KCChronicle.com/preps Game of the Week Breakdown
St. Edward (5-3, 3-3 Suburban Christian Conference Blue) at St. Francis (4-4, 2-4 SCC Blue), 7 p.m. today
THE BUZZSt. Francis is one of those schools for which the playoffs have arrived a week early, with the Spartans facing a do-or-die scenario to make the postseason.
The Spartans won their first three games, then crumbled amid the SCC Blue meat grinder against Montini, Aurora Christian, Marian Central and Marmion before whipping Guerin last week to put the postseason back in sight.
"I think our kids are excited," Spartans coach Greg Purnell said. "Even though we dropped four games in the middle of the season, we're excited we still have a shot to get in. If we win, we're in. That's the thing we feel good about. We're just a .500 football team the last week of the season fighting for our lives."
MARQUEE MATCHUPSt. Francis running back James Butler vs. St. Edward running back Davontae Elam.
Elam (1,268 rushing yards, 16 touchdowns) and Butler (1,090 yards, 17 TDs) are two of the top running backs in the western suburbs, and both are receiving Division I recruiting interest.
Butler has drawn recruiting attention from programs such as Iowa and Purdue, while Elam has garnered interest from Northern Illinois, South Dakota State and others, according to Green Wave coach Mike Rolando.
X-FACTORPurnell said workhorse receiver/running back/safety Steven Fassnacht will be a game-time decision after spraining his neck two weeks ago against Marmion. Fassnacht missed last week's 56-7 drubbing of Guerin.
If Fassnacht can't go or is limited, Purnell said juniors Jack Ahern, TJ Jackson and Mike Shaw will continue to play larger roles.
BEST-CASE SCENARIO FOR THE GREEN WAVERolando is confidence his team will make the Class 4A playoff field even with a loss, but he considers competing well against a potential 5A playoff program such as St. Francis a valuable measuring stick of what the Green Wave are capable of in the weeks ahead.
Leaving Kuhn Memorial Field tonight with a win – or even a highly competitive loss – could be the springboard into the playoffs the Green Wave seek. St. Ed should also benefit from trying to match the sense of purpose of a desperate Spartans team.
"We had our back against the wall for three weeks straight," said Rolando, whose team started 2-2 after a disappointing Week 4 loss to IC Catholic Prep. "It makes you play better, it makes you play harder. … I'm sure the Francis kids are feeling that way."
St. Ed's running game is among the most productive in the state. In addition to Elam, Mikey Castoro (487 rushing yards) and Dwayne Allen (430) have helped the Green Wave run for 2,367 yards behind an offensive line that features a pair of three-year stalwarts, left tackle Zach West and right guard Collin Holte.
BEST-CASE SCENARIO FOR THE SPARTANSSt. Francis seems to have kicked its midseason bugaboo of slow starts, which looms large tonight with the Green Wave a tricky team to come back on considering their ability to maintain possession and drain clock.
Both teams are looking to flesh out their offenses by giving defenses something to ponder in the passing game, and, even without Fassnacht, Spartans quarterback Zach Prociuk has several targets to choose from in towering receiver Adam Hart (11 receptions, 123 yards), Matt Hanson (nine receptions, 179 yards) and Butler (eight receptions, 111 yards).
Still, while St. Francis has abandoned the Wing-T this season, Rolando said dealing with the Spartans' more multiple offense doesn't require a drastic change in approach.
"They may be in a a different formation, in a different look, but it's still Greg Purnell football," Rolando said. "He's a lot like us. He's going to run the ball first. He's going to throw when they have to throw, when pressed into it, but if the running game is working, you're not going to see him go away from it."
JAY SCHWAB'S PREDICTION: ST. FRANCIS 28, ST. ED 26The Spartans haven't risen to the occasion in big games so far this season, but this team has too much ability not to make the playoffs. Last year's Spartans were shut out at 5-4 but St. Francis' strength of schedule is better this year, making the Spartans a virtual lock to make it with a win.
"We added Plainfield South to our schedule, a team we thought was going to be pretty good," Purnell said. "They are, and they've given us some playoff points, and that will help. We've got to take care of business for ourselves. If we we don't win, we don't deserve to get in."
