academy beat Guerin, 55-14.
The skinny: Wheaton Academy has either been blown out or blown out the opposition each of the first six weeks, a trend that interim coach Brad Thornton suspects could come to a close tonight. "That's one of the things that has kind of been unusual and concerning a little bit is we haven't been in a game in a fourth quarter, and St. Edward definitely has," Thornton said. "It's going to be a full, four quarter game I'm expecting on Friday night."
Extra point: Thornton said the Warriors' health is on the upswing with the recent returns of impact players Nathan Lopez (quarterback-turned receiver) and running back John Gemmel, who missed a game with a mild concussion.
Burlington Central (2-4, 2-2 Big Northern East) at Richmond-Burton (4-2, 2-1 BNC East), 7 p.m. today
Last week's results: Burlington Central beat Marengo, 27-0; Richmond-Burton beat Rockford Christian, 42-7.
The skinny: Central coach Rich Crabel said a receiving corps led by senior Ian Napiorkowski has to be able to beat single coverage for the Rockets to succeed against Richmond-Burton's defense. Of course, strong QB play is an important piece of that equation, too, and Crabel said Central is likely to use both Parth Patel and Casey Matthews at QB tonight.
Extra point: Crabel said having running back/defensive back Adam Skirmont and Trevor Davison – who plays the same positions – back from injuries has bolstered competition in practice.
– Jay Schwab, email@example.com