WEEK 9 CHECK-DOWNS
The season comes full circle for St. Charles football with St. Charles North visiting South Elgin Saturday afternoon. St. Charles East started the season the same way, winning a Saturday matinee against the host Storm, 35-27, on Aug. 31.
North was 0-3 on the road until the North Stars won at Larkin last week, 48-20.
Remember when …
Last year's Kaneland-Morris matchup was much more glamorous than this year's installment, with the Knights prevailing in a 33-30, Week 9 thriller in Maple Park in a showdown that pitted a pair of 8-0 teams against one another.
Knights running back Jesse Balluff rushed for 115 of his 127 yards in the second half, including a 53-yard score on a direct snap, to help tilt the game in the Knights' favor.
Sleeper game of the week
St. Charles East at Larkin. The Saints (5-3) have struggled much of the past month, and are eager to shake off the cobwebs from last week's ugly loss at Batavia.
The Royals (3-5, three-game losing streak) have had their own recent woes, but figure to have some extra emotional juice tonight since it will be the last game for coach Mike Scianna, who announced he's stepping down after this season.
Aurora Central Catholic coach Brian Casey is going against his alma mater for the last time in the foreseeable future, with the breakup of the Suburban Christian Conference at hand.
Casey attended Montini from 1997-2001, and started at quarterback for the Broncos as a senior. Chargers assistant coach Tom Kero (running backs) was a high school teammate of Casey's at Montini.
St. Charles East (5-3, at Larkin), Aurora Christian (5-3, at Guerin), St. Charles North (4-4, at South Elgin), St. Francis (4-4, vs. St. Edward) and Wheaton Academy (4-4, vs. Marian Central) are the teams that need Week 9 wins to either clinch the playoffs or become playoff-eligible.
Of the 4-4 teams, St. Francis is in the best shape to squeeze in at 5-4 based on playoff points, while St. Charles North has the most cause to fret.
– Jay Schwab, email@example.com
WEEK 9 PREVIEW CAPSULES
Elgin (0-8. 0-5 UEC River) at Batavia (7-1, 5-0 UEC River), 7:30 p.m. today
Last week: Elgin lost to Streamwood, 41-30; Batavia beat St. Charles East, 47-14.
The skinny: Batavia has been one of the hottest teams in the state since a Week 2 loss to Richards, scoring 44 or more points in blowout wins each of the past six weeks. That stretch includes routs against the Bulldogs' closest competition in the UEC River, Geneva, St. Charles North and St. Charles East. The arrival of winless Elgin should allow for ample, senior night playing time for Bulldogs veterans as Batavia eyes an outright UEC River three-peat. Batavia coach Dennis Piron said the Bulldogs' defense is flourishing without the need to blitz. "We can [blitz] if we have to, I think, but our front can put incredible pressure on people," Piron said. "It allow us to [play] max coverage, but when we do blitz, I think we're really an explosive group." Quarterback Micah Coffey enters Week 9 with 1,487 passing yards, 19 passing TDs and six interceptions.
Extra point: Piron said Batavia is so close to the 6A/7A threshold for the playoffs that scouting potential postseason opponents is a crapshoot. He said he'll probably have a feel for which class the Bulldogs will be in by Saturday morning based on tonight's statewide results.
Streamwood (1-7, 1-4 Upstate Eight Conference River) at Geneva (6-2, 4-1 UEC River), 7:30 p.m. today
Last week: Streamwood beat Elgin, 41-30; Geneva beat Metea Valley, 49-45.
The skinny: Geneva has allowed 20 or more points to each of its eight opponents, but Vikings coach Rob Wicinski doesn't get huffy about needing to win high-scoring games. His years of clamoring for shutouts are over, based on how skillful most offenses are in this era. "We kind of go into the game, we'll give up a touchdown a quarter, and we're a little over that, but if you can give one touchdown a quarter, you have a chance to win the game, so that's kind of the mentality," Wicinski said. "If we don't give one up that quarter, you're ahead of the game." Geneva's defense struggled more than usual last week at Metea, but what has turned into an excellent Vikings offense carried the day for the team's fifth straight win. Wicinski said the focus heading toward the playoffs is more explosion coming off the ball rather than attempting any dramatic, late-season tinkering. "Defensively and offensively, we are who we are," Wicinski said. "We found out through bad experiences when you do try to change, it's even more of a cluster than what you had before."
Extra point: Leading up to senior night at Burgess Field, Wicinski saluted a relatively small senior class that has proven resilient after struggling at the lower levels. "I'm really proud of the way they've stuck together and made it happen," Wicinski said. "I think they're thrilled to death. If this senior group can get to the playoffs, there's not a senior group we have at Geneva that can't get to the playoffs."
St. Charles East (5-3, 3-2 UEC River) at Larkin (3-5, 2-3 UEC River), 7:30 p.m. today at Memorial Field
Last week: East lost to Batavia, 47-14; Larkin lost to St. Charles North, 48-20.
The skinny: Saints senior quarterback Jimmy Mitchell (1,888 passing yards) has a 2,000-yard passing season within his sights tonight as East seeks a playoff-clinching sixth win. Mitchell has thrown for 22 touchdowns to go with six interceptions. While scoring points was problematic in last week's loss at Batavia, a leaky and injury-strained defense has perhaps been the larger issue as the Saints have dropped three of their last five games. Larkin is 0-3 this season against Tri-Cities opposition, with the only close game coming in a Week 4 meeting with Geneva, won by the Vikings, 41-34. Even if the Saints fall prey to an upset in Elgin, with 37 playoff points entering play tonight, East should be in good shape to make the 7A playoff field.
Extra point: Tonight marks the final game for fourth-year Royals coach Mike Scianna, who is stepping down after the season.
St. Charles North (4-4, 3-3 UEC River) at South Elgin (3-5, 3-3 UEC Valley), 1 p.m. Saturday
Last week: St. Charles North beat Larkin, 48-20; South Elgin beat Bartlett, 46-6.
The skinny: North's playoff points (30 entering Week 9) have been dented by Plainfield Central – a six-win, playoff team last season – being 0-8 this year. Between Plainfield Central, Elgin and Streamwood, that's three North opponents with a combined one win. Still, North coach Rob Pomazak hasn't abandoned hope that a win against South Elgin could be enough to earn North its first playoff trip since 2009. If not, North would at least finish over .500. "I think it's a good stepping-stone for us, if we can get over the hump and get back to being a winning program," Pomazak said. "You can't control the numbers game, it is what it is. To be playoff-eligible and not make it would be disappointing but to be playoff-eligible, period, not every team gets that opportunity, and I told the guys that." Pomazak liked the way QB Erik Miller directed the offense in the Larkin win. "I thought Erik in particular played his best game of his career," Pomazak said. "If we can get that Erik Miller coming out on Saturday, we're a tough team. … And then on the other end, kids finishing plays off. It takes two. The sophomore, John LeGare, on the two deep balls, did a great job, and Garrett (Johnson) did a great job on the one ball over the middle, so we need that."
Extra point: North aims to change up its loss-win, loss-win pattern that has held up throughout the season's first eight weeks.
Kaneland (7-1, 3-1 Northern Illinois Big 12 East) at Morris (3-5, 1-3 NI Big 12 East), 7:15 p.m. today
The skinny: While the season-ending ACL injury to standout Kaneland running back Jesse Balluff naturally commanded more attention, a more recent ACL blowout for starting center Zach Thielk also is posing hardship for the Knights' offense. Alex Snyder moved from right guard to center while Sam Bower slotted in for Snyder. "That's been a challenge," Kaneland coach Tom Fedderly said. "We moved Snyder over there and he's had two games under his belt now. We're hoping thing are going to jell up front. We've had to shuffle kids quite a bit this year so that was a challenge and had something to do with our penalties with the snap of the ball [against Sycamore]." After falling at Sycamore, the Knights are attempting to move on from a regular season loss for the first time since the 2009 season. Fedderly said there was initial anger and frustration after the loss but he thinks he has a mature enough group for the Knights to respond constructively at Morris, which brightened its ailing spirits last week by upsetting Rochelle.
Extra point: A Kaneland win at Morris coupled with a Sycamore loss at 5-3 Yorkville would give the Knights a piece of the NI Big 12 East regular season title.
Marmion (6-2, 4-2 SCC Blue) at Walther Lutheran (2-6, 2-4 SCC Gold), 1 p.m. Saturday
Last week: Marmion lost to Aurora Central Catholic, 13-12; Walther Lutheran lost to IC Catholic Prep, 41-12.
The skinny: Marmion coach Dan Thorpe and Co. have challenged Cadets running backs this week after a frustrating offensive showing at ACC that Thorpe partially credited to the Chargers' defense. "I would say half and half," Thorpe said. "They did a great job open-field tackling. We had running backs pop through, but they dropped them in their tracks, and we preach all the time, we can only block 10." The ACC loss could cost Marmion a first-round home playoff game in the 6A draw, though 7-2 sometimes is enough to start at home, which Thorpe considers "very crucial."
Extra point: With a 2013 classification enrollment of 327, Walther Lutheran is the smallest football school in the SCC.
Montini (8-0, 6-0 SCC Blue) at Aurora Central Catholic (6-2, 4-2 SCC Gold), 7 p.m. today
Last week: Montini beat Aurora Christian, 49-0; ACC beat Marmion, 13-12.
The skinny: Chargers coach Brian Casey and his staff have done their best to make sure ACC doesn't coast to the finish after clinching the playoffs last week with the emotional win over Marmion. "I've always kind of learned after a big win like that, the next week of practice has to be pretty brutal to get them back to earth, and I think we've had to do a little bit of that," Casey said. Casey hailed the Chargers' offensive line for allowing ACC to control clock and follow through on the team's template for beating a talented opponent. Juggernaut Montini's arrival tonight only ups the ante on that mindset.
Extra point: ACC enters Week 9 tied with IC Catholic Prep at 4-2 atop the SCC Gold. Crossovers count in the conference, so ACC likely would need to upset Montini to earn a share of the conference since IC Catholic plays struggling Chicago Christian tonight.
Aurora Christian (5-3, 3-3 SCC Blue) at Guerin (2-6, 0-6 SCC Gold), 1 p.m. Saturday
Last week: Aurora Christian lost to Montini, 49-0; Guerin lost to St. Francis, 56-7.
The skinny: Aurora Christian will remain severely short-handed by injury this week, according to Eagles coach Don Beebe, but Beebe remains pleased that the team has "kept our togetherness and chemistry throughout these tough times." The Eagles have lost three straight after starting 5-0, while Guerin has dropped six in a row.
Extra point: The closest Guerin has come in SCC play was a 28-14, Week 5 loss to Chicago Christian (2-6).
Marian Central (6-2, 4-2 SCC Blue) at Wheaton Academy (4-4, 3-3 SCC Gold), 7:30 p.m. today at Wheaton College
Last week: Marian Central beat St. Edward, 49-21; Wheaton Academy beat Chicago Christian, 48-27.
The skinny: Despite being a major underdog tonight, interim Wheaton Academy coach Brad Thornton relishes playing meaningful, Week 9 football, with a chance to become playoff-eligible. "We told our guys after the game they're in a great spot," he said after the Chicago Christian win. "They're playing with absolutely nothing to lose and everything to gain. There's a lot of teams right now who know they're not in the playoffs, and we're very fortunate to know we have something to play for in Week 9."
Extra point: Last week's 21-point win against Chicago Christian was the closest game the Warriors have been involved in all season.
Burlington Central (3-5, 2-3 Big Northern Conference East) at North Boone (4-4, 3-2 BNC East), 7 p.m. today
Last week: Central beat Rock Falls, 41-24; North Boone beat Richmond-Burton, 21-13.
The skinny: Central has the chance to close a disappointing season with three wins in its last four games. The Rockets were dismissed from the playoff chase with an overtime, Week 7 loss to Richmond-Burton.
Extra point: The Rockets will finish with a losing record for the first time since 2010, under former coach Aaron Wichman.
– Jay Schwab, firstname.lastname@example.org